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.