Electoral finance part deux: have your say!

Written By: - Date published: 12:30 pm, June 23rd, 2009 - 7 comments
Categories: activism, election funding - Tags:

Guest post by Rob Salmond

It is almost time for you to send your submissions on the government’s issues document on electoral finance. Submissions are due on 26 June, here’s where you can email the submissions. This is the only time we all get to throw around options before the government comes out with its preferred set. From then on out we’ll all be reacting to them, not helping set the agenda.

So what should our electoral finance arrangements look like? There is no ‘right’ answer, which is why it is so important for the government to hear what you would like to see.

In my own submission, I make some suggestions. In short, they are:

Donations

Essentially adopt a version of the American model:

  • An overall per-person cap on annual political donations (across all parties, candidates, and parallel groups), set at the level of the average adult income (about $26k in 2008). This limit would also apply to businesses and unions, with some loophole-closing rules to prevent shenanigans, and would operate every year, not just election year.
  • All donations over $200 to be declared right away to the electoral authorities, who keep running totals for everyone.

Public funding

Essentially adopt a version of the German model:

  • A retrospective dollars-per-vote scheme for parties, where the first few votes you get are more valuable than the votes that follow. This favours new parties and small parties over large parties.
  • A top-up subsidy on privately made donations, up to a low cap. This favours parties with a large base of somewhat committed members over parties that rely on a small band of zealots.
  • Those subsidies, however, are subject to the rule that you can’t make more money off public funding than you make off private funding. This prevents too much reliance on the state and distance developing between the politicos and the public.
  • Ditch all the broadcasting allocations and requirements and such, except the ones preventing broadcasters from taking sides and ripping off parties they don’t like.

Spending

  • Keep spending limits on political parties, but increase them to take account of the lack of separate broadcasting funding.
  • No spending limits on parallel campaigns. If they can convince people to give them the money (especially in light of an overall donation cap and the structural advantages that parties enjoy), then they should get to spend it.
  • Keep existing rules on what parallel campaigns can and cannot do on television.

Other

  • Regulated period from Queen’s Birthday weekend for normal elections (giving about a 6 month period that really only limits parties, as they are the only ones with budget constraints), from the time the election is announced for early elections. This is longer than National likely wanted but shorter than Labour tried for.
  • Introducing American-style ‘stand by your ad’ requirements.

What do you think the system should be? Is it anything like this one? If not, what direction would you take? Saying your piece in the comments is fine, but even better to write it down and send in a submission!

7 comments on “Electoral finance part deux: have your say!”

  1. Rex Widerstrom 1

    Thanks for this Rob. It’s an excellent submission and has prompted me to re-think some of my preconceptions, like opposition to any public funding of campaigns. I wasn’t aware of the German model, but it seems to have some merit. I’ll look at this in greater detail this evening.

    I still believe the system needs to somehow take account of the fact that any party which gets even 1 MP elected gets a huge advantage over those that are in the wilderness, so to speak. Not just in tangible things, like funding for staff and travel, but also less tangible but equally valuable aspects such as privileged access to the Press Gallery.

    Yet under MMP the party with the elected MP may well have received less votes than those who have no Parliamentary voice (eg Dunne’s vanity vehicle).

    The dollars-per-vote idea could be adjusted to take account of this I guess, though it still leaves the problem of a completely new party trying to gain any traction at all. Perhaps some sort of one-off boost to fight your first election?

    Also $26,000 can be a lot of money if it’s given to a campaign rather than at national or even regional level. And that could leave an individual MP feeling rather beholden. I know when someone stepped up and gave me over $6,000 I felt – and still to this day feel – incredibly grateful. I felt fairly safe accepting it because even if I’d won (in 1993) I wouldn’t have been able to influence much on their behalf and because they were retired and didn’t, on the face of it anyway, seem to have anything going on that they’d want an MP to influence anyway.

    Disclosure over $200 certainly helps, but I’d tend to have different caps at different levels.

    I’ll just end by echoing your call for everyone to submit (and set myself a reminder to do so).

  2. Rob Salmond 2

    Hi Rex – Thanks for the nice comments, and I’m glad you enjoyed the thing. If you are interested in the German financing system, they have some nice publications about it, in English, at:

    http://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/parliament/function/party_funding/index.html

    You are right that parliamentary incumbents get a large advantage over newcomers – I just don’t know the best way to deal with it. If we just start handing out cash to anyone who registers as a political party, that opens the door to some fairly shameless wastage of public money. Perhaps a system whereby new parties get access to dollars-per-vote money (as if they had been in the previous election), so long as they show up at over 1% in three reputable opinion polls? I’m not sure – we would need a list of polls that we think are kosher for a start. But certainly you are right that it is an important issue to deal with.

    I also agree that $26k is a lot of cash, especially if it all given to one organisation. If I got to be dictator and nobody was allowed to get upset with what I decide, I think I would opt for a lower limit than that. But I don’t NZers are willing to buy into Canadian-level donation limits of $1,100 per person per party. If someone proposed that I think the Free Speech banners would be up again in a hurry.

  3. RedLogix 3

    Rob,

    Thank you very much. Much the same sentiments as Rex, although I’ve always felt that public funding of parties was pretty much an inevitable development given how relatively few people can be arsed joining a party these days, much less actually donating to one. Essentially our political system these days is the preserve of a relatively small number of committed activists and party workers. Now while these people (most of whom are fine, sincere folk whom I have every respect and admiration for) are funded by a broad based stream of numerous supporters, they have every reason to articulate openly and clearly what they believe in, and what policies they intend implementing, in order to attract more funding.

    By contrast, when the bulk of a parties funding is sourced from a handful of sources, there is only a weak incentive to articulate their agenda. Because funding is assured, the principal motivation of a campaign is to simply to win votes, by whatever means on one day, once every three years. But that effectively excludes democratic participation and accountability all the other 1094 days of the electoral cycle. It’s no help in determining WHAT choices get put to the public, either as policy or as candidates.

    The problem with assured funding (either from private or public sources) is that it inclines Parties towards formulating their positions in isolation from their electorate. It’s all very well developing lots of rules about how Parties are to fund and conduct campaigns, but if they are all bought and paid for anyhow, leaving voters faced with a choice between two or more impalatable options on polling day, then they really haven’t solved anything… just added layers of complexity and potential game playing.

    It seems to me that underlying the whole funding/spending/campaigning issue are deeper questions of party engagement with a wider, more informed and actively committed membership base. I would guess that the total number of active members of all parties barely amounts to 1% of the whole voting electorate. That’s not good enough.

  4. Ari 4

    Personally speaking, I’d like any public funding to involve bonuses for more directly representative party democracy, eg. subsidies for holding mail ballots among members to determine party lists and policy issues, topups for parties with large amounts of members, etc… so that parties that really engage the grassroots also get their share.

    Granted, that kind of model does advantage the Greens, so it’s not exactly an entirely altruistic sense, but it would probably mean that some paler imitation of our policies would be adopted in order to pick up funding bonuses. You catch more flies with honey… (of course, this is more like getting bees to lay out honey for the flies, but that’s a very stretched metaphor 😛

  5. Rob Salmond 5

    RedLogix

    Thanks for the comment. The argument you make about assured funding leading politicians to not care quite so much about their broad support base is a persuasive one, although I haven’t found a lot of rigourous evidence to back it up. Have you seen any? Lack of evidence notwithstanding, I think the argument remains pretty persuasive, and one of the things that attracted me to the German system of public funding was that it really is not assured. If you raise $0 privately, then you’re not entitled to any public money. So the public funding, while still public, is not assured.

    You are right about the worrying decline of partisan activism in New Zealand. Unfortunately, there is a similar decline across almost all post-industrialised democracies. (Russell Dalton and Martin Wattenberg have a good book on this). The consistency and broadness of the trend, across some politically pretty different societies, makes me suspect that it will be a difficult trend to turn around all on our own. For the short term at least, I would rather take that decline as a given and work to set campaign finance rules within that context.

  6. Rob Salmond 6

    Ari

    While I share your enthusiasm for intra-party transparency and democracy up to a point, I would not want the State getting involved in financially rewarding particular forms of political party activity. That, for my taste, runs a little too close to having the State explicitly influencing the political stances of political parties. But, as I said in the main post, these things are matters and of sliding scales of taste rather than of right and wrong.

  7. Anyone knows some references about American economy,I’m about to live there for a shot time to study there ,(I’m German ) and I’d like to have an idea first.Best of luck ,for everyone.

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    The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has published their report on whether the SIS and GCSB had any complicity in American torture. And its damning. The pull quote is this:The Inquiry found both agencies, but to a much greater degree, the NZSIS, received many intelligence reports obtained from detainees who, ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Who Shall We Turn To When God, And Uncle Sam, Cease To Defend New Zealand?
    Bewhiskered Cassandra? Professor Hugh White’s chilling suggestion, advanced to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are ...
    1 week ago
  • The Politics of Opposition
    For most of the time I was a British MP, my party was out of government – these were the Thatcher years, when it was hard for anyone else to get a look-in. As a front-bencher and shadow minister, I became familiar with the strategies required in a parliamentary democracy ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • More expert comments on the Canadian fluoride-IQ paper
    The Green et al (2019) fluoride/IQ is certainly controversial – as would be expected from its subject (see If at first you don’t succeed . . . statistical manipulation might help and Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear). Anti-fluoride campaigners have been actively promoting it ...
    1 week ago
  • The return to guerrilla war in Colombia
    by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh On August 29th a video in which veteran FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) commander Iván Márquez announced that they had taken up arms again was released. There was no delay in the reaction to it, from longtime Liberal Party figure and former president Uribe, for ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    1 week ago
  • Air New Zealand identifies this enormous plot of unused land as possible second airport site
    Air New Zealand couldn’t believe its luck that this seemingly ideal piece of real estate had so far gone entirely unnoticed. Air New Zealand’s search for a site to build a second Auckland Airport may have made a breakthrough this afternoon, after employees scanning Google satellite imagery spotted a huge, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Redline on the Labour Party
    No-one on the anti-capitalist left in this country today puts forward a case that Labour is on the side of the working class.  There are certainly people who call themselves ‘socialist’ who do, but they are essentially liberals with vested interests in Labourism – often for career reasons. Nevertheless, there ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • New Fisk
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour’s failure
    When National was in government and fucking over the poor for the benefit of the rich, foodbanks were a growth industry. And now Labour is in charge, nothing has changed: A huge demand for emergency food parcels means the Auckland City Mission is struggling to prepare for the impending arrival ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Ardern attempts to vaccinate Clarke Gayford live on television to prove that it’s safe
    Gayford, pictured here on The Project, before things got wildly out of control. A bold public relations move by the Government to encourage parents to vaccinate their children has gone horribly wrong. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared on tonight’s episode of Three’s The Project, where the plan was for her ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Has Mr. Whippy gone too far by parking on our front lawns?
    Mr. Whippy’s business model has driven it down a dark road of intimidation. Residents in major centres around the country are becoming disgruntled by the increasingly aggressive actions of purported ice cream company Mr. Whippy, who have taken to parking on people’s front lawns and doorsteps in a desperate attempt ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Cleaning up the water
    Today the government released its Action Plan for Healthy Waterways, aimed at cleaning up our lakes and rivers. Its actually quite good. There will be protection for wetlands, better standards for swimming spots, a requirement for continuous improvement, and better standards for wastewater and stormwater. But most importantly, there's a ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Fronting up
    Today I appeared before the Environment Committee to give an oral submission on the Zero Carbon Bill. Over 1,500 people have asked to appear in person, so they've divided into subcommittees and are off touring the country, giving people a five minute slot each. The other submitters were a mixed ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
    Anti-fluoride activists have some wealthy backers – they are erecting billboards misrepresenting the Canadian study on many New Zealand cities – and local authorities are ordering their removal because of their scaremongering. Many New Zealanders ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Democracy – I Don’t Think So
    So, those who “know best” have again done their worst. While constantly claiming to be the guardians of democracy and the constitution, and respecters of the 2016 referendum result, diehard Remainers (who have never brought themselves to believe that their advice could have been rejected) have striven might and main ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    2 weeks ago

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