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Power’s electoral finance reform proposals out

Written By: - Date published: 2:39 pm, September 28th, 2009 - 32 comments
Categories: election funding, national/act government - Tags:

hitler

The level of debate in 2008

Justice Minister Simon Power has released the Government’s proposals for reform of electoral finance law. Remember, Labour’s reforms of electoral finance law were branded an assault on democracy and free speech by National and its affiliates like the Herald.

There were protests in the streets (oddly, at the Wellington one, most of the several dozen of protesters were wearing suits and many of them were reported to be from the Business Roundtable), editorials thundered about the end of our democracy and National Party shills like Matthew Hooton and David Farrar were given air time to accuse Helen Clark of planning to abolish the free press if Labour won in 2008.

So, what radical changes is the government proposing to restore truth, justice and the New Zealand way?

Um, nothing groundbreaking to be honest. Here are the changes in Power’s document :

1. put in some guiding principles into the legislation. As is well-known, the lack of guiding principles in the previous legislation sparked a civil war.
2. allow parties to use their broadcasting allocation in media other than radio and TV and, maybe, outside of the election period(!)
3. continue clearing up the division between spending for parliamentary activities and election activities.
4. keep the current rules on donations
5. increase the spending limits for parties and candidates
6. have a fixed day for the start of the campaign period but not as early as 1 January in election year, as Labour had. Maybe 1 May. Those four months are the difference between fascist dictatorship and utopian democracy
7. clear up the definition of advertising. There were no manifestly unjust outcomes from the previous definition, just a lot of complaints and they arose from the Right’s determination to make the law appear unworkable, not the definition itself.
8. keep requirement to identify promoter of third party campaign. Remember, this was the bit of the EFA that gave Farrar kittens: ‘you’ll have to say your name and address after every speech! OMG!!’ but didn’t cause any problem in reality.
9. keep Labour’s rules around third party campaigns (eg, spending limits, need to register if spending over a certain amount) but make registering “weighted in favour of freedom of expression”
10. let third parties broadcast on TV and radio
11. New electoral agency to publish guidance on following the rules
12. Keep Labour’s penalties for breaking the rules

As you can tell I’m pretty comfortable with (in fact, quite relieved by) the new rules as they appear in Power’s document. They keep the Electoral Finance Act essentially intact. In reality, there were never any serious problems with that law, the Right just kicked up a fuss because it was an opportunity to brand Labour as draconian and anti-free speech. The fact that so much of the EFA will be kept under the new law is a vindication of Labour’s law and a tacit admission by National that they and their allies were merely playing politics with the issue.

At first blush, Power appears to have done a reasonable job and he’s done it by largely keeping the EFA intact.

Update: No Right Turn has a different view here, as does a guest post we’ve received that we’ll put up later.

32 comments on “Power’s electoral finance reform proposals out ”

  1. lprent 1

    Interesting. They are proposing to keep most of the reforms that Labour put in, making largely cosmetic changes and adding meaningless waffle (a Key trademark). I’ll have a look through the proposal later to look at the devil in the details.

    On point 9 – good luck. That wording is simply stupidly vague.

    The campaign period is too short. A lot of the campaigns start a lot earlier, and as far as I’m concerned actually start in earnest about 12 months out from the election. The candidate is the least of the issue for the heart of a successful campaign locally or nationally.

    It is going to be interesting watching the wingnuts from Whale to DPF squirming to show why this is significantly different to the EFA.

    Whats the bet that NACT will try and run this through under urgency and an abbreviated select committee procedure where they ignore the majority of the submissions……

    • snoozer 1.1

      I see that in a number of the points, there’s actually a few different options proposed by the Government. I think Marty’s probably picked the likely options, but there’s still the opportunity of National slanting the whole thing to advantage the Right a lot more at the last minute, which is what No Right turn is worried about.

      Of all the Nats who could be in charge of this, Power is the most welcome. Can you imagine what a Brownlee or a Nick Smith or a Judith Collins would have come up with?

      • lprent 1.1.1

        Yeah this looks quite suspicious to me.

        11. New electoral agency to publish guidance on following the rules

        Why? This is what the electoral commission is meant to do.

        Why aren’t they just increasing funding to that body. It was clearly under-resourced for the type of crap that the wingnuts were firing at it last election.

        That makes me direly suspicious of the composition of this agency.

        • Graeme 1.1.1.1

          Why? This is what the electoral commission is meant to do.

          Actually, it’s not.

          That makes me direly suspicious of the composition of this agency.

          Something to look at, certainly, but I’m not particularly concerned. The separation between the Chief Electoral Office – monitoring candidate advertising – and the Electoral Commission – monitoring party advertising – was really cumbersome (and stupid).

          As long as the new body – to be called the Electoral Commission, I understand – is as independent as the current electoral commission, then this is a good thing. Having elections run by a government department, and the electoral roll run by an SOE isn’t the greatest idea – even though there’s independence in practice. A one-stop shop is a good idea.

          Certainly look out for the composition, but I’m really not expecting this to be an attempt to politicise or hijack electoral administration. The agencies involved now have been pushing for this for years.

    • rocky 1.2

      Whats the bet that NACT will try and run this through under urgency and an abbreviated select committee procedure where they ignore the majority of the submissions

      What, you mean kind of like how Labour changed the EFA significantly after the select committee process, and decided not to bother having a select committee and the public have input into major issues that people hadn’t had a chance to have a say on?

      On all other points I’m in agreement – the hype surrounding the EFA was hysterical and a lot of disinformation was put out there. And National do have a very nasty habit of using urgency to bypass the democratic process.

      Unfortunately the EFA is one of two examples I can think of where Labour didn’t exactly uphold the democratic process.

  2. Oh where do I start.

    1) First the huge difference is the public is being consulted on the policy behind any law changes.You are actually getting a say on it before a bill is introduced. Something Labour and Greens did not allow. They negotiated it all in secret and introduced a bill which would have made it illegal to e-mail someone your opinion on a policy issue. The final law was better, but the original bill was draconian as everyone accepted.

    2) In case you have forgotten the Human Rights Commission, headed by a unionist, declared the EFB so flawed it should be withdrawn.

    3) You have completely missed the fact the EFA got repealed, but with donation transparency retained. So this is not about keeping the EFA. It is about what changes get made to the 1993 Electoral Act. The fatc no major changes are proposed is a vote of confidence in the EA, not the EFA which Labour even voted to abolish.

    4) You shown your ignorance again in your claim I was against name and addresses on election adverts. I was never against them. In fact they have been required by law for 40+ years. What I objected to was the fact speaking at a protest rally was now considered an election advertisement and hence needed an authorisation statement.

    5) You claim the difference in regulated periods is between 1 Jan and 1 May. Wrong. 1 Jan as the EFA had it is out as even a possibility. There are four options for periods being around 1.5 months, two at three months and one at six months. And again the big difference is we are being given a choice.

    6) The proposed changes to election advertisement definition are in fact quite significant. They include personal advocacy on the Internet – changes Labour and the Greens rejected as amendments to the EFA incidentially which only exempted individual blogs, not all online personal advocacy.

    7) It does not keep the EFA rules for third parties. It gives two options (again that giving people a choice and chance to have a say) and if a regulated option is chosen, will have significantly higher thresholds and limits. Labour and the Greens set the limits well below what the independent electoral agency recommended.

    There is a lesson here for all this though. Electoral law doesn’t need to be a bitter background if you have a Minister who deals with all parties in good faith, and gives the public multiple opportunities to have their say.

    You may also wish to recall that the original EFB didn’t even have any extra transparency around donations. That was added in at select committee stage. The original EFB had really little redeeming quality.

    The final EFA was significantly better. Still flawed, but better. If the EFA had been the starting point of public consultation, rather than the end point, again there would have been less controversy.

    [David, treat your readers like idiots if you want but don’t do the same here. micky fisks you below. I just want to add that you were hollowing about the EFB in its final form and the EFA as enacted. Don’t expect us to have amnesia – Marty]

    • Oh can I comment

      The hysteria over this piece of legislation was immense and totally unwarranted when anyone considered the actual detail. To respond in particular:

      1) The public were consulted. There was a full select committee process and people had the chance to comment. There are a myriad of examples where this Government has put through contentious legislation under urgency. The 90 day Fire At Will Bill and the RMA tree felling bills spring to mind. There was also significant movement by the government after consideration of the submissions, something you subsequently concede.

      2) The HRC did say that the EFA affected the right to free speech. They were right, sort of, the EFA required registration of anyone spending a significant amount of money on election advertising and prevented people spending more than $120,000 on advertising. This is a lot of money. The EFA did not ban free speech, it did regulate the very expensive speech. If there is to be a pure rule on the freedom of speech then we may as well have no spending limits whatsoever and let the richest party win all of the time. Our democracy demands more than this.

      3) So we are talking about amendments to a “fundamentally flawed bill”. Obviously it was not “fundamentally flawed”.

      4) Speaking at a protest rally would not require an authorisation statement. Check the definition of “publish” in section 4 and then apologise.

      5) Either have a regulated period before the unknown election date or set an actual date. The parties start campaigning in earnest 12 months before the election. Why not use January 1? The “Iwi kiwi” billboards of 2005, paid for by Parliamentary Services money (gasp!) are a very good reason for an earlier rather than later date. And tell me, why is May 1 OK but January 1 is undemocratic??

      6) So if Telecom sets up a vote National website this should not be regulated?

      7) So there should be no limitation on third parties? So National should be able to set up any number of dummy organisations and then spend at will?

      There is a lesson here for all this. National will oppose and cloud and lie to get an advantage. We need a system where:

      1. There are spending limits on the parties
      2. There are spending limits on other organisations so the parties cannot bypass the spending limits
      3. Free speech is preserved but expensive speech is regulated.

      This is not too different to the old EFA.

      • Rex Widerstrom 2.1.1

        6) So if Telecom sets up a vote National website this should not be regulated?

        Ggggggaahhhh! 8-/ Why is the left’s response to the possibiluty of something like this to rush out and ban it?!

        Two questions:

        1. Why the hell shouldn’t Telecom spend it’s money any way it likes? It has as much right to freedom of speech as any business, union or individual. And if it has more money to spend on it than any of those examples, why shouldn’t it, provided it is open and transparent about it?

        2. What do you think the effect of such a campaign would be?

        If I may be so bold as to answer my own second question, it’d be about as successful as when its former chairman decided to front a “retain FPP” campaign – i.e. even those people who were toying with the idea figured that if that was the sort of company it put them in, they’d better support PR.

        In fact if I were running government relations for Telecom I’d be leveraging parties by promising to run a noisy supporter campaign unless they agreed to my agenda 😀

        • mickysavage 2.1.1.1

          Rex

          “Two questions:

          1. Why the hell shouldn’t Telecom spend it’s money any way it likes? It has as much right to freedom of speech as any business, union or individual. And if it has more money to spend on it than any of those examples, why shouldn’t it, provided it is open and transparent about it?

          2. What do you think the effect of such a campaign would be?”

          1. Because if all the corporates did this we would inevitably have a more corporate right wing country than we have. Some will rejoice. But if we have a true democracy where all views ought to be considered then the views of the wealthy should not dominate.

          2. I am not sure, possibly marginal but any skewering of the result should be avoided.

          • Graeme 2.1.1.1.1

            I wonder whether you’re overstating this particular concern. The change, as I understand it, would not allow Telecom to advertise in favour of National, only allow them to set up a website in favour of National.

            It may have a small effect of the sort you are anticipating, but if the same prohibitions apply as now to paid advertising (newspapers, TV, leaflets, online ads, etc.) then the availability of corporate-run campaign websites probably wouldn’t have a big effect.

        • sk 2.1.1.2

          Actually Rex, it is not clear that a corporate should have the same rights as an individual – including freedom of speech. This is the case before the US Supreme Court now over the Hilary Clinton documentary. There it is seen as a pivotal case.

          Also, it is not Telecom’s money. It is their shareholder’s money, and they should not have the right to spend it that way without a shareholders resolution. Afterall, their shareholders will be both left and right, as well as foreign. (as an aside, NZ SOE’s have more apparent freedom on this than corporates who can be sued by shareholders, think Timberlands and Solid Energy)

          Utimately there is no place for corporates in the political process. Democracies are increasingly tenuous as it is.

          This is a real issue when it comes to climate change policy, when heavy industry is foreign owned as in NZ. How much did Rio Tinto and Holcim donate to NACT last year?

      • labourarelooosers 2.1.2

        Not very effective fisking. More like a bit of mild bullshitting dressed up as rebuttal.

    • felix 2.2

      Marty, there’s a very good reason for David treating his readers like idiots.

      And mickeysavage, “indeed”.

  3. Rex Widerstrom 3

    I can’t think of anything Power’s done, or even said, this term that I agree with and this is no exception.

    It maintains a whole lot of stupid nitpicking rules on how money is spent (the whole “name and address on ever banner” nonsense) while doing nothing to tighten the rules on how — and from whom — that money is raised.

    As someone said over at Kiwiblog, on a thread about the banning of the use of GPS functions on iPhones and the like, National was elected with the expectation that it would get rid of the bulk of nanny statism, not perfect it.

    Regardless of how their supporters might try to spin it, I doubt this will do anything to satisfy those who opposed the EFA on the basis of principle rather than politics and it will come back to bite National when they’re seeking re-election.

    If Labour had any tactical sense it wouldn’t be crowing about a “vindication” right now, it’d be saying mea culpa, expressing astonishment that National had made the same mistakes, and promising to create an alternative policy which created the maximum degree of transparency for donations while not standing in the way of anyone — or any group — which wanted to spend its own money advocating a position, provided that advocacy were done openly.

    Edit: I should acknolwedge, however, as DPF has pointed out above, that this at least is open to consultation, so may be significantly improved. That does not, however, detract from my disappointment that Power has basically done nothing.

    • Armchair Critic 3.1

      Consultation has not been a strong point of this government. I don’t see why it will be any different on this issue.

  4. Graeme 4

    7. clear up the definition of advertising. There were no manifestly unjust outcomes from the previous definition, just a lot of complaints and they arose from the Right’s determination to make the law appear unworkable, not the definition itself.

    The EFA definition included medial releases!

    8. keep requirement to identify promoter of third party campaign. Remember, this was the bit of the EFA that gave Farrar kittens: ‘you’ll have to say your name and address after every speech! OMG!!’ but didn’t cause any problem in reality.

    I believe the suggested change will allow, for example, the use of the physical address of campaign headquarters, rather than it being required to be a home address.

  5. Marty G 5

    Graeme. I’m trying to recall the EC passing a compliant on to the Police over media releases.

    Yeah, you’ll be allowed to put your work address instead.It was the requirement to identify themselves at all that the Nats’ secret backers had a problem with.

    • Graeme 5.1

      1. It doesn’t matter whether one was actually referred to police. A warning would be enough to have a chilling effect etc. The problem isn’t people being referred to the police for sending out media releases, it’s people not sending out media releases for fear of being referred to police

      2. That said, the collection of media releases that formed Jim Anderton’s e-news of 16 May 2008 actually was referred to the police by the Electoral Commission. I refer you to Electoral Commission decision 2008-29, available on the Elections NZ website.

  6. RedLogix 6

    The most pernicious change is going to be the length of the ‘regulated period’.

    In 2005 National spent ALL of their Parliamentary funding on electioneering. They simply did it before the arbitrary three month limit that the AG had quietly told them he was going to audit for. That meant that they could start their campaign in early June that year, months before other parties could afford to do so, comfortable in the knowledge that while exploiting all their Parliamentary Services funding early, they then had a truckload of their own cash to be used in the last three months of the campaign. Thus avoiding any scrutiny by the AG’s office.

    Still didn’t stop Joyce ripping off the rules over the GST thing though.

    A short ‘regulated period’ naturally is biased in favour of the best funded party, because that party has the most opportunity to spend up large, with no legislated restraint, before the period starts.

    The correct solution is to fix the election date and a formal start date for the election campaign itself, no more than 8-12 weeks out. Any spending prior to that date should be counted as double in contributing to the total. Keep the campaigns short and focussed; the longer they drag on, the more they become a money driven media circus.

  7. Oh dear Mickey gets so much wrong.

    1) The public were not consulted on the EFB. They were allowed select cmte input on the EFA, but this is a very different thing. Mickey also overlooks that the other laws he cites had election mandates. The EFB had no such mandate, and the refusal to consult non Govt parties (unlike SImon Power) was unprecedented on major electoral law issues

    2) You confuse the EFB and EFA again. And you are also wrong when you say the EFA only affected those who spent more than $120,000. As an example the FSC’s anti-Winston billboard may have broken the law if it was considered an electorate advert which has a $4,000 cap. Also there was the classifying of personal opinion on non blog sites as advertisements that needed authorisation statements.

    3) The EFB was fundamentally flawed, as the EFA which emerged from it remained flawed. That is why Labour voted to repeal it. This is the law that the Electoral Commission itself said had a chilling effect on political participation. Shame that you still defend it.

    4) The bill which emerged from select committee did require an authorisation statement for speaking at a protest rally. It was (mainly) my highlighting of this requirement that forced a Government backdown at the cmte of the house stage.

    5) You are wrong re the Iwi/Kiwi billboards. Not one cent of them was paid by PS money. You really should try actually doing some research before you invent things. I don’t regard May 1 as okay.

    The reason Simon Power has included 1 May as an option is almost certainly because a significant number of people wanted a longer regulated period, so he has kept it as an option. You see this is how a competent and fair Minister does electoral law. You include options you may not personally be overly keen on, in order to retain bipartisan support for a fair process. This is the part you just do not grasp.

    6) Again you are wrong on the facts. Telecom can not set up a vote National website. You can only campaign in favour of a party with its permission.

    7) I think transparency is the best thing for third parties. If National did set up dummy third parties, then the media should report that and there will be a public backlash.

    Finally you propose what you want in an electoral finance system.Did you bother to actually make a submission? Don’t just whine about things here. You actually have been given an opportunity to have input – take advantage of it.

    • Graeme 7.1

      6) Again you are wrong on the facts. Telecom can not set up a vote National website. You can only campaign in favour of a party with its permission.

      Except if you are a registered parallel campaigner. Then websites you run aren’t considered to be election advertisements.

      7) I think transparency is the best thing for third parties. If National did set up dummy third parties, then the media should report that and there will be a public backlash.

      But parallel campaigners won’t be required to disclose their sources of funding under National’s proposals. I take it that you disagree?

    • ghostwhowalksnz 7.2

      We see on the Super City legislation how the promises before the legislation is passed are dropped by the wayside.
      What chance this too will be done under urgency to allow Key another holiday

  8. labourarelooosers 8

    I guess Helen Clarks ‘little red book’ election spending fraud courtesy of the EFB/A is a holy grail the Labour party and it’s supporters are hoping to repeat.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 8.1

      There is still the GST national spent on their campaign rather then paying to the broadcasters.
      Never paid back apparently.

      Ask Joyce why he OK ed it when the media buyer Rainmakers was telling him in emails the funding was inclusive of GST

  9. randal 9

    you have missed the main point. the new laws will allow third parties to spend as much money as they like supporting their candidates and running their own campaigns. how democratic is that?

    • that is one of the options.

      Also, that doesn’t apply to broadcast advertising, and indeed, in relation to supporting candidates doesn’t apply to newspaper or billboard or leaflet advertising either.

      And for that matter, it doesn’t apply to the Internet either.

      In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise this statement is completely wrong.

      • felix 9.1.1

        Where does it apply? Passing notes in class?

        edit: That would probably be a leaflet actually.

        • Graeme Edgeler 9.1.1.1

          The proposal that “the new laws will allow third parties to spend as much money as they like supporting their candidates and running their own campaigns.” does not apply in any circumstance.

          Campaigns supporting candidates will either be banned, or if a third party registers and is subject to a spending limit, allowed on a campaign website.

  10. randal 10

    hey marty… fatboy is a specialist in running sleazy campaigns against parties and individuals here and on other sites. it is in his nature to use all the prerogatives of wealth and contacts to belittle and demonise anyone who might upset his applecart or who wont bow down to his version of kissing rich peoples arses.

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