30 hours left to make your submission on the Electoral Finance Bill

Okay sorry this is late and abbreviated but you still have 30 hours left until end of Friday to have your say on the Electoral Finance Bill.

The bill in its current form will regulate almost all political discourse next year. Participation in the political process will be something you have to jump through hoops, not a given right.  Labour, Greens, NZ First are showing little signs of accepting how flawed the Bill is.  In fact the Government is blatantly lying about its effects.

So please please take 30 minutes out of your day or evening to make a submission.  It does not have to be long and you can do it online.  They should be in by the end of Friday.  Here is how:

  1.  Go to this page about the Bill.
  2. Click on “Make an online submission”
  3. Select Yes or no as to whether you wish to appear before the Select Committee to speak to your submission.  Unless the thought of doing so freaks you out I encourage people to say yes.  Your submission will have more relevance if they hear from you directly on why you do not want your rights interfered with.  It also makes it harder for them to rush it into law.
  4. Enter in your name, and contact details.  Also if you are appearing, list your name and number as a witness.
  5. Then click next page
  6. Now you can either import a word document with your submission in it, or type in your submission in the box provided.  Then click Submit.  It is as easy as that.  Just be aware the page times out after 20 minutes so write your submission first and then follow through the process.

Now comes the question – what do you say.  Well first of all you need to say what do you want them to do with the Bill.  There are broadly three choices.  To pass it unamended.  To pass it with amendment.  Or to reject it by recommending to the House it does not proceed.  I think people should say something like:

“I ask the Justice and Electoral Select Committee to reject the Electoral Finance Bill and recommend to the House it does not proceed because it seeks to impose draconian restrictions on political advocacy and speech for which there is no electoral or public mandate”

I would then expand on the point that there is no mandate for these third party restrictions in the Bill. Point out that there has been no public policy process around the Bill.  Point out that it has not been possible to even debate it until a few weeks ago and that one would expect sweeping changes of this nature to come at the end of a lengthy public debate, not at the beginning.

Also point out that why you don’t want the bill merely amended is because you will then have no chance to have meaningful input into the revised bill.  State that your preference is for a public policy process to be used to explore issues and develop options around electoral reform, and then for legislation to be advanced.

Then you may want to highlight some features you find undesirable. Below I give some examples you can incorporate.  But at the end do it in your own words.  Here’s a short list of undesirable features:

  • It extends the period of “regulated speech from 90 days to around 11 months, meaning New Zealanders will spend one third of their lives restricted as to their advocacy.
  • It defines as an election advertisement taking a position on any proposition that a party or candidate is associated with, which will elevate parties and MPs to first class citizens, as the moment they take a position on an issue, it becomes a restricted topic for all other New Zealanders
  • It covers not just traditional advertising, but is worded so that every e-mail and every website (except non commercial blogs) fall under the regulated speech regime
  • It has an almost unworkable bureaucratic system of sworn statutory declarations for any person or organisation spending even $1 expressing a view for or against a party in election year
  • It bans any unincorprated society with even one member under the age of 17 from spending more than $100 a week on political issues
  • It bans political parties from being able to run issue advertisements
  • It requires every organisation that spends more than $100 a week or $5,00 a year on “taking a position on any proposition that a party or candidate is associated with” as having to register with the Government and reveal all non trivial sources of income.  This will affect hundreds if not thousands of organisations
  • It requires third parties ot hand over anonymous donations over $500 to the Government yet allows political parties to accept anonymous donations of no limit at all.
  • It restricts an organisation to $60,000 expenditure in a year on so called election advertising, which barely covers two full page newspapers ads in our largest newspaper, over 11 months.  This is a ridiculously low limit to apply for such a long period of time.
  • It will legalise Labour’s illegal pledge card over-spending in 2005
  • It does not provide for significantly greater penalties for parties that deliberately breach the as happened in 2005
  • It prevents a wronged party, attacked by a politician, from defending itself during an election campaign by requiring third parties to register prior to the issuing of the election writs
  • It does not crack down on anonymous and trust donations to political parties despite there being a clear public consensus that it should.
  • The definition of advertising and publication is so wide that e-mailing a press release, stating your views on a website (other than a non commercial blog), or even making a placard for a protest march will be regulated by the Bill
  • That both third parties and political parties are greatly restricted for all of election year which will prevent them from being able to effectively respond to Government initiatives such as the Budget

That probably gives people some stuff to go on.  You can also mention that the Governments are set up to serve the people, not to take away their rights to criticise the Government.  That any restrictions on these rights should not be rushed into law but only be legislated into law after there has been significant public consultation and input, and widespread consensus.  Point out the only consensus amongst the public is that the Bill is anti-democratic.

So get to work people.  It sounds melodramatic to say if you don’t have your say on this law, you will lose your say on other laws.  But in fact sending in a submission to a Select Committee will actually be defined as a publication and an election advertisement and be illegal next year unless you sign a statutory declaration that you will not spend more than $5,000 on “advertising”.

Also next year if there is a proposed bill, and you are a registered third party and you have already spent your $60,000 on other activities, then you will be banned from spending even $1 on publishing your submission on a law.

Do not trust that Labour, Greens and NZ First will magically make this Bill less draconian.  The Government is blatantly lying about what this Bill does. The Greens will agree to almost anything so long as it stops the Brethren and National.  Winston I hope will show some sense on this, but I don’t want to rely on that.