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?