Power pulls a swifty on electoral finance

Written By: - Date published: 9:52 pm, April 30th, 2010 - 25 comments
Categories: election funding, electoral systems - Tags: ,

The Electoral Finance (Reform) Bill introduced to parliament yesterday contains a major change from what had been previously indicated. The regulated period for limiting election expenditure, as well as the election date itself, is now at the discretion of the Prime Minister. It could be as little as six weeks instead of the previous three months as initially announced. As  No Right Turn says, this is effectively a 50% increase in the expenditure cap. It could also bring the time allowed for unrestricted spending on advertising closer to the election date and therefore more effective.

There is something odd about the process as well. The cabinet paper making  the decision is dated 20 April 2010, so presumably went to Cabinet Monday 26th, this week. The recommendation  at Point 16 says under Next Steps that Cabinet “approve the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill for introduction subject to the final approval of the government caucus and sufficient support in the House of Representatives.”

The government caucus would have rolled over on Tuesday – the last-minute provision massively advantages National. Yesterday’s announcement by Simon Power however has the puzzling statement that:

Following consultation by the Speaker with all parliamentary parties, it was agreed that the regulated period could also be triggered where an election is called less than three months from polling day, to avoid retrospective application to prior spending.

The nature of that consultation would be interesting to know. It must have been fast. Quite why the Speaker got involved is also unclear.

This rushed process also shows up a major flaw in the way the electoral finance consultation has been handled by Power. Consultation has been limited to the parliamentary club. Parties outside Parliament and the extra-parliamentary sections of political parties were not consulted at all. But it is they who must raise the money, pay the bills and carry the can.

There are more and bigger issues with the election finance package; where it comes to money, in my opinion the consensus spin is a sham. But this looks like a swifty as well.

25 comments on “Power pulls a swifty on electoral finance”

  1. lprent 1

    Interesting. That means that the National party is doing everything that the opponents of the EFA were accusing Labour of doing (and which they weren’t).

    They are playing politics with electoral law. They are also doing it without bothering to talk to anyone apart from their nether regions. Who gives a pigs arse what MP’s think? We’re aware that they tend to view parliament as being a personal cash cow – ask Bill English..

    I wonder if we’re going to see the granny herald lambasting this assault on democracy? Or are they only interested (as I suspect) when it is Labour proposing reforms?

    Hell, I might even write a submission of this idiotic travesty of ‘consultation’.

    • My guess – the Attorney-General advised he was going to issue a s 7 report under the Bill of Rights because of the retrospective law, so National went and consulted with the other parties and got agreement to the new law.

      Quite how this means National is playing politics with electoral law, I’ve no idea. And quite how Labour weren’t playing politics with electoral law through their EFA process, I don’t know.

  2. SPC 2

    Perhaps there should be a provision that the government needed the consent of a majority in parliament and the GG to an early election (one without 3 months notice).

  3. lprent 3

    The problem is that the actual election campaigns in the last decade have been over six months in duration, and increasing.

    The 3 months was a joke. 6 weeks is just ludicrous.

    Society is far more complex than it was a 100 years ago, and we need more time to ‘discuss’. I’d agree that the election campaigns eat into the time required to govern. But the solution for that is easy. Shift to a 4 year term

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      The 4 year term has been needed for awhile. Hell, I think the 3 year term was always too short. You just can’t do anything with it. Election campaigns now are pretty much permanent and it’s more a question of degree than “is campaigning”/”isn’t campaigning”.

      Under this type of legislation the PM can call a snap election when they’re ready. Basically they start off campaigning 12+ months before the last possible election date and then, when the poll numbers are just right, call the election which gives them 6 weeks to cement their lead. All campaigning prior to that “didn’t happen” according to the law. It’s a load of bollix of course and goes straight to the RWNJs belief that “if it’s legal then it must be moral” even when it’s obvious that they’ve written the law in such a way that it is contradictory to any morality.

      This proves that the election date needs to be a set day such as the last Saturday in October or the first in November.

      • Luxated 3.1.1

        Rather than fixing the election date in time the better solution would be to publicly fund all campaigning by political parties every year with extra funds being allocated (retroactively if need be) in the 12 months prior to an election. Not that National would ever be happy with that, makes it too difficult to buy elections then.

        • bahandhumbug

          “the better solution would be to publicly fund all campaigning by political parties every year with extra funds being allocated (retroactively if need be) in the 12 months prior to an election. ”

          On behalf of most taxpayers can I suggest you fuck right off !

          • uke

            Yes, but it sounds like you’re expecting them to be given millions.

            What about $5000 each?

          • NickS

            On behalf of most taxpayers can I suggest you fuck right off !


            Silly silly tax payer, political parties already get significant amounts of money from the crown for political advertising etc.

            And such an idea would effectively remove the ability of those with money to influence the election outcomes, although funding it would be a slight pain in butt. Then again, it would likely lead to ACT being a 1 seat party, and that’s only if Wodney can hold onto his seat…

          • Pascal's bookie

            On behalf of most taxpayers

            Speak for yourself higherstandard. I thought you’d been sent to gitmo anyhoo.

            Seeing we are talking about public financing again, I’ll trot out my pet idea of ‘citizen directed public financing’

            Works on the following principles.

            Everyone pays taxes anyway.

            Everyone must register to vote.

            Politics, as it currently functions, is driven by parties.

            Party membership is not what it used to be.

            Increasing citizen involvement would be a good thing.

            Decreasing the ability of special interests to capture parties would also be a good thing.


            Out of the taxes we all pay, some could go to political parties, this should be the majority of party funding to decrease the opportunity for capture.

            Some total amount should be allocated. This amount is divided by the number of registered voters.

            Each individual when registering to vote, should have the option of ticking a box for which political party they want their share of the public funding to go to. Unallocated funds are sent back to the consolidated funds. No citizen therefore has any of their taxes spent on a party if they don’t wish.

            It is illegal for parties to campaign for ticking this box, and the option is promoted out of the electoral office budget. Each party gets to write a short description of who they are which would be included with the electoral role registering material.

            There could also be a box to tick if a citizen wants more information from a party re membership/involvement. If they tick that box, the party gets sent contact details, otherwise, the funding is anonymous.

            • Armchair Critic

              If one supports two parties, or splits their vote between the candidate and the party?

              • Pascal's bookie

                That’s the thing. The allocation of funds is completely separate from voting. It happens at the registering to vote stage. It’s not strictly about what party you support in the same way voting is, but which party would you like to get your tax paid share of the public funding.

                Voters might want to give their portion of the public funding to the party they normally vote for, or they may not. Doesn’t matter.

                I’d think that this may well mean that smaller parties get a larger proportion of the funding than they get of the vote, but as it’s citizen directed who’s to argue?

            • Draco T Bastard

              Sounds like a nice idea but there’s one problem with it – it lacks a level playing field. In other words, the same problem we have ATM.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Could do both.

    • The 3 months period is a joke. In 2005 Brash thought that Labour was going early and came out with those horrendous Iwi Kiwi billboards. Labour then held off.

      The funding for these billboards was never clarified but I always wondered if Parliamentary Services funding was used.

      The debate about the supposed “breach of rights” was always conducted in a vacuum without reference to the historical incidents that caused the EFA to be in the form that was chosen.

      • The funding for these billboards was never clarified but I always wondered if Parliamentary Services funding was used.

        It wasn’t. The funding arrangement was made clear numerous times. The Brash-led National Party had oodles of private cash funnelled through the Waitemata Trust.

        • IrishBill

          Unlike the national party of 2002 which did use parliamentary funding for bill boards.

          MS, I don’t believe Brash went because he thought Labour was going early but because he had enough cash for two elections and decided to spend some of it early. Thus he effectively ran a one year campaign with only the last three months accounted for as spend.

          Similarly Key’s opposition continued the 2005 attack campaign over the next three years until switching to a positive campaign for the official period. They played a very nice long-game campaign in my opinion but they don’t seem to have the energy or resource to run that kind of continual campaign model as a government (or it may simply be that it is harder to run when in power).

          • Graeme Edgeler

            Or were Labour considering going early and then decided to go late so that National would run out of money?

            • IrishBill

              The fact National had enough funding to run two campaigns was well known by senior Labour people at the time so that strategy was never even considered.

  4. tsmithfield 4

    Iprent “Society is far more complex than it was a 100 years ago, and we need more time to ‘discuss’. I’d agree that the election campaigns eat into the time required to govern. But the solution for that us easy. Shift to a 4 year term”

    I agree Iprent. A longer term for elections would be much better for democracy. It means that parties would spend more time focusing on what needs to be done and less time and money on buying votes. It is quite usual for governments to be in more than one term anyway, so why not make our election cycle 5 or 6 years instead of 3?

    So far as bills such as electoral finance are concerned, they should require 75% support of parliament to be established. The broader the consensus the better IMO.

    • bahandhumbug 4.1

      A longer term is only acceptable if and when the pollies start putting major decisions to the vote – and I don’t mean a vote in parliament, proper binding referenda please – the Swiss manage to do something along these lines don’t they ?

    • TS

      So far as bills such as electoral finance are concerned, they should require 75% support of parliament to be established

      The only problem is that National always wants to maximise the effect of money and Labour wants to minimise the effect. They will never agree on the principles. All that will be possible is a continuous messy compromise.

  5. Bill 5

    In my experience, Swiss people who are familiar with NZ are astounded at the lack of democracy here.

    I guess they will be really astounded in the future.

    On the referenda in Switzerland front. When it is still possible to spin public opinion to ban minarets, then you have to concede that even this vast improvement on the NZ system just doesn’t cut the mustard.

    I just don’t know why we keep fiddling with representation as though it will one day deliver democracy if we could just get the tweek right. It won’t. At best it keeps dictatorship at bay for a while before getting washed away in waves of self serving twattery unleashed by established or rising centres of power.

  6. Alwyn 6

    The change he is proposing penalises the Government, not the opposition parties.
    Short of losing a confidence or supply vote in Parliament the Prime Minister knows the date of the election well ahead of time and no-one else does.
    Surprisingly the Governemnt appears to be helping Labour rather than itself.
    A way around this might be to limit the main Government party to a three month period and other parties to the time period proposed by Power.
    A snap election (other than one triggered by the loss of a confidence or supply vote) would then limit the Goverment but not the Opposition.
    I wonder what the effect would have been in 2008 when Clark knew the date of the election but no-one else did?

  7. Nemesis 7

    So the author has conventiently forgot his involvement with the EFA and then says the nats are playing politics with electoral finance reform.

    Funniest thing I’ve read all week.

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