Here’s an article from the ODT. It’s by Simon Cunliffe, “a senior Otago Daily Times journalist”.
I’m loathe to reprint it in full but the ODT doesn’t provide full online access to articles. Perhaps the best I can do is to encourage you to subscribe to their digital edition if you enjoy the read.
Electoral Finance Bill is the price of undeclared interests
LISTEN up. Suppress that yawn. This week will decide the fate of the Electoral Finance Bill. It comes with serious historical baggage and a radical payload of forward freight.
This is an argument about how elections are financed. But it is also, in the end, a presentation on the nature of our democracy.
There has been much bitterness in the debate. It derives from the baggage. The Left saw developments at the last election that, if allowed to become commonplace, could render it electorally irrelevant. Equally, the Right, elements of which have steadfastly refused to come to terms with MMP, sees next year’s election as its last best chance to unseat Labour and its centre-Left coalition partners as the natural parties of Government.
In 2005, knowing an election was imminent, but with a war chest that exceeded its electioneering allowance, the National Party embarked on an expensive billboard campaign. This was entirely legal, but coming in such close proximity to the three-month election period, it was possible for opponents to construe it as electioneering.
Second, as it was to emerge through Nicky Hager, author of The Hollow Men, National’s new leader Dr Don Brash owed his position Ãƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬” and possibly his allegiances Ãƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬” to the influences of big money, in particular the Act New Zealand Party and the Business Roundtable.
Third, sophisticated offshore techniques were deployed in Dr Brash’s election strategy and campaign.
Fourth, the campaign itself saw the intervention of third party pamphlet advertising, spending up to $1 million attacking the policies of Labour and the Greens.
It added up to a seismic shift in the New Zealand political landscape Ãƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬” irreversible and not especially attractive. The genie was out of the bottle.
For its part, Labour, spent about $800,000 on a pledge card using funds that had been set aside for that purpose in at least two previous elections without reproof, but which was now seen by the Opposition, the Auditor-general and much of the electorate as at best inappropriate. Legal minds were divided but in the court of public opinion Labour and most of the other parties took a hiding.
So much for the baggage.
The forward freight is the recasting of the electoral financing laws. For normally sure-footed Labour, the initial drafting of the new Bill was shoddy. Allowing itself to be blindsided by the Human Rights Commission in its submissions to select committee was uncharacteristic Ãƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬” even accepting this is where a great deal of the shaping and horse trading of democracy routinely occurs.
Outside Parliament, opposition to the Bill has been led by John Boscowen, who discovered the existence of the Human Rights Commission with all the fervour and glee of a true convert. He has made great play of the Commission’s submissions dating back to mid-October, even though many of these have now been addressed. He continues to insist the Bill will severely curtail democracy. If you are an individual, it won’t, unless you plan to spend more than $120,000 on a politically-directed campaign.
As much as we like to imagine that freedom of speech is an absolute, it isn’t. There are several laws that proscribe it. Mr Boscowen’s ideal democracy is one in which money is free to talk whenever, and however loud, it likes. The suggestion there might be times Ãƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬” during election year, for instance Ãƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬” when it should be constrained to a whisper, seems gravely to offend him.
Mr Boscowen is a multi-millionaire. Good on him. He’s been a fund-raiser and office holder for Act. No problem. He is also an associate member of the Business Roundtable. His privilege. And he’s articulate, but possibly a little shy in his appreciation of irony.
He has spent $140,000, and rising, fighting the Bill. That money has bought newspaper and radio advertisements denouncing it, printed placards, marshalled involvement in protest marches, and paid Ãƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬” everybody still comfortable? Ãƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬” for a Canadian call centre to telephone 82,000 Auckland homes to drum up support for the last protest.
So much for the spontaneous outpouring of opposition to this dastardly anti-democratic Government’s election finance Bill. The truth is, Mr Boscowen has bags of money and no hesitation in using any amount of it to try to influence the course of our future democracy.
Some might say he is the perfect illustration of why the new laws, imperfect though they might be, are necessary. And there’s no small irony in that.
UPDATE: It’s come to our attention that the author of this article was formerly employed as a Labour Party press sec. While his opinions are no less valid because of this we are putting it on the record in the interests of disclosure.