State funding of political parties

May 26th, 2009 at 10:04 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key says he is “not completely closed” to the prospect of using more public funding to run political parties and their campaigns – an apparent softening of National’s vehement opposition to such suggestions in the past.

The question of public funding of parties is one of the central issues of a review of electoral finance law to find a replacement to the now repealed Electoral Finance Act.

First of all, I would not read too much into this. As state funding is within the terms of consultation on electoral financing, he is not ruling it out in advance. This is a good thing as it means the consultation is not a sham.

But it should ring some small warning bells. If you are oppossed to further state funding of parties, then don’t rely on MPs to be against it. Have you say. I will blog next week some further encouragement on this.

Currently, the only state funding for party campaigns is about $3 million in broadcasting allocation to registered parties for election advertising on television and radio.

That is the only direct funding. But parties also gain considerable indirect benefits from being in Parliament – they gain budgets, staff, travel for MPs etc etc. Now this is for parliamentary purposes and I do not advocate it should be reduced. But I think one should recognise there is a political benefit also from this funding. Bryce Edwards will comment no doubt in more detail on this.

If there is a case for , my inclinations are that it should go to the small parties not in Parliament, to give them an opportunity to have their voices heard at election time. I don’t see a case for giving more money to parliamentary parties that already have a huge advantage over parties not in Parliament.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said his party supported at least partial public funding and limits on how much one donor could donate to ensure parties were not dependent on a few wealthy donors.

This excuse holds little sway with me. So long as one has transparency, you can see if a party is dependent on a few wealthy donors and voters can judge that party accordingly. What Noram advocates will actually led to a US style dirty money system where donation limits leads to less transparency as donations go into third parties, or major donors become recruiters of other donors instead. Transparency and simplicity are far preferable that the US system of dirty money that Norman advocates (even if he doesn’t realise that is what he advocates).

It said supporters believed it would limit “actual or perceived corruption or inappropriate influence” because parties would not be as dependent on private donors. It would also help ensure an even playing field for parties whose supporters were not wealthy.

Why stop at an even playing field on wealth. How about time? It is unfair that some parties have supporters who are too busy to volunteer at much time. We shoud have the state force everyone to volunteer the same amount of time to a party to keep it equal.

Also it is unfair some parties have more members than other parties. Who should Labour with 8,000 members get less money than National with close to 40,000?

Many countries where parties do get money from the taxpayer have tighter restrictions on donations, including limiting the amount one person can give and prohibiting donations from corporations and trade unions.

The problem with this, is that most union support is in staff time – not money. During an election campaign hundreds of union staff are unofficially given time off to campaign for Labour and sometimes the Greens. They put up hoardings, supply union vehicles, deliver, door knock etc.

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20 Responses to “State funding of political parties”

  1. Glutaemus Maximus (2,207 comments) says:

    They should be provided with unlimited Lamingtons to throw at each other in Parliament, on the Hustings , on TV, in Restaurants, at Marae meetings, in select committee’s and so on ad so forth.

    This is the true path for democracy.

    Or like Trevor Mallard a free pass to jump on any other member from behind, and commit a physical assault.

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  2. dimmocrazy (286 comments) says:

    What can possibly be simpler than an obligation on political parties to put their books online (in real time, not some sort of audited annual version), combined with the restriction that donations can only be given by natural persons, resident in New Zealand (regardless where the actual money is coming from).

    The simple fact that everything becomes subject to public scrutiny as a result resolves any and all potential problems with that approach.

    It’s simple, all that is required is some courage to make the democratic process really democratic.

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  3. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Prime Minister John Key says he is “not completely closed” to the prospect of using more public funding to run political parties and their campaigns’

    What a buffooon. A great chance to clean up NZ, and we’re saddled with this equivocating fence sitting unprincipled spineless poseur.

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  4. Inventory2 (9,787 comments) says:

    GM – nice thought, but they wouldn’t be any good at marae – Parekura would eat them all before anyone could throw them!

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  5. Jeff83 (765 comments) says:

    “The problem with this, is that most union support is in staff time – not money. During an election campaign hundreds of union staff are unofficially given time off to campaign for Labour and sometimes the Greens. They put up hoardings, supply union vehicles, deliver, door knock etc.”

    Yeah and National supporters give their expertise pro bono or for less than their normal market rate, i.e. John Ansell, who would arguably have a greater impact. There is no problem with people doing stuff for free for something they believe in.

    However personally I agree – I do not have a problem with who donate, or how much (unless it is another government) or what lobby group, as long as its disclosed. Thats where the EFB went wrong, it was meant to be about stopping the whole sham of anoymous donations being channeled through trust accounts, however labour / Greens lost the plot and got obssessed with third party lobying etc which resulted in a shit law and terrible drafting.

    Personally I want a system which is transparent as possible.

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  6. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,664 comments) says:

    Well, I’d like a system which prevents my union dues being shovelled of to a party which I do not support.

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  7. Brian Smaller (3,915 comments) says:

    There should be ZERo public funding of political parties. if they need money then their supporters should front up and donate or run cake stalls or whatever it takes.. I have never been a financial memeber of any party and never contributed funds to any party, and don’t want my taxes going towards them. It has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with the people who gain a livelihood from being part of the political process. Fuck them. Pay for it themselves – whatever colour of the political spectrum they are.

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  8. getstaffed (9,188 comments) says:

    Bugger that! I don’t want a cent of my tax money spent by parties who want to get [re-]elected. There’s already too much effective marketing spend received from unions, state funded broadcasters and other non-neutral media.

    No, those that aspire to membership of NZ’s most gold-plated superannuation scheme can fund their election aspirations by raising their own money from supporters.

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  9. backster (2,000 comments) says:

    This would be unnecessary unproductive use of tax revenue and would send a negative message to those assessing the nations credit worthiness. I also think it is wrong.

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  10. MT_Tinman (2,790 comments) says:

    # Redbaiter (6290) Vote: Add rating 8 Subtract rating 1 Says:
    May 26th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    “Prime Minister John Key says he is “not completely closed” to the prospect of using more public funding to run political parties and their campaigns’

    What a buffooon. A great chance to clean up NZ, and we’re saddled with this equivocating fence sitting unprincipled spineless poseur.

    Probably a bit milder than my thoughts Red but I agree.

    A political party is simply a collection of people with like minded views.

    No different from sports, games, gardening etc. clubs.

    They have a point to sell and if people (any people) support their views they will dip into their pockets to pay for them exactly as clubs gain funding.

    If people don’t like their views, or like most left wing tossers, are simply too bloody miserable to pay to see them promoted the club goes broke and dies.

    The tax payer does not pay millions just so that the Thorndon Tennis Club or the Christchurch Croquet Club can continue to survive if no-one (or not enough people) are prepared to support them.

    Nor should the tax payer pay for political parties of any persuasion, simply because they are political parties.

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  11. homepaddock (429 comments) says:

    A group needs only 500 members to register as a political party. No other groups which are so unrepresentative and do little if any public good would get tax payer funding and no special case should be made for political parties.

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  12. Patrick Starr (3,675 comments) says:

    “What a buffooon. A great chance to clean up NZ, and we’re saddled with this equivocating fence sitting unprincipled spineless poseur”

    you’ve said what many people are starting to think Redbaiter – LMFAO – classic !!- only you could say it like that

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  13. pete (428 comments) says:

    Why stop at an even playing field on wealth. How about time? It is unfair that some parties have supporters who are too busy to volunteer at much time.

    This is just nonsense. Everyone has 24 hours per day.

    [DPF: But some people are having to work, earning money, or are looking after children etc]

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  14. Ryan Sproull (6,661 comments) says:

    This is just nonsense. Everyone has 24 hours per day.

    It’s not entirely nonsense. Consider a party representing the interests of the unemployed and single versus the interests of a party representing full-time workers with families. The former may have an army of volunteers while the latter may have no time at all. However, the latter do have money, while the former don’t.

    It suggests that any even playing field would have to consider every volunteer-hour to be a financial contribution in some way commensurate with money donated to a campaign. From this perspective, volunteer-strong campaigns may be considerably better funded than a more financially funded campaign.

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  15. pete (428 comments) says:

    But some people are having to work, earning money, or are looking after children etc

    i.e. some people choose to spend their time on other things.

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  16. Ryan Sproull (6,661 comments) says:

    i.e. some people choose to spend their time on other things.

    That makes as much sense as severely limiting volunteering, placing no limits on financial donations, and shrugging it off with, “Some people choose to spend their money on other things.” (Assuming a level economic playing field too.)

    If the goal is an even playing field – or as close to as possible – then the measure must be how equally the interests of citizens are represented within the system, rather than the interests of those with time or the interests of those with money.

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  17. pete (428 comments) says:

    You’re right of course Ryan. The point is that dpf can’t make the same argument because his value system requires that economic coercion doesn’t exist.

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  18. Ryan Sproull (6,661 comments) says:

    You’re right of course Ryan. The point is that dpf can’t make the same argument because his value system requires that economic coercion doesn’t exist.

    More that he believes that the current system of capital ownership and profit are justified, and therefore the consequences of it are justified. In an economic environment where money can equal political power (whether solely or alongside volunteer time), AND capital ownership results in an increase of wealth without working to create wealth, AND where capital ownership can be bequested to one’s children, it is necessarily the case that people can inherit political power from their parents without having “chosen” to work for it. Meanwhile, it is not the case that the child of a political activist can be bequeathed a greater number of hours in the day.

    In that sense, the two cannot be commensurate. But the theory is sound. If time equalled money in the same way that money equalled time, it would be possible to design a system in which everyone had more or less equal political power – whether by volunteering or donating.

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  19. pete (428 comments) says:

    More that he believes that the current system of capital ownership and profit are justified, and therefore the consequences of it are justified.

    Not really. Dpf isn’t satisfied with the current consequences, he wants to tip the playing field further towards those with cash and connections.

    I think his justification for this is based on the belief that anyone can “choose” to work hard and become wealthy. You can see it in his attitude to fire-at-will: workers can “choose” not to be subject to the 90-day rule. But by his own logic, someone who has to work or care for children can choose to spend their time campaigning.

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  20. Brian Smaller (3,915 comments) says:

    But by his own logic, someone who has to work or care for children can choose to spend their time campaigning.

    Bravo – Yes they can. Looking after kids, working and having a life does not stop one from putting additional time to other activities – including campaigning for a political party. I work, look after a family, drop kids off and pick up from school, make lunches, cook dinners and still have time to be with my kids for sports, be involved with junior rugby and have a time consuming hobby. Not hard if you aren’t glued to a TV.

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