Labour/Greens on electoral finance reform

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.

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