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.