Yesterday David Farrar presented us with his analysis of Labour’s electoral finance submission. There is a lot of ‘Nya Nya I Told You So!’ in there every time Labour’s position changed from 2007 to now, and a fair bit of ‘Nya Nya They Haven’t Learned Anything!’ when its position did not change. That kind of partisan cheerleading is to be expected.
And he did make some good points about shortcomings in Labour’s submission, such as their treatment of the broadcasting allocation, their attitude towards parliamentary services expenditure during election campaigns, and their proposals to help out new parties. Despite being a proud Labour member, I agree with the general thrust of his critiques in those areas, and those positions are also reflected in my own submission.
But there are three other elements of his analysis that caught my eye:
1. Hypocrisy and Double Standards
David accuses Labour of proposing a self-serving solution that is only good for Labour. But then David’s own submission advocates no restrictions at all on budget or advertising streams for parallel campaigns, opens the door for large increases in party spending limits, retains the possibility of unlimited large corporate donations, opposes any public funding for political parties, and argues for a short regulated period where absolutely anything goes outside of the period. That sounds an awful lot like a self-serving solution for the party that gets the support of most of the wealthy people, no?
He also accuses Labour of making assertions in their submission without having evidence to back it up. But in his own submission he simply asserts that freedom of speech is more important than participatory fairness in a democracy, without presenting any evidence, and when there is actually some reasonable evidence (see paragraphs 7-8 in my submission) to the contrary. He asserts that ‘A disclosure limit of $1,000 would be far too low and discourage many supporters from donating’ without providing any evidence at all about that. And so on.
2. Silly Statements
Both the analysis of Labour’s submission and David’s own submission are liberally sprinkled with howlers. My favourites:
Commenting on Labour’s submission that any restrictions on voter registration constitute a barrier to participation, David exclaims: ‘Good God. Never before have I heard voter registration be called a barrier to participation.’ Given David is in the US, I suggest he go to the southern states and ask all the African Americans about their historical experience with restrictive voter registration laws, then come back and see if he wants to revise his statement.
Commenting on Labour’s submission about political television advertising, David says: ‘What decade are they in? How many people even watch TV ads now? Heard of My Sky.’ Earth to David: There is a world outside of Thorndon in which not everybody has My Sky. People advertise on TV because advertising on TV works.
In his own submission, David wants to allow things that are ‘unfair’ but are not ‘manifestly unfair’ on the grounds that the taller guy tends to win US Presidential elections. I am not making this up, honestly. He really submitted that to good people at the Ministry of Justice. He seems to believe that the proposed principles of electoral finance, as stated in the discussion document, would open the door to a declaration that all candidates have to be the same height. Earth to David: Come back, David! You can use your tin foil hat as a parachute.
3. Unworkable solutions
There aren’t many solutions proposed in David’s submission except for the catch-all ‘the gummint should butt out’, but some that are opposed are entirely silly. Again, my favourites:
David opposes any limit at all on how much a person or company or union can give to political parties, but says ‘if there is [a limit] it should be set as a percentage of a party’s total income.’ Which would mean that nobody would know the donation limit until after the election is over. Oops.
Voluntary compliance for parallel campaigners. Yes, we are back to voluntary compliance again. The last group who tried this on was the major industrial polluters, as I recall. And that sure worked a treat. Anyway, David reckons that we can fix the problem of parallel campaigns jamming the airwaives with unlimited ads by inducing them to voluntary accept a spending limit in return for wait for it legal advice! Because large lobbying organizations do not know any lawyers, you understand. Again, I promise I am not making this up.
– Rob Salmond