ImperatorFish: How Should We Fund Our Political Parties?

Written By: - Date published: 12:43 pm, July 10th, 2012 - 22 comments
Categories: political parties - Tags:

Scott at Imperator Fish has kindly given us permission to syndicate posts from his blog – the original of this post is here.

One of the weaknesses of our democratic system is that it gives people the opportunity to buy political influence.

I don’t mean to suggest that some people are “buying” politicians, in the sense of writing cheques in return for express promises from politicians. We don’t usually know the motivations behind large political donations. But it’s reasonable to assume that companies existing solely to make profit aren’t giving cash out of feelings of altruism. We should not be naive enough to think that donors don’t want something in return for their money, even if what they want is never expressed openly.

It’s obvious that parties promoting certain types of policies will be supported by those organisations and individuals who stand to benefit by those policies. So unions give money to Labour, rich cranks donate to ACT, and corporates and wealthy individuals are more likely to give to National.

But despite all of these things being obvious, we still retain the capacity to be surprised whenever a story emerges showing that a party or politician is acting in a way that might potentially benefit a donor.

The Clayton Cosgrove donation scandal (one is tempted to use the term “beat-up” rather than “scandal”) illustrates this point. There is no evidence that the donor, Independent Fisheries Limited, pressured Cosgrove into pursuing any sort of property development legislative change, and yet it’s likely that IFL donated to Cosgrove because it saw some benefit in doing so. Perhaps the company’s owners thought Cosgrove was sensitive generally to the concerns of land-owners in the Christchurch area, and paid the money in the hope he would be re-elected. This is really no different to a company giving National cash because the Nats are “business-friendly”.

In the perfect world politicians would not accept cash from anyone, because the risk of undue influence is always present where parties are funded by donations. But what choice does a party have under our current system? Cake stalls and sausage sizzles will only take a political party so far.

But this post is not intended to be a defence of Clayton Cosgrove. Unless more details emerge about the IFL donation the story seems doomed to disappear in a few days. That a politician pursued policies that appeared to favour someone who donated to his party is hardly a scoop.

There is an obvious solution to the donation problem. Full state-funding of political parties would cost only a few million dollars per year, but it would do away with much of the suspicion that surrounds politicians, and would go some way towards restoring the public’s trust in our political system. We would of course need to have a robust debate over the make-up of any funding system, to ensure it was fair and didn’t entrench the power of the main parties, and we would need to accept that any system we implemented would be imperfect and would need ongoing refinement.

Those groups who currently have influence would probably object to such a system, but that’s precisely why we should be looking at this seriously.

Such a system would be difficult to sell to the public, but it would be worth the effort if it helped to clean up our political system.

[Bunji: And if you agree with State Funding – how do you think it should work?  Based on Membership numbers?  Vouchers?  Or?]

22 comments on “ImperatorFish: How Should We Fund Our Political Parties?”

  1. tracey 1

    I agree with state fundinig campaigns. If the cheque is big enough I am sure it enables more one-on-one access to a minister or MP. We’re all human and we’re all influenced byt he human beings we have contact with.

    Lobby groups, with daily access tot he halls of power maybe positive on one level but on another it is grimey and elitist.

    When was the last time the Chair of Fletcher’s had to queue at his local MP office on a Saturday to have a chat about something bothering him, fletcher related or not.

    • Gosman 1.1

      Equally , when was the last time the Head of a Trade Union had to queue at his/her local MP office on a Saturday to have a chat about something bothering him/her, Union related or not?

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        Yes, exactly.

        I’d say that Gosman was getting it but he was just being sarcastic without realising the truth.

    • McFlock 1.2

      Tracey, we all know how it is – CEOs don’t need to go to electorate offices. They’re at the charity dinners and in the corporate boxes, having quiet chats over complimentary beer. It can be very hard work, so they say before their media meltdowns.
           
      And the union reps are outside, protesting with their unions. 

  2. Pete 2

    Personally I’m opposed to state funding of political parties as I believe that a) there are alternate methods to “fixing” the current system, b) it results in political parties being less responsive to their members and c) means those people end up being forced to support parties and individuals who they may be completely ideologically against.

    However if it was to be introduced I believe that the best way would be:
    1) The status quo remains in place until the next election,
    2) Between now and then an amount of funding per voter is determined. This should look at things like typical votes:donation ratio’s, What amounts the public are happy paying etc.
    3) As of the next election the policy is introduced with parties provided a lump sum for the next 3 years for them to manage based on the number of voters that they receive.
    4) Prior to the following election the funding amount would be reviewed and adjusted up/down based on so the amount was known before voters voted.

    • Pascal's bookie 2.1

      What would you think about a voucher system?

      ie, the pool of money to be given to parties is divided by the number of people on the electoral roll. Each person on the roll then allocates their share of the pie to their party of choice. If they don’t want to give it to any of them, the money goes back to the consolidated fund.

      In essence it would be a 100% tax rebate on political donations. 🙂

      It also eliminates the problem of tactical voting. If you support the libetarianz, and would like them to get some funding, you could give it to them, yet you might have *voted* for National on the grounds that anything else was a wasted vote.

      • Pete 2.1.1

        I think vouchers are fine however the downside I saw with them was that they would create another level of administration which would add another additional cost. I think that ideally that the mechanism for any state funding plan should correspond with the voting process (either via the enrolment or voting stages).

        One downside to the above approach came to mind last night how do new parties gain funding?

    • Bunji 2.2

      I’d be inclined to have a funding model based on membership (rather than per voter – which also risks entrenching current political parties) to partly address those concerns. If parties have to have a thriving membership, they’d be inclined to listen to it somewhat more…

      • Pete 2.2.1

        Then presumably membership would have to be free otherwise party’s gain an additional form of funding which can still be manipulated eg Bronze membership ($10) gets you full voting rights etc while Diamond membership ($1,000,000) gets you full membership and the party leaders cell phone number?

        Also do you then have to make it compulsory to belong to a political party otherwise party’s suffer from voters being willing to support their idea’s and policy at the ballot box but not wanting any direct involvement/contact with the party itself?

  3. DH 3

    I think full state funding would be the best investment we could ever make.

  4. Gosman 4

    This is just another ploy from leftist leaning people who desire to ‘Even’ the political landscape in their favour. As such it has no show of being implemented as it won’t get cross party support and will be vigorously opposed. EFA part Deux.

    • felix 4.1

      “leftist leaning people who desire to ‘Even’ the political landscape in their favour”

      Define “even”, then define “in their favour”, then try writing your comment again with this new well knowledge to draw on.

    • Deano 4.2

      I like the scare quotes around ‘even’. When one party represents and is funded by the wealthy clique who control most of the country’s wealth and the others don’t, the playing field isn’t even if party funding is based on private donations.

  5. higherstandard 5

    They should get not one more cent of taxpayer money.

    However, they should be provided with a “free” slot on state TV and radio to promote their policies and generally bullshit the public.

    …….. apart from that they can all get fucked.

  6. Tom Gould 6

    In relation to the Cosgrove beat up, Scott has missed the most important element, that both the donor and the recipient have said there were no preconditions, offered or sought. Anyhow, maybe taxpayer funding of parties is a good idea, maybe not, but it does not go to the issue raised, how does an electorate candidate under MMP raise the money to fund the local electorate campaign? Even if the central office doles out $20k or whatever the limit is to each of their electorate candidates, this will only catch the big party candidates. What of a new party? The Conservatives, for example? Will they get the full $20k to pass on to each and every local candidate? And if so, will that not jusy encourage hopeless unelectable candidates to spend the full amount, meaning enormouse waste? Why not just let the candidates raise their own money, and declare the donor source and amount, like Cosgrove did? The rules work. We are only discussing the matter because they do.

    • Bunji 6.1

      It would mean tighter party control on electorate candidates I suppose. The party would get its allocation and then it’d be up to them how much they farmed out to candidates to spend… But that wouldn’t work for independent candidates.

      I guess you could have a hybrid system where parties central campaigns are funded, but candidates can only spend what they raise, have a $500 donation limit, and keep the cap on advertising spend. It could probably even be lowered, to ensure candidate spend is only on candidate vote and an even playing field.

      The Nats might not like it though – the likes of Sam Lotu Iiga got >$50k from their head office last time for their campaigns…

  7. Cannot think of something clever 7

    What both sides of the divide have missed is that political spend has a much lesser effect on voting than one might intuitively believe. The extreme examples include the NZ Conservatives and ACT. Both spent a very large amount per electoral seat (in the Conservatives case no seat) compared to the likes of the major parties.

    We can also point at some campaigns where Labour either on its own or combined with Unions outspent National. The spend by Labour and National is typically not dissimilar. As, by all accounts, Labour are skint this time around we might see something substantially different in spend.

    This is also seen outside NZ where presidential candidates in the US often spend enormous amounts with no success.

    Based on that I really don’t want you and me funding their ambitions.

    I’m more with TG – if potential conflicts of interests were super transparent that would really address the type of furore we see with Cosgrove.

  8. Jimmie 8

    The one good thing about the current system is if you have a party that is stagnating, is not renewing itself or its candidates and is generally seen as out of touch then this leads to reducing membership and/or donations.

    This sends positive internal messages to the leadership stating, pull your act together or else you’re history.

    This means the party is not only in competition externally for votes from other parties it is also driven internally to modernize and to find suitable leadership and candidates to become more relevant.

    Surely this is better than a situation where the parties basicly become beneficiaries to to the state and surely will advantage existing parties over newcomers.

    There will be no incentive to listen to members as they aren’t part of the funding equation.

    Look at National circa 2001-05 as a case in point – under English they hit a pretty bad low – they reformed, got their act together, and came back and won in 2008.

    Labour are in a similar place currently. By advocating for state funding this is running away from the problems that Labour has to get to grips with uninspiring leadership and irrelevant policies.

    Look at how well the Greens have done since they turfed out their odd balls, moderated some of their policies, and put on a professional image of themselves – Labour should learn from this.

    • Pascal's bookie 8.1

      Vouchers would deal with that. the funding would be directed by voters.

  9. jaymam 9

    It’s simple, full state-funding of political parties should be done by a dollar amount for each party vote obtained in the NEXT election, and parties can only spend that amount in the year before the election.
    The parties will have to estimate the votes they will get. If they overspend, their allocation will be reduced for the following election.
    Every other method is subject to rorting or is unfair to new parties.
    The cost of state funding is negligible compared with the other costs of government.

    • RedLogix 9.1

      Nice.

      Actually just to really get the point across; how about for every vote they over-estimate they get twice the dollar amount taken off the following election.

      • jaymam 9.1.1

        OK there could be some fine-tuning. Other countries do it this way already. I’d like to say that they can only spend the money they get at ANY time. There needs to be some way to stop lobbyists like the Exclusive Brethren spending millions.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • National out of touch over immigration
    National’s abrupt backflip on their recently-announced changes to immigration shows they never understood the problem and just came up with a confused knee jerk response, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “Regional communities and businesses were quite right to ...
    6 hours ago
  • English out of touch on homelessness
    Bill English’s comments that he doesn’t know why people are complaining about the blowout in the number of homeless families the government is putting up in motels just shows how tired and out of touch National is after nine years, ...
    9 hours ago
  • All Kiwis to have same standard of cancer care
    Labour is promising that all New Zealanders will have access to the same level of cancer care no matter where they live in the country, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.   “As someone who has survived cancer I ...
    1 day ago
  • Infrastructure announcement too long coming
    “What took you so long?” is Labour’s response to the Government’s announcement of a new infrastructure investment vehicle. Labour’s Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford says Labour announced its policy in 2015 to debt-finance infrastructure and service that debt with targeted ...
    1 day ago
  • Time for a breather on immigration
    National has no idea how to house the record number of people entering New Zealand, let alone cope with the pressure on health, education, and transport from this record population growth, says Labour’s Immigration spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway. ...
    3 days ago
  • Labour to invest $4 billion in education
    Labour’s Education Manifesto will bring positive change across the education sector and is backed by a massive investment, says Labour’s Education Spokesperson Chris Hipkins.  “Labour’s plan will see an extra $4 billion invested over the next four years. It’s organised ...
    3 days ago
  • National’s shame: worst homelessness in the OECD
    National’s legacy is a housing crisis that has given New Zealand the worst homeless rate in the developed world, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    3 days ago
  • Labour taking action on school donations
    Labour will end so-called voluntary school donations for the majority of parents across the country under its $4 billion plan to revitalise the education sector, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. “Labour has always been committed to a world-class free education ...
    3 days ago
  • Labour to work with Queenstown to build more houses
    Labour will work with Queenstown-Lakes District Council, iwi, and the Community Housing Trust to build the modern, affordable housing Queenstown desperately needs, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    4 days ago
  • Nats blow the Budget on motels after bowling state houses
    National is spending $140,000 a day putting homeless families in motels, the legacy of nine years of selling off and knocking down state houses, says Labour Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    4 days ago
  • New revelations in Joanne Harrison report
    The State Services Commission’s report into the treatment of whistle-blowers by Joanne Harrison has revealed new accusations against the convicted fraudster, says Labour MP Sue Moroney.  “The report found that four staff inside the Ministry of Transport who had raised ...
    4 days ago
  • Snafu at Princess Margaret
    Jonathan Coleman has to stop the stalling over a new building for mental health services in Christchurch to replace the quake damaged Princess Margaret Hospital, says Labour’s Health spokesperson David Clark. “The Government must accept that Christchurch is still recovering ...
    5 days ago
  • Labour’s fiscal plan to build a fairer New Zealand
    Labour will re-build our housing, health and education while responsibly managing New Zealand’s finances, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.  “Under Labour’s Fiscal Plan we will deliver big investments in the services we all need and care about, invest ...
    5 days ago
  • Nats show they’re the tax dodgers’ best friends
    The government is taking the knife to IRD at a time when we need a highly skilled department to ensure that multinationals and speculators don’t get away with dodging tax, says Labour’s Revenue spokesperson Michael Wood. ...
    5 days ago
  • Labour secures the future for NZ Super
    A Labour Government will secure the future for New Zealand Superannuation so we can continue to provide superannuation to those retiring at age 65, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “One of the first things a Labour-led Government will ...
    6 days ago
  • Multinationals must pay fair share of tax
    A Labour Government will crack down on multinational companies that are dodging paying their fair share of tax, says Labour Leader Andrew Little. “New Zealanders are missing out by hundreds of millions according to the IRD because multinational companies can ...
    6 days ago
  • ACT’s approach to children backward and ill informed
    Act’s new deputy leader’s claim that Labour’s support for families could “extend the misery of child poverty and even child abuse” is ill informed and offensive, says Labour’s Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern. ...
    1 week ago
  • Canterbury hatchet job a disgrace
    The Government’s glib acceptance of advice that the Canterbury District Health Board doesn’t need more money is a hatchet job and a disgrace, says Labour’s Health Spokesperson David Clark. “To claim that the DHB was using tactics to leverage more ...
    1 week ago
  • Quality for Kiwi kids at ECE
    After more than a decade of rapid growth in the number of children participating in Early Childhood Education (ECE), it’s time to take stock and map out a clear plan for the future, says Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins. ...
    1 week ago
  • Labour to boost ECE quality
    Labour will ensure kids get the best start in life by boosting funding for Early Childhood Centres to employ 100 per cent qualified and registered teachers, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    1 week ago
  • Labour will stump up a million dollars for Maniototo Hospital
    A Labour led Government will make a million dollars available to rebuild the Maniototo Base hospital in Ranfurly, says the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.  “This will be a much needed boost for a long overdue rebuild that has ...
    2 weeks ago
  • No vision for the West Coast
    The West Coast welcomes any Government investment in our region but the lack of any real alternative vision for the West Coast’s economy is disappointing, says Damien O’Connor Labour’s West Coast-Tasman MP.  “The establishment of a Mining Research Unit will ...
    2 weeks ago
  • National’s youth work scheme too little too late
    After nine years, National’s belated attempt to provide work opportunities for unemployed youth should be seen for what it is, a half-hearted, election gimmick from a party that’s ignored the problem till now, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Kiwis won’t fall for Joyce’s spin
    Steven Joyce’s embarrassingly obvious spin on Labour’s Families Package won’t fool anyone, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour prioritises families and public services
    Labour’s Families Package delivers a bigger income boost to more than 70 per cent of families with children than Budget 2017. By not spending $1.5 billion a year on tax cuts, Labour is able to do more for lower and ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Kiwis can’t sleep in your ghost houses, Nick
    The Government’s housing infrastructure announcement is another Nick Smith special – over-promising with no detail on delivery, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour helps older New Zealanders and low income families with winter heating bills
    Labour will further boost its commitment to warm, healthy housing with a Winter Energy Payment for superannuitants and people receiving main benefits, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “Everyone deserves a warm, healthy home to live in. But that’s ...
    2 weeks ago
  • National must rule out retrospective override for Ruataniwha
    National must categorically rule out using retrospective legislation to override the Supreme Court’s decision that the land swap of conservation land flooded by the proposed Ruataniwha Dam was illegal, says Labour’s Shadow Attorney General David Parker. “Having not got their ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Flavell’s failure a win for Māori landowners
    The Māori Development Minister’s admission that his unpopular Ture Whenua Māori Bill won’t pass into law prior to the election is a victory for Māori landowners, but only a change of government will keep the Bill gone for good, says ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Stats confirm growing housing shortfall
    National’s failure to fix the housing shortage has been starkly illustrated by new statistics, says Labour Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Systemic abuse of kids in state care
    After admitting there was systemic abuse of children in State care the Government must do the right thing and launch an independent inquiry, says Labour’s Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Migrant worker exploitation needs sharper focus
    The astonishing number of employers found guilty of exploiting migrants shows that migrant exploitation is a serious problem in New Zealand, says Labour Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway. “A total of 53 companies have been banned from recruiting ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Minister faces questions over dam debacle
    Today’s Supreme Court ruling dismissing an appeal to allow a land swap for the controversial Ruataniwha Dam is a victory for our conservation estate and Hawke’s Bay ratepayers, but leaves the Conservation Minister with serious questions to answer, says Ikaroa-Rāwhiti ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Too little too late on Wellington housing
    The announcement today on social housing in Wellington by the National Government is a pitiful and cynical election ploy, says Labour’s Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson. “In 2012 Housing New Zealand emptied out the Gordon Wilson Flats, taking 130 places ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Foreign trusts wilt in the sunlight, but more transparency needed
    The fact that the numbers of foreign trusts registered in New Zealand has plummeted after the Government’s belated and reluctant imposition of a new reporting regime, in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, shows the need for a transparent, ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Speech by Grant Robertson: The Future of Work and Labour’s Economic Vision
    At the election in September voters will face a choice between a government led by Andrew Little with a fresh approach to give every New Zealander a fair share in prosperity or the continuation of a tired government, out of ...
    3 weeks ago