Ahh the Nats. Nothing if not screaming hypocrites. Audrey Young writes:
Nats, Act spend up large with your cash
National and Act, the parties that kicked up a stink in Opposition about Labour’s taxpayer-funded election advertising, are engaging in their own taxpayer-funded binge this month.
The aim is to spend all the money they are entitled to before the financial year ends on Thursday. … So National is spending up big time around the country, producing leaflets, in the names of MPs, on last month’s Budget, with a survey attached.
The survey is clearly intended as an election tool. Its questions include asking voters which party they support and it tries to ascertain if they are swing voters.
National is refusing to say how many leaflets have gone out or how much they cost. The ads are heavily branded with party logos and look no different from electioneering ads. The spending is not unlawful because Parliament’s rules allow anything as long as it doesn’t solicit votes or money.
The formula under which parties are funded to run their parliamentary and electorate offices (including promotional material) gave National, with 58 MPs, $7.1 million to spend in the past year and Act, with five MPs, $631,000. …
The last Labour Government undertook a similar advertising binge about its last Budget at the same time in the electoral cycle but its spending had to count as official election advertising because the whole year to the election was then counted as regulated.
Just to be clear, I’m not opposed to the government spending public money communicating its policies (though I do have reservations as below). My main reaction here is to the pure hypocrisy of the grandstanding hysteria of National (and poodles) while they were in opposition – knowing full well that they would do exactly the same in government. An anonymous editorial in The Herald this morning also takes the Nats to task for “sending voters a message that its methods are no better than those it once condemned”.
That hypocrisy aside, is there a problem here? Political insider John Pagani doesn’t think so – see his piece “It’s a great idea for parties to spend your money on policy pamplets [sic]”. Commentator Bryce Edwards disagrees, suggesting that Pagani’s position shows “how out-of-touch the political class is”. Not sure how Bryce expects the government to communicate with the public though!
In my opinion, yes, there is a problem, but it’s not the one in the headlines (public money for advertising). One obviously relevant issue is the proximity to the election. Because the Nats have shortened the regulated period to three months their current spending will not count against their 2011 election spending limits. Pretty “convenient” for them.
But the main problem of course is the long standing, impossible issue of what it is that constitutes “electioneering”. Recall that “The spending is not unlawful because Parliament’s rules allow anything as long as it doesn’t solicit votes or money”. That definition is clear, but narrow. It allows parties to spend on what is clearly election related material. But should it? Should the definition of what is allowed be tightened? If so, how?