Greenpeace taking Electoral Commission to court

July 15th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Newstalk ZB reports:

Environmental groups are taking the to court over a ruling on a climate change campaign.

, Forest and Bird, WWF and others launched the Climate Voter initiative last month.

But the Electoral Commission says the campaign counts as an “election advertisement”, and is therefore subject to rules around wording of communications and spending restrictions.

Greenpeace says the ruling could gag grassroots advocacy groups – and the organisations are planning to take a freedom of speech test case to the High Court.

Greenpeace spokesman Steve Abel says it’s become a free speech issue.

“Organisations that are advocating for anything, whether it’s better cancer funding or milk in schools or lower taxes, the organisations should be able to do that without having to put a promoter statement on under electoral law.”

Organisations can advocate on issues without promoter statements. But if they are seen as encouraging a vote for or against a political party, then they need a promoter statement.  As this is a campaign headlined “Make your vote count” I am not surprised the Electoral Commission thinks they should have a promoter statement.

You might wonder why they don’t just stick a promoter statement on their website. The organisations backing it are already known. So why are they going to court, rather than sticking on a promoter statement?

Well Greenpeace has another lawsuit before the courts at the moment (a supporter might ask what proportion of their donations are going on lawsuits!) fighting the decision to deregister them as a charity due to their political advocacy. If they put a promoter statement on their website, then they weaken their own case that they are a charity, not a lobby group. So to try and keep up the pretence they are a charity, they are going to court again.

I hope the Electoral Commission seeks costs, if Greenpeace loses.

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45 Responses to “Greenpeace taking Electoral Commission to court”

  1. burt (8,324 comments) says:

    Greenpeace says the ruling could gag grassroots advocacy groups – and the organisations are planning to take a freedom of speech test case to the High Court.

    Lucky Greenpeace aren’t chinless scarf wearers and worthy of being denigrated and specifically legislated against !

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  2. Mark (1,493 comments) says:

    DPF Whilst you are right to point out that they could just put the promoter statement on their website I don’t see any problem with the Electoral commission being tested on this one. If the Electoral Commission has overstepped its powers then it should be put back in line, one of the reasons to have courts is to protect us from over zealous civil servants.

    If you don’t like Greenpeace using its money to take this sort of action don’t donate to them. Pretty simple really.

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  3. Manolo (14,086 comments) says:

    Lesson number one: Never donate even one dollar to any of those organisations.

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  4. peterwn (3,314 comments) says:

    And the others like Forest & Bird would also face having their charitable status reviewed. Anyway, AFAIK the Bill of Rights Act applies to people, not organisations, and in any case the issue becomes a ‘balancing act’ between sections 4 to 7 of the Act – is the alleged limitation of free speech justified to help ensure the integrity of the electoral process. In particular should Green Party donors be able to hide behind Greenpeace etc.

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  5. Auberon (873 comments) says:

    Typical of Steve Abel to try and defend the indefensible this morning on National Radio when he tried to say this was about a group of “regular people in civil society having a conversation.”

    Um, Steve, you’re from Greenpeace. You’re not “regular people.” You’re a fulltime political lobbyist. That means you’ve got to play by the rules.

    What a chump.

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  6. Tarquin North (365 comments) says:

    Nothing more enjoyable than watching Greenpeace and Forest and Bird take a kicking. They really don’t like telling the truth do they?

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  7. Steve Wrathall (285 comments) says:

    Get political. Follow the political rules. (Unless your cause is so pure and just, that you can pick and choose which laws to follow)

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  8. adze (2,129 comments) says:

    So they are trying to play politics on the taxpayers teat, basically. What a bunch of winners.

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  9. RJL (148 comments) says:

    Climate Voter just asks people to consider political parties’ climate policy when casting a vote. It doesn’t seem to advocate for or against specific parties.

    DPF, it would be interesting to know which political party you think Climate Voter advocates for or against?

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  10. Yoza (1,914 comments) says:

    Does this ‘promoter’ standard apply to far-right organizations like Federated Farmers, The New Zealand Initiative or The Maxim Institute?

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  11. jaba (2,146 comments) says:

    time to bring out the Exclusive Bretheren

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  12. Yoza (1,914 comments) says:

    Or the Tax Payers ‘Union’?

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  13. Ross12 (1,456 comments) says:

    The key issue raised here by DPF is the fact that Greenpeace is fighting to keep it’s charity status which when they were last in Court they said they would stop political advocacy/lobbying if they got to keep their charity status.
    They cannot have it both ways –if they want to lobby like this then pay up the tax !!

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  14. redqueen (583 comments) says:

    @Yoza

    There is a difference between advocacy, with no charitable status, and advocacy with a charitable status. Last I checked, Federated Farmers isn’t a charity, nor is the Taxpayers Union. As for promoting, the question is whether they are advocating to vote, which is clearly the case. Even if they aren’t advocating a specific party, they are promoting an electoral activity (remember, the day of an election you can’t promote voting either).

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  15. Albert_Ross (311 comments) says:

    I’m with RJL and – much as it sticks in my craw – Yoza here.

    I’ve no love, in fact I have considerable contempt, for Greenpeace, and that is because I am concerned about the environment and think we should do the best we can to respect and care for it.

    But if they are not explicitly saying “Vote for [specific named] party, because their policies on [x issue] are better” then they’re not “encouraging a vote for or against a political party”.

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  16. adze (2,129 comments) says:

    I love how everything that isn’t to the left of centre is now “far right”.

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  17. adze (2,129 comments) says:

    Albert Ross
    I am not a lawyer but I don’t think political advocacy in respect of electoral law is limited to an explicit exhortation to vote for a particular party or individual.

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  18. redqueen (583 comments) says:

    In simple terms, and DPF can corrective me if I’m wrong, my understanding of s3A(1)(a) Electoral Act 1993 is that an electoral advertisement is an advertisement which says to vote, or not vote, for a type of candidate based on views or positions held. As such, advertising (under a campaign) to vote for climate change policies would appear to be captured. The same as telling people to vote based on lower taxes would be an electoral advertisement. It’s not like they’re being heavily regulated for it, they just need to do a promoters statement.

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  19. kowtow (8,784 comments) says:

    Greenpeace NZ is a franchise that sends millions of dollars to HQs in Amsterdam, funding its head honchos to live a truly extravagant lifestyle.

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  20. Keeping Stock (10,443 comments) says:

    Was Greenpeace ever successful in getting its charitable status back?

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  21. flipper (4,241 comments) says:

    It never causes harm to have any organisation challenge the State, and its agencies.

    The Electoral Commission is an organisation that needs testing. The campaign spending limits are a blight on democracy, put in place by parties with 100 per cent self interest.

    That said, if the Commission was worth its budget, it would have initiated private prosecutions of all of the perceived illegalities that Police failed to action.

    None of that should be taken as an endorsement of any of the group taking this matter to the High Court. None serve any useful purpose.

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  22. Raphael (88 comments) says:

    @RedQueen I think you have it. But there are also laws during the election period that places restrictions on what they can do if it’s an electoral advertisement

    The problem is the other courtcase though where GreenPeace says that they won’t be doing more politics so that they can keep their charity status. If they start putting in the promotors statements on things then they are clearly breaking that and will lose that case.

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  23. Pita (374 comments) says:

    Has anyone sought Robin Malcolm or Lucy Lawless’ opinion?

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  24. G152 (388 comments) says:

    Greenpeace is a pirate organisation.
    Their ships should be banned from our ports and denied access through our territorial waters

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  25. Colville (2,300 comments) says:

    If you are asking people to vote then you are political.
    You dont need to be alinged with a particular group to be political.

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  26. Auberon (873 comments) says:

    “Has anyone sought Robin Malcolm or Lucy Lawless’ opinion?”

    Or Gareth Morgan’s?

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  27. RJL (148 comments) says:

    Colville @12:45 “If you are asking people to vote then you are political.”

    Don’t be an idiot. The Electoral Commission itself asks people to vote.

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  28. Nigel Kearney (1,051 comments) says:

    In a healthy democracy, people should just ignore rules that limit or control political speech. And the people whose job it is to enforce those rules should refuse to do so. And there is no reason at all that a charitable purpose cannot be much more strongly aligned with one side of the political spectrum than the other.

    I don’t really have an opinion either way on the charitable tax deduction. But I do think that Greenpeace and the Sensible Sentencing Trust should either both get it, or neither get it. Not just one of them.

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  29. Ross12 (1,456 comments) says:

    Keeping Stock

    Here is the relevant link to the Charities Register

    http://www.register.charities.govt.nz/CharitiesRegister/ViewCharity?accountId=1912df5c-0941-dd11-84f2-0015c5f3da29&searchId=ac1941e7-79e2-4a90-9574-9d5f77115466

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  30. burt (8,324 comments) says:

    Greenpeace should just register as a union – then they could actually get laws drafted to favour their continuing advocacy.

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  31. RJL (148 comments) says:

    redqueen @12:16pm,

    You are right that [Section 3A of the Electoral Act] states that “an election advertisement is an advertisement in any medium that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to:…vote or not to vote for a type of candidate or party described by reference to views or positions that are, or are not, held or taken (whether or not the name of the candidate or party are stated).”

    However, Climate Voter merely asks voters to consider climate policy. Tell me, which party, or type of candidate, should a reasonable person conclude that Climate Voter is advocating for (or against).

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  32. burt (8,324 comments) says:

    RJL

    The short answer – The party that will put parliament into urgency to validate this spending if they become the government.

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  33. dime (10,136 comments) says:

    “I love how everything that isn’t to the left of centre is now “far right”.”

    sad eh? i dont think yoza knows what far right is.

    probably because he/she is extreme left.

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  34. Tarquin North (365 comments) says:

    Auberon, I’m just waiting for Tike Taane to give me the nod.

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  35. Surely Knott (13 comments) says:

    I hope the judge sorts it out. OUr 100% left local board is regularly giving money to the organisations in question for fake projects that never show up, or that can’t be measured or seen. Because they are not called political activities hundreds of thousands of rates go to these organisations to support their political objectives, instead of infrastructure in our local board. Consequently we have one of the most rundown areas in town. Labours not broke. They are just campaigning in other ways.

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  36. redqueen (583 comments) says:

    @ RJL

    So they are asking you consider climate change with your vote…sounds like an electoral advertisement to me.

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  37. SJM (84 comments) says:

    The reason Greenpeace and WWF in particular are doing this is money. The EU paid WWF €5,344,641 in 2013, and they want political parties in place that will keep their policies being implemented and the money flowing so they can keep the lobbying going. They claim to be grassroots organisations, and they might have been once, but they operate via the UN and the EU and other more obscure transnational organisations to pressure governments along certain legislative lines.
    Naturaly the do this to avoid the inconvenience of the democratic process

    http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=85066

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  38. georgebolwing (1,011 comments) says:

    Ross12

    That registration is for the Greenpeace Educational Trust, which is a Charity. It employs no people and is a funding body.

    Greenpeace of New Zealand Incorporated is the organisation that is awaiting the Supreme Court’s Ruling on whether it can have charitable status.

    While clearly related, they are not the same legal entity.

    Disclosure: all the information in this post has retrieved from the online Charities Register and the online Register of Incorporated Societies. No animals were harmed in the making of this post.

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  39. RJL (148 comments) says:

    redqueen @3:29 “So they are asking you consider climate change with your vote…sounds like an electoral advertisement to me.

    Only if you believe that a reasonable person considering the climate policies of all the various political parties could not therefore possibly vote for some subset of those political parties. Which parties do you believe this applies to?

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  40. soundhill1 (271 comments) says:

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/224525/charities-fearful-of-speaking-out-about-govt-policies-survey It’s about whether charities can be independent and ensure funding contracts are not turning them into pseudo-government agencies, isn’t it?

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  41. soundhill1 (271 comments) says:

    Interesting about charitable trusts: http://resources.ccc.govt.nz/files/thecouncil/meetingsminutes/agendas/2009/June/CnclCover25thLTCCP/Clause3.4Attachment.pdf “It is proposed that a trust be established that would enable
    companies and/or individuals to make tax deductible
    donations to the Council that can then be used to pay for the
    cost of providing infrastructure in the Council’s district.”

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  42. Ross12 (1,456 comments) says:

    Thanks georgebolwing.

    I have never been sure if the Trust was just a cover or something separate. So if they are still waiting for the SC’s decision they are showing the Court that their pleas are just BS. ( ie. they have no intention of stopping their political lobbying )

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  43. burt (8,324 comments) says:

    Why is it that people who present themselves as being concerned for the environment so quickly forget about the environment and turn to socialist pap ? It’s almost like they needed to find a new audience for their failed ideology and having tried all sorts of coercion over the centuries decided to give faux environmental concern a try.

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  44. adze (2,129 comments) says:

    But I do think that Greenpeace and the Sensible Sentencing Trust should either both get it, or neither get it. Not just one of them.

    Why do these two particular examples require an either-or dichotomy, out of interest?

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  45. burt (8,324 comments) says:

    adze

    The thing Nigel possibly misses is that the sensible sentencing trust had one specific thing it was established to do, promote what it thought was sensible sentencing in the NZ justice system. Not to protect the Whales, fisheries, oceans, rivers, environments & advocate for high taxes and minimal footprint, Green Parties and the like while it’s CEO flies to work in a private jet.

    Rain forests too – don’t forget those.

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