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How to write a submission on election finances

Written By: - Date published: 12:30 pm, June 15th, 2009 - 25 comments
Categories: election funding - Tags:

The National-led government repealed much of Labour’s Electoral Finance Act and is now asking the public what should be in a new law on election finances. Please take some time to write a submission backing greater fairness and openness in financing of election campaigns.

All you need to do is:

  1. head up an e-mail or sheet of paper with your name and address and “Submission on the Electoral Finance Reform issues paper”
  2. write your views (we suggest some key points below)
  3. Send it by Friday, 26 June 2009 to
    electoralfinancereform@justice.govt.nz
    or by post to
    Freepost Authority No 224498,
    Electoral Finance Reform,
    Ministry of Justice,
    c/- PO Box 180, Wellington 6140.

Key points you could make:

Transparency, equity, accountability and legitimacy are the most important principles. Freedom of speech is also important. But reducing the distorting effects of wealth (where some election participants can use advertising to get more influence than others) is more important than protecting the ‘freedom of speech’ of wealthy interests to buy unlimited advertising space.

  • New Zealand will never have a credible, transparent electoral system while politicians and parties can receive substantial sums of money from undisclosed donors. No anonymous donations should be allowed above $1000, whether given directly to candidates or parties, indirectly via another person or secret trust, or via the current “protected disclosure scheme”. Essentially, openness and transparency around political donations are so important that they outweigh issues of individual privacy.
  • Parties should have to disclose the names and addresses of donors for all donations above $1000.
  • Only New Zealand citizens and permanent residents should be able to make election donations, just as they are the only ones who can vote. Democracy is about citizens voting, not companies or organisation; and the New Zealand election is for New Zealanders.
  • New Zealand already has some public funding of election campaigning (the “broadcast allocation”, MPs travel budgets etc). This should be increased — by raising the broadcasting allocation, say 50%, and extending it to all forms of advertising — to cover for reduced private donations following the restrictions on anonymous donating and donations from non-New Zealanders recommended above. But this does not mean public funding of parties, which implies annual funding whether or not it’s election time. It is merely a continuation and increase of election-time funding of election activities. It would require a relatively small three-yearly public cost to remove the unhealthy influence of anonymous money in our elections.
  • We should retain the current restrictions on how much TV and radio advertising a party can do. One of the good things about our elections is not being deluged with broadcast advertisements.
  • Elections are all about candidates and political parties. The focus should remain on them. It is ridiculous to control spending and donations for election participants and then allow wealthy lobby groups to participate without any controls. There should therefore be stricter restrictions on “parallel campaigns” than there are on candidates and parties. This should include: a total spending limit during election year of $50,000, including on negative advertising, registering in advance with the Electoral Commission if they will spend over $2000. We should also retain the current restrictions on parallel campaigns using TV and radio advertising. Parallel campaigners will retain the freedom of speech to say whatever they like, just not the uncontrolled right to spend as much as they like.
  • Spending regulations should apply from 1 January of the election year up until the election. If there is only a short regulated period (as at present) wealthier parties can hugely outspend other parties before the official election campaign period, giving them the unfair electoral advantage which election spending controls are trying to avoid.

25 comments on “How to write a submission on election finances”

  1. Pat 1

    “Only New Zealand citizens and permanent residents should be able to make election donations, just as they are the only ones who can vote. Democracy is about citizens voting, not companies or organisation; and the New Zealand election is for New Zealanders”

    So are you suggesting Unions cannot make donations anymore?

    • Anita 1.1

      That would be my preference yes I reckon that democracy is for voters (and it’s what I wrote in my submission to the EFA and will write this time too :).

      Voting is restricted to citizens and permanent residents, funding parties should be similarly restricted  why should anyone or anything which cannot vote be allowed to buy political influence?

      • Rex Widerstrom 1.1.1

        I’d agree, but with the proviso that those of us who choose to retain our NZ citizenship while overseas ought to be able to vote regardless of the length of time we’ve been away. We still have friends and family there, after all. Some of us might still have property. And we certainly care about NZ as much as the next citizen.

        • Rich 1.1.1.1

          How about if people agreed to pay NZ tax on their earnings, then they could vote without physically having to be here? No?

  2. sally 2

    “Only New Zealand citizens and permanent residents should be able to make election donations, just as they are the only ones who can vote.”

    Are they also the only ones who can make submissions to select committees?

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      Yes

    • burt 2.2

      The first drafts of the EFA had this provision but it was removed. You may want to look at why it was removed – there must have been a very good reason.

      • Anita 2.2.1

        The first drafts of the EFA had this provision but it was removed. You may want to look at why it was removed there must have been a very good reason.

        The creeping tide of darkness 😉

  3. burt 3

    Once you have written your submission and have had it responded to there will then be 1,000 last minute amendments and National party hacks flooding the blogs telling you all that it is a good law and common sense will prevail. You (Labour supporters) will then get your chance to repeal the law and write a new one when it’s your turn to own the process.

    Remember the most important thing is that the grand tradition of no accountability under any law written to constrain MP’s and political parties from doing what they want to do. The law is for the masses and political parties are not masses.

    Move on and remember: It’s not a good law unless the opposition hates it.

    • Maynard J 3.1

      “It’s not a good law unless the opposition hates it.”

      What about 99% of our foreign policy and much of our defence policy? Hell, I thought National supported the last budget too. there are quite a few examples of bi-partisan law in New Zealand, do you really think they are all bad?

  4. Pat 4

    “Parties should have to disclose the names and addresses of donors for all donations above $1000.”

    Specifically, what do you mean by “addresses”?

    e.g. P O Box? City of residence? Or full residential street address?

    • Anita 4.1

      I reckon the simplest solution would be to use the same rules as the electoral roll which is already public record  that’s consistent, transparent and a reliable identifier.

      Someone might correct me, but isn’t the electoral roll residential street address?

      • Maynard J 4.1.1

        Yes, but remember there is the secret roll (I can not remember the correct name) although one must have specific reasons to be on there.

        It must be a street address – to ensure that the street address is in the electorate! 🙂

        • Anita 4.1.1.1

          There should be an easy fix for people who have sufficient cause to be on the special roll. At the moment I expect they can’t run for Parliament or be a campaign manager (or whatever the Electoral Act has) without revealing their address, we should fix that! 🙂

          • Maynard J 4.1.1.1.1

            I would suggest (this has been oft-suggested) the Electoral Commission is given details of all donors and publishes the names (not addresses). Names can be kept private if there is a strong reason for it, such as people who are under protection orders etc.

            That would cover people publishing electoral material and the two categories you mention above too, if it is necessary to disclose that information to the EC in the first place.

  5. Pat 5

    “…a total spending limit during election year of $50,000…”

    In some electorates, this wouldn’t cover the printing and postage costs for one letter drop. I’m not sure how you came up with $50,000 as a figure.

    • Anita 5.1

      Really?! Care to provide some maths with that?

      Given the caps that were in place last election it clearly is possible.

    • Maynard J 5.2

      If you consider it not from the ‘what can you get for that money’ perspective, but the ‘who can raise that sort of money’ perspective it makes more sense. The cap should be one to reduce the influence of those with lots of money.

      • burt 5.2.1

        Maynard J

        There is no point having a cap if people/parties are not prosecuted when they deliberately breach it for expediency.

        Remember the most important thing is that the way it has always been done is what the law should have said and validations clean up the grey areas between intent and implementation where it is confusing. And it is confusing.

        • Maynard J 5.2.1.1

          Indeed it is. Did you read Bryce Edwards’ column/blog on spending for the Mt Albert campaign? Someone linked to it in an earlier post about expenses. I struggled with some of it, but the gist of it seemed that everyone was in Mt Albert on Party business, not Parliamentary business – so none of those expenses should have been covered, but we can assume (since we can not ask under the OIA that) these expenses were claimed as Parliamentary business.

          Not an apples:apples comparison but very similar – when does Party/Parliamentary business cease and become an Electoral activity? How do you ensure the definitions do not overly favour the incumbent?

          I see the best solution in theory as public financing of political parties, but I am not sure that is a can of worms to open up in this thread – would or could the EFA cover that topic, anyone? I would think so, but I am not 100% sure.

          • burt 5.2.1.1.1

            Maynard J

            Actually under convention parliament (the law makers) are not allowed to use the defence that the law was confusing when they are caught breaking it. They wrote it, they voted to enact it so they are expected to fully understand and be bound by it.

            An unprincipled corrupt govt might use such a defence if it wanted to avoid accountability and this would be wildly resisted by people who expect their MP’s to abide by the law (they wrote for themselves) and operate with the highest ethical standards. Tribal munters with no concern for anything other than “It’s OK when my team do it’ might see it on a more case by case basis as expedient.

          • Maynard J 5.2.1.1.2

            Oh, so you are only interested in making silly partisan comments and not engaging in a useful or insightful discussion, sorry about that. I mistook your intent and comments.

          • burt 5.2.1.1.3

            Will we learn from our mistakes if we are too pathetic and insecure to acknowledge them? We all know nothing will be done about it so no need to pretend it didn’t happen.

            What I’m getting at is the provisions for “what happens next” when the funding laws appear to have been broken needs to be clear, consistent and applied. The ability of parliament to override the AG or a civil court case is not acceptable. If it is then why have laws that “pretend” to control spending at all? How many breaches under the EFA were prosecuted?

          • Maynard J 5.2.1.1.4

            If that is what you are getting at then you should write that a bit more directly, instead of couching it as a personal/partisan attack. It is far more productive; put in something constructive along with the attacks (f you really have to have them in the first place) – then people who are happy to ignore that half of your comment can engage with you.

            How would you frame that problem in terms of a submission about the EFA? Was it a one off, or have these problems occurred before?

            Is prosecution a fundamental thing for you? If it is, then you should write a submission asking for there to be no warnings, no chance for anyone to get used to the system and no leeway given for the application and interpretation of the law, and that any ‘grey areas’ must somehow be discounted and forced into either ‘ok’ or ‘breach’. That might have a ‘chilling effect’ though 🙂

          • Anita 5.2.1.1.5

            burt,

            I reckon what you want is for someone relatively impartial to be given a legislative requirement to report to Parliament a few months after the election (and annually?) and make the decision about whether to prosecute. That way things can’t be ignored because there’s a requirement to report.

            If that’s the right fix, then who’s the right person?

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