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Electoral finance: the proposal document that didn’t

Written By: - Date published: 5:00 pm, September 29th, 2009 - 7 comments
Categories: election funding - Tags:

Rob Salmond

Yesterday Simon Power released the Government’s Proposal Document about how to reform electoral finance. On the easy issues, he got it vaguely right. That is a start, at least. So we’ll have one electoral agency instead of three (good), we’ll keep the rules about political donations first proposed in the Electoral Finance Act (not great, but better than what came before), and we’ll have a ‘clear and certain’ definition of what counts as an election ad (that sounds very nice). So, props for that.

But on all the hard issues, the government proposal hasn’t actually proposed anything! See for yourself:

On spending limits, they want party and candidate limits to go up, but have no idea by how much. The new limit for candidates could be $21,000. It could by $210,000. They won’t say. The government doesn’t have an opinion on this, despite having had months to think about it since their previous Issues Document went out and submissions came in, and over two years since this issue became big in New Zealand. What have they been doing? Maybe prepping for Letterman took all their time.

They also don’t know about spending limits for parallel campaigns (such as the Unions, the Brethren, etc). They have two options: (1) don’t regulate them; or (2) regulate them. Very helpful. If we chose to regulate them, National says it will have ‘high registration threshold and overall expenditure limits,’ but won’t say what those thresholds or limits might be. Not even broadly. Does National think parallel campaigns should be able to spend more than political parties? The same? A certain percentage of? They don’t have a view.

Should the parallel campaigns be allowed to advertise on TV and radio? The Government, in its wisdom has ‘proposed’ two options: No, and Yes. It’s preference: [shrug]

On the regulated period, they think maybe it could be a five-week period. Or maybe six months. Or maybe something in between. Apparently they don’t have an opinion one just yet.

Remember all National’s fuss about Labour using Parliamentary funds to help them win elections? ‘A disgrace!’ they called it. Well, on whether to count expenditure of Parliamentary funds as election expenses, they kick that off to a committee. No opinion. Not even any options.

On the broadcasting funding (currently the only form of State Funding specifically for election campaigning), National says it wants to keep the funding (good), but think maybe they should let parties decide what to spend it on. Or require them to spend it on TV and radio ads. Or something in between. They really don’t have a view.

What all this means is that almost any electoral finance regime under the sun is currently being ‘proposed’ by the government. Do you want an Australian-style free-for-all at election time? You can just about get that out of the government’s proposal, with no limits for parallel campaigns, high limits for parties and candidates, and a short regulated period. Do you want the Electoral Finance Act to be reinstated instead? Well, you can get most of the way there under this proposal as well, with not much increase in party spending limits, meaningful financial restrictions on parallel campaigns, and a six month regulated period. Actually, you can go even further to the left than the EFA in some areas, by taking up the ‘free-for-all’ option on how much leeway to give parties with the broadcasting allocation, such that it basically becomes broad-based State Funding.

But, and this is the big point, we have absolutely no idea which of the myriad options the Government actually likes. That is normally the essence of a ‘proposal.’

The point of this document is apparently ‘to seek public input on Government proposals for new legislation.’ If the government’s proposals could be almost anything, and they won’t give us any specifics, then it is not ‘Government proposals for new legislation.’ How am I supposed to provide input on a Government proposal that isn’t there?

Either the government is just now finding out how hard it is to actually make a constructive proposal in this area of the law and is running scared, or we’re being set up by a sham ‘proposal’ to have the actual Bill appear, with no indication or warning, at the very end. Isn’t that what got National so angry with Labour and the Greens?

7 comments on “Electoral finance: the proposal document that didn’t ”

  1. r0b 1

    Very useful overview – thanks Rob.

    Either the government is just now finding out how hard it is to actually make a constructive proposal in this area of the law and is running scared,

    Entirely possible – after all, they have a lot of rhetoric and promises to live up to.

    or we’re being set up by a sham “proposal’ to have the actual Bill appear, with no indication or warning, at the very end.

    Hmm, if this is the case it will give John Key another chance to use his telling line: “We listened to the submissions. That does not mean we have to agree with them”…

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    or we’re being set up by a sham “proposal’ to have the actual Bill appear, with no indication or warning, at the very end.

    Odds on that it’ll be urgent.

  3. burt 3

    Rob Salmond

    Isn’t that what got National so angry with Labour and the Greens?

    Yes it is, exactly that. But the problem is Rob, partisan hacks will defend them and they have the numbers to pass it – just like what happened when Labour did it.

    Now I know I sound like a broken record but, if partisan people defend self serving undemocratic shit like this when their team do it then what else can they expect but to have the other team do the same. Once, just once – when your team is doing stuff that draws a loud response from the opposition stand in the opposition shoes and question how you would feel being in opposition in their position.

    If when you team are in govt doing this self serving shit you are protesting as load as the opposition they will eventually need to stop doing it – then we just might start to reduce the number of crap things govt do because they have the numbers and the supporters. (Even when the supporters know what they are doing is wrong but back them anyway because their team is always right !)

    I’ll be joining this team to shout about national passing self serving laws – just like I did when Labour did it.

    Where was rOb’s indignation about it when Labour were doing it – where is DPF’s indignation now National are doing it – and last but not least where was your indignation when Labour were doing it and where were the complaint posts on the standard when Labour were doing it?

    • BLiP 3.1

      Frustrating as all-get-out when the same ole people go on about the same ole things. Makes me wonder why they don’t just publish a book and get the taxpayer to pay for it really.

      • burt 3.1.1

        Hey I could spend the tax payers money then get it validated and be your hero for using parliament to serve my own best interests.

  4. r0b 4

    For my part Burt I’ve replied on the other thread.

    Flexible Farrar

  5. Rob Salmond 5


    “Now I know I sound like a broken record but, if partisan people defend self serving ‘

    Yes, we do go round and round on your claims about “partisan hacks’ quite a lot.

    Nevertheless, you asked for evidence of DPF criticizing National, and me criticizing Labour. I’ll let David point out his critiques of National if he likes, but:

    Here is me earlier this month criticizing Labour over its new stance on MMP on this very blog: http://www.thestandard.org.nz/labour-grasps-nettle-nettles-usually-sting/

    Here is me in 2008 conceding there were real problems with the EFA, and supporting a less partisan way of getting this work done:

    In addition, I have a chapter in a book coming out next month in which I am very critical of Labour’s advertising in the 2008 election

    And if you trawl through the 08wire archives, I do not think you will find me defending the process that lead to the EFA much.

    True partisan hacks never attack their chosen party and defend anything their chosen party does (think Matthew Hooton). I do not think DPF is one of those, I do not think I am one of those, and I do not think The Standard’s authors are that, either (you’ll find plenty of criticism of Labour here if you look). I note that r0b found the evidence you sought in his case as well.

    So, again, I think your views about people with a partisan preference are pretty overblown.

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