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Open democracy?

Written By: - Date published: 11:56 am, August 24th, 2008 - 16 comments
Categories: election 2008, election funding, rumour - Tags:

According to the Sunday Star Times the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Family First have decided to refuse to comply with the Electoral Finance Act.

While the Sensible Sentencing Trust is outrightly claiming they are going to use their breach of the Act as a publicity stunt, Family First are absurdly claiming they can’t register as a third party because they “would have all kinds of administration things to add on”.

My first response to this was to wonder what kind of onerous administration “things” are involved in filling in a form and sending it to the the electoral commission? But then I had another thought: registered third parties need to declare donations and expenses.

The obvious reason for this is that the EFA is about transparency and a big part of that is knowing who is spending what on lobbying the electorate.

Keeping that issue in mind there has been all sorts of speculation about where the funding for these two anti-government lobby groups has come from. The general consensus is that a fair wedge of it is being imported from hardcore rightwing Christian sources in the US but this of course cannot be proven.

There is also speculation they want to run parallel campaigns for National and Stephen Franks’ nomination for Wellington central was part of the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s deal on this (indeed, Franks traveled to the US with the trust last year). Again, because of the lack of transparency around the Trust, we can’t know if such speculation is at all accurate.

If these groups were to register as third parties under the EFA we would know for sure who their backers were and what their interest in altering our political discourse was. But they are not going to and so we won’t.

Interestingly, despite being registered as a charitable trust, The Sensible Sentencing Trust has not registered under the charities act which would give them the opportunity for tax exemptions but also require them to file a six-monthly financial return. Family First has registered under the act but must have done so recently as they have not filed the first of their returns.

Given the fact that these groups are getting a lot of media and are looking to play a strong role in this year’s election campaign, their lack of transparency is concerning and their refusal to register as third parties under the EFA won’t ease those concerns.

As an aside it has been good to hear Rethinking Crime and Punishment getting some media time over crime issues. They have a much more considered and, dare I say, sensible attitude that the Sensible Sentencing Trust who, as you may remember, endorsed the murder of a child because he was a “tagger”.

Update: Stephen Franks has responded with a post on his blog detailing the SST’s donors and political partners. Nah, only joking. He actually just slags off the standard and has a whinge about his list ranking although I’m sure if you ask him nicely he’ll let you know who’s paying the bills for the trust.

16 comments on “Open democracy?”

  1. randal 1

    so the sensible sentrencing trust is just a bunch of white collar crims huh. who is going to bring them to justice?

  2. monkey boy 2

    [Wrong thread MB, you’re looking for this one.]

  3. I think you might find that as an advocacy organisation the SST may not be able to register as a charity, or if it does certain constraints may apply under the Act.

    Re the EFA I think they are being silly, but then that is par for the course re the SST

  4. monkey boy 4

    many apologies – I just put my thing into the worng post I would be happy to see you you obliterate it.

  5. Democracy is a kiwi delusion, just read Absolute Power and you can identify the creepy little anthropoids that are blocking your rights. If that were sorted out then maybe we would get somewhere instead of this onward march to Draconia, which is located at the bottom of Mount Helengrad.

  6. higherstandard 6

    So your supposition is the sensible sentencing trust and Family First are fronts for some nefarious right wing US Christian groups trying to alter political discourse in NZ.

    Perhaps you should have posted this on Travellereve’s website seems somewhat far fetched to me

  7. Democracy is a kiwi delusion, just read Absolute Power and you can identify the creepy little anthropoids that are blocking your rights. If that were sorted out then maybe we would get somewhere instead of this onward march to Draconia.

  8. Benodic 8

    Dad, your obsession with Wishart’s book is getting boring and does neither of you any credit.

  9. Rex Widerstrom 9

    Sometimes principles can be a bitch. To be consistent with my opposition to the EFA as it currently stands means I must support the stance taken by two organisations whose positions on most things I vehemently oppose.

    I find myself in this position because the EFA is isn’t “about transparency” – it’s been pointed out numerous times in numerous fora that there are any number of ways for big donors to “wash” funds given to political parties – it’s about restriction on free speech… it is effective only in limiting the funds anyone, or any organisation, can spend opposing the platforms of the political parties who in turn can still dip into their huge war chests.

    I definitely want to know who’s backing the “Sensible” Sentencing Trust (a misnomer if ever there was one) and Family First, and to what degree. But provided I know that, I don’t care how much they spend. The EFA achieves the precise opposite.

    BTW thanks for the link to the Rethinking folks, Irish… I wasn’t aware of them till now. A definite bookmark.

  10. Draco TB 10

    it’s been pointed out numerous times in numerous fora that there are any number of ways for big donors to “wash’ funds given to political parties

    Links please.

  11. randal 11

    send me some money and I will make it disappear for you. no questions asked. $10,000 minimum disappearance fee.

  12. Ari 12

    it is effective only in limiting the funds anyone, or any organisation, can spend opposing the platforms of the political parties who in turn can still dip into their huge war chests.

    So your objection is what, the cap should’ve been higher for third-party organisations and lower for political parties? Sounds less like opposition in principle to me than a case of beating up a law that only needs a small practical amendment to accord with your principles.

    It also limits the funds you can spend backing up particular parties, so assuming third-party organisations both agree and disagree with well-funded political parties, it can be looked at as perfectly agnostic to NGOs.

  13. randal 13

    this is more computer generated drivel. where is the anti spam filter for this nonsense

  14. Swampy 14

    The EPMU have said they will run their campaign regardless of their status under the EFA. Does this bear a certain level of resemblance to the stance of organisations mentioned above?

  15. lprent 15

    Swampy: No comparison. From what I understand the EPMU says that they will comply with the provisions of the Act regardless of the decision.

    These bozo’s at SST and FF are saying that they will break the law, presumably because they don’t want to reveal their sources of finance or because they plan on breaking spending limits.

    Personally, I can’t see any other reasons to avoid a simple registration of an intent to campaign and an accounting of sources of finance. I think that the bullshit I hear from these groups is simply to cover up their backers. To date I haven’t heard anything that makes me change my mind on that despite all of the misdirection that gets floated around.

  16. I kind of feel like there should be custodial sentaces for breaching things like electoral law. All fines ect do is create 2 rates for advertising. your first XXXk of advertising costs you XXXk, and anything above that costs XXXk + XXk fine. The “damage” is already done when they break these laws, slapping a fine on them doesnt go back and undo the illegal electioneering. If there was custodial sentances they might think a bit more carefully before breaking the law, that or there would be a whole lot more people “forgetting” to sign the forms, like National and thier GST incident last time around.

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