Electoral Finance details

September 28th, 2009 at 2:28 pm by David Farrar

Here are the major proposals or options from the proposal document.

Broadcasting Allocation

Option 1 is the status quo of $3.2 million for political parties that can only be spent on broadcasting, and parties can not buy additional time.

Option 2 is moderate reform where the allocation can be spent in any advertising medium, and parties may buy additional broadcasting time.

Option 3 is significant reform where the funds can be spent on any purpose (not just election advertising) plus parties may buy additional broadcasting time.

Personally I would restrict access to the allocation to non parliamentary parties, but that is not an option.

Option 3 is effectively state funding of political parties, so I am not in favour. If we are to have taxpayer funds supplied, they should be for the express purpose of election advertising, not to pay people to administer the party.

I support Option 2 then, as it is the fairest, allowing parties to purchase time beyond their allocation and also allowing them a choice of medium.

I would suggest the amount allocated be set in legislation (and inflation adjusted) so a future Government can not just double or triple the amount allocated.

I was pleased to see the paper say:

While some submissions on the issues paper supported an increase in state funding to political parties, many submissions considered there was no case for additional state funding to political parties at the current time, particularly in light of the donations returns for the 2008 general election which demonstrate that some political parties are able to raise adequate private funds for their campaigning.

That was a point I made – the empirical evidence from 2008 is that there is sufficient private funding.

Parliamentary Service Funding

No change at this stage just  a desire to harmonise definitions of electioneering. I still believe the best way forward is to prohibit PS funding of any advertising during the regulated period.

Private Donations

No change. This is not entirely surprising. Personally I would have got rid of the ability to donate anonymously through the Electoral Commission.

This means the law passed by Labour and the Greens, as it applies to donations, will remain in force.

Campaign expenditure limits

The Government has decided in principle that the limits for party spending (currently $2.4 million effectively) and constituency spending (currently $20,000) should increase. They are seeking feedback on what level they should be set at, and also a desired mechanism to adjust the amount for future elections.

If you inflation and population adjust back to 1995, and include the $1 million broadcasting allocation then the party limit would be close to $5 million. I think $50,000 is around what you need at electorate level to be able to do even a basic campaign. That is a bit over $1/voter only.

Ideally the limits should be calculated using research on how much one needs to spend to reach x% of the population with a frequency of y.

Future increases should be based on inflation and population growth.

Regulated Campaign Period

Four options

  1. Starts on Writ Day. This means a period of around five weeks. Would give PM’s party a huge advantage as they could spend up large before writ day knowing when it will be before others do. Mind you I doubt any party would come close to spending up to the limit for such a short period.
  2. Starts on 1 August in the scheduled election year. This is my preferred option.
  3. Starts on 1 May in the scheduled election year. I think this is too far out as it covers the period of the Government’s Budget and you don’t really hit campaign mode until after that.
  4. The status quo of three months before the election. My least favoured option as it means you are halfway through the regulated period before knowing exactly when it starts.

The paper also canvasses two options for snap elections. Either have it retrospective to three montsh before the election date, or have it from the date of the announcement (which I favour).

Election Advertising

Definition will be based on 1993 Act’s definition of seeking to influence voting behaviour, and will be media neutral. It will not include policy advocacy that does not mention parties.

Exemptions will include media, personal correspondence between individuals, low cost merchandise (pens etc), personal opinions published on the Internet (or by text messaging), website maintained by parties and candidates and parallel campaigners (if registered), and anything put out by electoral agencies.

This seems quite good. The website exemption may seem strange to some, but it is hideous trying to work out what portion of a site is an advertisement and further it is a passive medium which people seek out – it is not like advertising that is displayed to people who are not seeking it.

All adverts will have name and full daytime address (but need not be home).

Parallel Campaigning

Two options.

The first is a “proportionate” regulatory scheme that has a high registration threshold and overall expenditure limits. Registered campaigners will not have to disclose donations to them as per the EFA. Registration restricted to NZ citizens, residents and organisations.

The second option is the status quo. No registration but you must identify yourself. This could possibly include restricting advertising to NZ citizens, residents and organisations.

While the first options is considerably superior to what was in the EFA, I am not convinced there is enough of a problem to change from the status quo. There was very little third party spending in 2008 and the main problem in 2005 was the lack of transparency by the Exclusive Brethren, not the fact they spent money.

Some will argue as parties have a limit, so should non parties. But the argument against that is the voting public will tend to discount the message anyway, if they perceive an inappropriate amount of money is being spent on a campaign. The public should be trusted – even the 15% who think Hillary is alive!

At the end of the day I think the spending by the EB helped the left, more than it harmed them.

Broadcast advertising by parallel campaigners

Two options again. The status quo is no spending is allowed. The other option is to allow parallel campaigners to advertise on TV and radio if there is a system of “proportionate regulation”.

I don’t like having to choose between two restrictions. I would prefer no need to register, and being able to spend on TV and radio.

The ability to gain access to TV and radio advertising might make the option of proportionate regulation of parallel campaigners more attractive for some.

Monitoring and Compliance

Electoral Agencies to be merged as detail in previous post. Best of all the new agency will be able to advise parties and candidates as to what constitutes an election advertisment.

No changes to penalties or time limits, and I presume (sadly) the Police will retain the prosecution function.

Overall it is a good document. There are definitely some things I do not agree with, but they have generally made quite sensible decisions, and the options outlined are workable models. Of course of high interest will be which option they choose!

Tags: , , ,

8 Responses to “Electoral Finance details”

  1. Johnboy (15,602 comments) says:

    “Four options

    1. Starts on Writ Day. This means a period of around five weeks. Would give PM’s party a huge advantage as they could spend up large before writ day knowing when it will be before others do. Mind you I doubt any party would come close to spending up to the limit for such a short period.
    2. Starts on 1 August in the scheduled election year. This is my preferred option.
    3. Starts on 1 May in the scheduled election year. I think this is too far out as it covers the period of the Government’s Budget and you don’t really hit campaign mode until after that.
    4. The status quo of three months before the election. My least favoured option as it means you are halfway through the regulated period before knowing exactly when it starts.”

    There should be a fixed date for the election, say first saturday in november or suchlike to stop the PM playing silly games like Helen used to do then everyone knows where they stand.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. Jeff83 (771 comments) says:

    “There should be a fixed date for the election, say first saturday in november or suchlike to stop the PM playing silly games like Helen used to do then everyone knows where they stand.”

    Fixed day could be a bit of a bitch, say if it coincided with something which was just really annoying. Maybe just limiting the time which the active party has to choose, from its current 3(? guess based on observations) to say 1 month time zone. I think the problem however is parties can always call an early election, however there is a day which they need to call an election by which is why there was so much what the heck is going on. An alternative would be extending the period from when the party in power needs to finalise the date, with any variance to that date from that point requiring say 70% approval in case of emergency mount downs.

    In regards to most I think it is positive, agree with DPF re private donations. Regarding action groups have no problem with them supporting causes, however imo there needs to be some transperance in who is funding them. I.e. if a mock outfit is set up to hide X’s involvement.

    In regards to the exclusive brethern, yes that back fired, but I wouldnt say that was because of the message, but rather how the message was delivered, i.e. dishonestly with direction from a few, and the facts of this making their way to light which overall is a healthy sign of our political health.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. Elijah Lineberry (306 comments) says:

    I think a candidate or party should be able to spend as much money as they like on electioneering and having a $20,000 limit is just socialism.

    New Zealand would be a much better place if the non-left wing parties were able to buy elections and prevent a lot of ex-school masters, marxists, trades union leaders and other rubbish from being in government; I consider it a ‘moral duty’ to do so.

    I am completely opposed to any public funding of political parties; if the likes of the Greens or Labour had proper (ie libertarian/right wing) policies then people would donate money to them.

    http://www.nightcitytrader.blogspot.com

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. gravedodger (1,528 comments) says:

    Agree with last para Johnboy as a loss of confidence disolution fairly well signals the possibility of an election. With our current MMP model a failure of confidence should enable management of a continuing government until the next scheduled election and the first saturday in November every 3rd or even 4th year looks good to me. Such a set system would to some extent remove a little of the management activity that the comparatively short electoral cycle brings. I voted to retain the 3 year term last time we had a say but now favour a 4 year term.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. homepaddock (434 comments) says:

    The campaign period ought not to be retrospective. August 1 is about three months before most election days and a set date means the government doen’t have any advantage over other parties.

    Elijah – I agree, parties shouldn’t have any public funding.

    Ele Ludemann

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  6. Nicholas O'Kane (168 comments) says:

    “No change. This is not entirely surprising. Personally I would have got rid of the ability to donate anonymously through the Electoral Commission.

    This means the law passed by Labour and the Greens, as it applies to donations, will remain in force.”
    Outrageous. I consider National is making a big mistake here.

    And the silence of labour and the Greens on this issue will be very very loud.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  7. Chris Diack (723 comments) says:

    Actually the document is pretty poor.

    National and Labour will continue to get a 1million a pop of taxpayer money each election year (added to the 5 million + a year they give themselves in Parliament and continuing to exclude the most politically advantageous public spending from the reach of the proposed electoral regime)

    DPF: “Electoral Agencies to be merged as detail in previous post. Best of all the new agency will be able to advise parties and candidates as to what constitutes an election advertisement”

    Alas the Government is also proposing to remove the High Court judge who currently Chairs the Electoral Commission and replacing him or her with someone with public sector experience – given that the new Electoral Commission will be running something substantial and have a big budget.

    This mixed with the power to issue what are legal opinions on points of law could end up being a bad move. These opinions will be given a high degree of deference by the Courts.

    The National Party case on unions as third parties and the close interpretation of the law previously applying; EFA (a decision which was issued by Electoral Commission currently containing two judges) might not have been heard by a Court under the Government’s proposed regime. As it happened the Court determined the Commission was wrong on the first interpretation issue and the Court (wrong) upheld the Commission on the more general point.

    Judicial review is discretionary and a power to issue legal opinions by the Commission would tend towards against exercising this discretion to hear the matter unless the case is in some way exceptional.

    It would be preferable if the Courts are going to be deferring to the new Electoral Commission on points of law that the Commission retains significant judicial experience and is not dominated by appointees from the state sector.

    The getting guidance about the law issue (absent a live dispute) is largely a beat up. The trick is the get rules that are sufficiently clear in the first place. Allow real disputes to be determined; with review in the Courts or the ability to formulate a question for determination in the High Court (as exists at the moment).

    On the broader issue of election advertising, the exceptions prose is a bit odd, if the reach of the legislation will be primarily candidates, parties and perhaps registered parallel campaigners (if there is a regime for them); tell me is a personalised direct mail letter “personal correspondence between private individuals” and therefore exempt?

    If a personalised physical questionnaire is returned does that mean the cost of sending it out is excluded as it’s purpose is “personal correspondence between private individuals?”

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  8. Nigel Kearney (919 comments) says:

    This is just chapter #393 in the story of National = Labour.

    There should be no taxpayer funding of election campaigns at all. It would be a good referendum question but who is going to go to all that trouble when we know Key will just ignore it?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.