Last week a courier delivered a fairly large batch of documents to me, from the Ministry of Justice. They were all their internal papers on the latest electoral finance reform, which I had requested under the OIA. There were a couple of deletions (which I may appeal to the Ombudsman) but what they did deliver has revealed what reform packages were considered by the Government, and hence what we might have got.
|Taxpayer Funding||Any campaign expense||Broadcasting only||Broadcasting only||Any campaign expense (if any funding)||Any party expense|
|Parties able to pay for own broadcasting||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Donation Disclosure Limit||$10K and inflation adjust||$1K||$1K||$10 K and inflation Adjust|
|Overseas Donations Limit||$2K||$0K||$1K||Lift from $1K|
|Party spend limit||Inflation adjust from 2008||Inflation adjust back to 1995||$1.50 per capita|
|Elect spend limit||$30K and inflation adjust||Inflation adjust from 2008||Inflation adjust back to 1995||$1.50 per capita|
|Regulated Period||3 months||Starts 1 May||Starts 1 May||From Writ Day||3 months|
|Parallel Campaigning||Transparency only||Registration threshold of $100K and a spending limit||Low threshold for registration and $120K spending limit||Transparency only||Proportionate restrictions|
|Parallel Campaigners allowed broadcasting access||Yes||No||No||Yes|
This table shows the positions of the five main parties (more than one MP) on some of the key issues.
The Government put great weight on having consensus amongst parties, in contrast to the Electoral Finance Act. Effectively the Labour and Green parties were given a veto over any changes from the status quo. This meant that that changes I personally would have liked to have seen, did not occur.
On the issue of the taxpayer funded broadcasting allocation, National and ACT supported allowing it to be spent on any medium (not just TV/radio) and allowing parties to purchase their own broadcasting time. Labour and Greens opposed this
Views on the donation disclosure limit ranged from $1,000 to the status quo of $10,000.
Labour and the Greens supported a cap on the amount one donor can donate. The Greens advocated $35,000.
In terms of the party spending limit, the Greens supported adjusting it for inflation retrospectively (which I support). National oddly had no position on this. Labour wanted inflation adjustments to apply from 2008 onwards only, and ACT suggested a limit of $1.50 per person (which I also support).
National and Maori Party supported a 3 month regulated period. Labour and Greens a six to seven month period (from 1 May) and ACT a period of around four weeks (from Writ Day).
National and ACT did not support a spending limit for parallel campaigners. Labour supported a spending limit, but did not say what. As they advocated a $100,000 threshold to register I presume a fairly high limit. The Greens wanted a low threshold to register and a $120,000 spending limit. Maori Party supported some limit.
Simon Power put up five options to Cabinet. They were:
- Consensus Package – changes which all or almost all parties supported
- Comprehensive Package – a full reform package which includes reforms supported broadly by parties on the right (broadcasting liberalisation, higher spending caps) and reforms supported broadly by parties on the left (spending limits for parallel campaigners)
- Parallel Campaigning Package – a left leaning package which is the consensus package plus more regulation of parallel campaigning
- Broadcast Reform Package – a right leaning package which is the consensus reform package plus liberalisation of the broadcasting regime.
- Status Quo
Packages 3 and 4 were politically untenable. The left would attack Package 4, and the right would attack Package 3.
The comprehensive reform package, as it had aspects supported by both left and right, could have been politically feasible. I don’t know if it would have been supported by both sides, or attacked by both sides, so I guess in the end the Government went for the safer consensus package of limited change.
A matrix showing the salient aspects of each package is below:
|Consensus||Comprehensive||Parallel Reg||Broadcast Reform||Status Quo|
|Taxpayer Funding||Broadcasting only||Any campaign expense||Broadcasting only||Any campaign expense||Broadcasting only|
|Parties able to pay for own broadcasting||No||Yes||No||Yes, up to $300K||No|
|Donation Disclosure Limit||$5K draft but $10K finally||$5K||$5K||$5K||$10K|
|Overseas Donations Limit||$1K||$1K||$1K||$1K||$1k|
|Party spend limit||Inflation adjust from 2008||Inflation adjust back to 1995||Inflation adjust from 2008||Inflation adjust from 2008||$2.4m|
|Elect spend limit||Inflation adjust from 2008||Inflation adjust back to 1995||Inflation adjust from 2008||Inflation adjust from 2008||$20k|
|Regulated Period||3 months||3 months||3 months||From Writ Day||3 months|
|Parallel Campaigning||Register at $40K, no spend limit||Register at $40K, spend limit of $500K||Register at $40K, spend limit of $500K||Transparency only||Transparency only|
|Parallel Campaigners allowed broadcasting access||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No|
The comprehensive package would have seen the taxpayer funded broadcasting allocation able to be spent in any media, and parties able to buy their own broadcasting time (so long as under an overall spending cap).
The spending caps would have increased by inflating adjusting back to 1995.
Parallel campaigners would have a spending cap of $500,000 but be able to purchase their own broadcast advertising.
Before the Electoral Finance Act, I would have quite happily supported a reform package based on the comprehensive package. The third party spending cap of $500,000 is four times higher than the EFA, and the other gains (higher spending caps, ability for political and third parties to buy broadcast advertising) more than compensate for this.
The EFA, partly because of the malignant way it was negotiated in secret, and the hypocrisy that the Government was trying to clamp down on taxpayers spending their own money, yet exempt parties taxpayer funded parliamentary spending from the campaign cap, generated great hostility to the idea of third party spending caps. I helped lead that hostility.
In a post EFA world, I am not sure even a $500k spending cap would not face significant public resentment. It would have been widely supported before the EFA, but as a trade off to the other liberalisations may have been a package worth pursuing.
One other interesting revelation from the OIA documents, is that the consensus package originally included a lowering in the donation disclosure limit for parties from $10,000 to $5,000. This was absent from the final package announced publicly, so Cabinet presumably did not support that.