Labour/Greens on electoral finance reform

September 29th, 2009 at 5:28 pm by David Farrar

Just going to respond to press releases from Labour and the Greens on electoral finance reform. Now to some degree it is no surprise they disagree with some of the details in the proposal document. But it is useful to put their comments into context and recent history.

First Labour’s David Parker:

The Government is happy to consult on aspects of electoral law reform that suits it, and won’t look at changes to the donations regime that might disadvantage National, says Labour Electoral Reform Spokesperson .

First of all I must point out the Government in which Mr Parker served did no consultation on electoral law reform prior to introducing legislation. Yep, zero zip.

Mr Power has consulted all parties over the issues paper, consulted the public on the issues paper and is now giving both parties and the public an opportunity to give feedback on the proposal paper.

So the hypocrisy from Mr Parker is immense. It is also wrong.

The Electoral Finance Reform Proposal issued by Justice Minister today shows he is determined to retain the regime governing donations to constituency candidates and political parties even though it became clear at the last election that the rules do not achieve transparency, David Parker said.

Mr Parker does not seem to know what a multi-stage consultation process is. That is because Labour never did them.

The first stage was the issues paper where people could havetheir say on issues, without any idea of the Government’s thinking.

The second stage is the proposal paper, where the Government says this is what we think should happen, but we want your feedback. In some cases they identify options.

The Government has said it proposes no change to the donations law, and the public and parties can give feedback on that before they make a final decision. That is consultation – again Mr Parker may be unfamiliar with the concept.

“Unfortunately, the current regime on donations doesn’t promote transparency. Labour included the regime in good faith in the Electoral Finance Act 2007, but it failed to achieve its purpose.

This is worth stressing. The regime Mr Parker is so bitterly complaining about is one his party passed into law less than two years ago.  Now how about the claim it has failed to get transparency:

“This was shown by the low rates of disclosure by both major parties. National disclosed the source of just $130,000 in donations and Labour just $420,000, though both spent more than $2 million each. This is clearly not transparent.”

Mr Parker is having 2+2=5. He is like the cop who demands tougher powers to search premises, and upon not finding any drugs there, cites it as proof they must be elsewhere and wants even greater powers.

The intent of the donations disclosure regime is to identify the source of any donations that could be large enough to be though to purchase influence. Personally I reckon you need $50,000 before you start to get inflluence but the the law for the last 15 years or so has been set at the lower limit of $10,000. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument to break the privacy of supporters who gives say $1,000 considering that represents 0.02% of a party’s election spending. Even $10,000 is (for a major party) only 0.2% of a party’s election spending.

Even putting aside that argument, how about the complaint that very few donations were declared in 2008. Well there is a very obvious reasons for that. Many donations normally made in election year, were made in 2007 before the increased transparency (which I supported) requirements came in.

In other words if Mr Parker is patient enough to wait until the next election, he may find a higher level of donations disclosed.

Incidentially I do favour some tightening of the limits. I advocated getting rid of the provision for parties to received up to $240,000  in anonymous donations through the Electoral Commission. Mr Parker does not support getting rid of that, I believe.

I also think a disclosure level over a three year term, not just annually, should also be introduced. But that is a debate for another day.

David Parker said Labour strongly believed there should be public comment on potential improvements to the existing disclosure regime.

“But while the proposal paper seeks submissions on other issues, National has clearly already made up its mind on the donations regime because it suits their purposes.”

There are a number of areas where I intend to submit against the Government’s proposed option. That is the whole pointof seeking feedback on a proposal paper.

Finally I must point out how Labour responded when there was real proof of inappropriate donations. The Serious Fraud Office revealed that the Foreign and Racing Minister in the Labour-led Government had received tens of thousands of dollars in personal donations (to pay his court costs) from a source in the racing industry which had greatly benefited by the Minister’s advocacy of extra funding for the industry.

What did Labour do when the SFO revealed this? They complained bitterly about the actions of the SFO. ANd what did then PM Clark say in response to questions in the house? She said she had not had the time to read the report.

So in case anyone thinks there is anything remotely sincere about Labour’s position, think again.

Then we have Metiria Turei:

Metiria of course voted for the EFA and voted against abolishing it. The Greens never used their power to force Labour to consult on the EFB before it was introduced. Their credibility on these issues is much dented after that.

“It is vital that New Zealand’s democracy cannot be bought by big business.

Funnily enough if you look at the spending at the last election campaign, there was masses of spending by lots of unions but no spending from any businesses or business groups. The only purchasing of democracy has been from the left.

But the whole notion of “purchasing” democracy is bumper slogan politics, rather than rational analysis. The relationship between the amount a party spends and the vote they get is pretty weak. As an example Labour spent more than National last election and got whacked. ACT spent more than the Greens and got under half the vote.

“One of our key concerns is that National’s proposals will not stop political parties secretly giving money to third parties to run campaigns,” said Mrs Turei.

Now we get the paranoia. First they worry about third parties donating to political parties, but now they are worried about political parties having so much money they will give it away to third parties to spend.

I’ve yet to meet a political party that gives away its money. Do the Greens have any examples of when this has happened?

If a third party runs expensive ads in a campaign, I am sure the media will ask who is behind that third party, and where did the money come from. And if the third party refuses to say, well the public are pretty good with this stuff, and will tend to punish those involved.

In the 2005 election, the Exclusive Brethren ran a secret $1 million dollar campaign against the Green Party.

From their own money. Or is Metiria saying she thinks National were secretly funding the Exclusive Brethren?

“Another problem is that donations to political parties under $10,000 can be kept secret – the public has a right to know who is giving their MPs money.

Yes, but at what level. As I said $10,000 is 0.2% of an election campaign for a major party and maybe 0.5% for a minor party. Are the Greens saying you can get “favours” for such a small amount?

The Greens of course have an agenda. They find raising money a hassle, as do all parties. They think taxpayers should be forced to fund their political party. And the best way of doing that is setting the disclosure threshold for donations so low, that fewer people donate voluntarily so they can force everyone to donate to them compulsorily through their taxes.

“We are also concerned about the proposal to allow anyone to run electoral ads on TV and radio, as this would lead to the airways being saturated in electoral ads paid for by wealthy special interest groups,” said Mrs Turei.

Consider what they are really saying here. They are saying that in an election campaign, they do not want anyone who wants to criticise a party, to be able to do so through a broadcast medium. They are saying that only political parties should be able to have their voices heard on broadcast medium. Even worse they are saying that only political parties funded by the taxpayer can have their voice heard, while individuals or organisation who want to use their own funds, are banned from the airwaves.

Such defenders of free speech.

“We don’t want to end up like the US where negative campaign ads paid for by big business dominate the airways.”

Ironically almost everything the Greens propose takes us closer to the US system of political finance. It is the limit on donations to parties and candidates that has shifted the spending to the lobby groups.

Oh and their constant bogeyman of big business is tiresome. Again in NZ there were no business funded election ads, but plenty of union ones. And in the US last election the left massively outspent the right.

Again it would be nice to see some sensible analysis rather than slogans.

The Government’s proposals do not include the option of a fixed election date.

A fixed date would provide certainty for the public and political parties, said Mrs Turei, there is no good reason not to have one. The only reason not to fix the election date was to give an advantage to the Government of the day.

Now I agree with Metiria that there should be a fixed election date. But to be fair to the Govt, this is a consultation on finance issues, not wider electoral issues. A change to a fixed election date is a fairly major constitutional issue. It is one I support but probably needs its own workstream.

28 Responses to “Labour/Greens on electoral finance reform”

  1. Paulus (3,567 comments) says:

    Parker is a Hypocrite – whose comments cannot be trusted anyway. He was a senior part of the corrupt last Clark/Simpson/Cullen/Anderson Government

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  2. getstaffed (8,230 comments) says:

    “We don’t want to end up like the US where negative campaign ads paid for by big business dominate the airways.”

    This would refer to the ‘negative’ campaign where a group of concerned NZ citizens pointed out what they didn’t like about the Green’s policies. In response, the way the EB’s were treated by Labour was a nothing other than disgusting abuse of power.

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  3. getstaffed (8,230 comments) says:

    Oh, and can we stop please refering to this as Electoral Finance Reform. This is a soundbite designed to coax pecuniosuspenisophobia (fear of rich pricks) from unthinking NZers.

    However this is dressed up, this discussion is about limiting the involvement of ordinary citizens in the democratic process.

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  4. projectman (372 comments) says:

    Keep it up Labour, keep it up Greens. Pretty well everything you do and say reminds us of why you were flogged in the last election. If this is all you can contribute, long may the flogging continue! The openness that the National-led government is bringing to policy discussion is such a strange concept for you isn’t it (and so threatening).

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  5. tvb (5,517 comments) says:

    It was the Labour Party who drove a coach and 6 through their own disclosure laws by accepting a large donation just PRIOR to the election and then disclosing it just afterwards. NZF did the same thing. That is a monstrous perversion of our electoral finance laws.

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  6. Repton (769 comments) says:

    No Right Turn points out that Labour/Green could claim the moral high ground here by declaring their own donations down to whatever level they feel is appropriate..

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  7. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    God Farrar whats your secret —how can anyone your shape be so flexible?

    Its just to much to read—– all the spin! I feel like a jelly on LSD thats on a merry-go-round thats on P thats just taken a ride on a rollercoaster.

    For Gods sake make your posts smaller for us of limited intellect to assimilate please. You are rivaliing the socialists here for verbosity. 🙂

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  8. Grizz (244 comments) says:

    Johnboy, Those people at the Standard are beyond saving. It would have been better to have sent around the straight jackets than for DPF to have commented there. They seem to be defending an act that the creators have already apologised for. When a political candidate has to register their jacket then quite frankly the Law is a canary coloured lemon.

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  9. radvad (956 comments) says:

    “In the 2005 election, the Exclusive Brethren ran a secret $1 million dollar campaign against the Green Party.”

    The EBs spent a lot of money on a pamphlet publicising Green policy. None of it was disputed. Funny how publicising Green policies is considered by them to be anti Green. You would think the Greens would have thanked the EBs for giving their policies all that free publicity.

    As such, this money should have been added to the Greens spend.

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  10. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    ” When a political candidate has to register their jacket then quite frankly the Law is a canary coloured lemon.”

    Brilliant wish I had said that!!!

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  11. Alistair Miller (557 comments) says:

    I’d never been over the the stranded before. I wandered into red alert once by mistake (was looking for the red alert game site) and thought that was bad enough (even though I think The Muss is actually a pretty funny guy), but those shrieking twats at the stranded make The Muss look positively objective!! What a sad pack of deluded fools.

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  12. jabba (280 comments) says:

    did Parker have his arms crossed when he complained? cry me a river son.
    The Standard contain a couple of members who need to be watched .. maybe the SIS can check them out.
    Meet Phil Heatley an hour ago .. I think labour are up against it .. they need fresh smart blood and NOW to compete. MMM, forget that, keep the same lot in as loooooooong as possible.

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  13. side show bob (3,476 comments) says:

    David you seem to be a very nice person and always look for the best in people, I think this time your kindness is bordering on weakness. The people you talk about are arseholes,do you honestly believe that if the socialists/commies were returned to power we would have enjoyed more freedom, no more taxpayer propaganda, no more bullshit, would they look into electoral reform, I for one do not and I don’t think for one minute you do. The Liarbore party and the Melons are only interested electoral reform when they are sitting on the benches. Whatever happens power must return to the people that vote and there must be fall backs in the system that prevents and limits unbridled power. It’s time this country is ruled by it’s people.

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  14. Ross Miller (1,762 comments) says:

    Labour has every right to feel aggrieved.

    The EFA (their baby which they have now aborted) skewered the playing field in their favour.

    So why would they want fairness.

    Level playing fields ain’t in Labour’s lexicon.


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  15. David in Chch (595 comments) says:

    First of all, I love the wild statement from Labour and the Greens suggesting that the EFA was intended to eliminate US-style political campaigns. Yet a central aspect of the US campaigns are registered third parties who are allowed to pay for ads for the candidates they support. So what’s one of the core aspects of the L/G EFA? Gee, registered third parties! It’s one of the reasons I was dead set against the EFB/EFA from the start. I could see it was going to give us exactly what the proponents said it would prevent – US-style campaigns.

    Secondly, in that wonderful book Freakonomics, the author showed that the big spenders do NOT win. In fact, there is almost a NEGATIVE correlation between the amount spent and the number of votes.

    So all in all, I am not terribly impressed with the L & G stance.

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  16. reid (21,429 comments) says:

    The Greens don’t want attack ads because they’d make such great targets. I mean there’s years and years of hilarious 30-second spots just in their current crop of policy settings.

    If the reef fish ever found out how transparently stupid their utterly unworkable policies really are, they’d get no votes at all.

    And wouldn’t that be sad.

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  17. calendar girl (1,871 comments) says:

    There should be no “free” party political broadcast allocations at election time. Such broadcasts represent a misappropriation of property from broadcasters (i.e. broadcasting time), and distort the political contest against smaller parties and new entrants.

    Political parties and third party entities must have the freedom to buy their own broadcasting time, in media channels and quantities of their choice, provided that they clearly identify the source of and authorisation for their advertising. Anything short of that is an abusive denial of free speech and normal market economics.

    As David has intimated, the ultimate objective of parties of the left is to compel the taxpayer to fund 100% of their political marketing. By such means they seek to avoid the inconvenience of party income relying on public support of policies and principles. Public funding of political parties, including allocations of pirated broadcasting time, has the effect of entrenching encumbent elites. In its compulsion and proscription it is fundamentally undemocratic.

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  18. Tim Ellis (253 comments) says:

    The Labour Party’s opposition to the $10,000 disclosure level is not about the level at which a donation can buy influence in my view. It seems to have much more to do with Labour’s inability to find many donors at between $1000 and $10,000 and wanting to level the playing field. Labour’s solution, which Mr Parker doesn’t refer to here, is for state funding of political parties, but it seems he doesn’t have the courage to come out and say it directly.

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  19. reid (21,429 comments) says:

    Well yeah Tim, that’s what they’ve been after forever. Same with the Greens.

    Both of them would love it. Finally, they’d be officially “on the dole,” entitled to a lifetime of bludging off of you and I. And we couldn’t do a thing about it. Despite the fact that those individuals who keep voting for them are generally the same individuals who make the least contribution to the tax base.

    What would be really funny if they introduced that regime, is if they made that regime conditional upon only allowing voting rights to those people who made a net contribution to the tax base instead of a net liability. Most pensioners who worked all their lives would be fine. Most young people wouldn’t be able to vote till they were in their thirties because they’d have to pay off their education costs and therefore most voters would be those in the wiser mature bracket.

    I wonder what would happen to their vote then?

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  20. burt (11,475 comments) says:

    Note to anyone who defended the EFA because they supported Labour – you have no high ground to criticise National having already displayed how being partisan hacks is just fine by you.

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  21. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    “And in the US last election the left massively outspent the right.”

    C’mon DPF, you can’t call the Democrats “left” in the context of our politics (Labour neither, come to think of it)

    The Dems are to the right of ACT, so does that make ACT a “left” party?

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  22. Shane Wallis (97 comments) says:

    @Luc Hansen-
    Because it makes perfect sense to look at the Democrat party in a completely irrelevant context, am I right? Regardless of where they happen to fit into our political culture, I don’t think many would refute they are the major left party in USA.

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  23. expat (4,089 comments) says:

    Little Red Book letter box drops illegally funded = OK.

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  24. tvb (5,517 comments) says:

    Over various election cycles it is the LABOUR Party who outspends National especially in years they win. Of course when they are out of political favour they do not get much money and in those years National gets more. It is swings and roundabouts. But there is one important difference between Labour and National. Labour spends almost NO time on raising money from individual members. They prefer “corporate” style donations such as Owen Glen, the Vela family, trade Unions and mis-spending parliamentary money. National by contrast spends a huge amount of time raising money from the general membership – organising many many functions. They get business funding as well but not that much more than Labour overall. Labour gets some business funding National gets nothing from the trade unions.

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  25. gravedodger (1,704 comments) says:

    The big issue of any attempt at fairness in election spending between the parties in NZ is how to measure spending.
    1 The BRT or corporate leader/manager with their greater requirement to continue with their obligations of work commitment and who choose to influence political thinking by publicity or the financing of same.
    2 The union or trade grouping leader who can marshal an inexpensive hands on network of workers to drop pamphlets network campaign meetings etc.
    3 The ecology based enthusiast who can call on an army of the idealistic young and not so young to carry their message for free from a base of environmentally focused people.
    4 The political parties who have their volunteers to carry their message for free.
    5 Religious groups will also have an army to deliver their often single issue message.
    But for one reason or another we only count the money “spent ” in pursuit of political activity and in the eyes of many, unfairness is always “the others” ability to champion their cause in what ever way but spending is the easy target, the easiest to measure and control if that is what is achieved. However it gives the impression that we the people have an illusion of control of undue political influence.
    That is why I feel that all attempts at control will be seen by most as self preservation and the fewer controls we have the fairer it will be. For example I accept that the E B campaign that gained some traction early was in total deficit for those it was to help after it was exposed to the oxygen of publicity . Likewise the E F B did more harm than good for its perpetrators in the final account.

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  26. scooby bits (3 comments) says:

    Labour have suggested reducing the disclosure level for donations to political parties from $10,000 to $1,000.

    Sadly, they have a crap track record on this subject. When the Labour Party were in charge of electoral reform, they chose to leave the disclosure level nice and high to suit themselves. Have a look at the select committee report on the Electoral Finance Bill –

    The reality is that the Labour Party just wants a cheap political shot. Principles are out the window.

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  27. jabba (280 comments) says:

    I’m not sure that spending millions of $’s will make much difference if your message is crap. It just means more people will see what rubbish policies you have.
    Labour and the Greens should have more faith in the people to see through any bullshit .. which they did of course at the last election, thank God

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  28. Alistair Miller (557 comments) says:

    Jabba, are you kidding? The Greens getting more than the threshold to get a parliamentary presence is proof positive that a crap message can get sold if you throw enough money (and “celebrity endorsement”) at it.

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