Hehir on Election spending

writes in the Manawatu Standard:

Since then we’ve seen plenty of further evidence against the idea that the rich can spend their way to power.

Republican Meg Whitman provided a spectacular example of this in 2008. She spent more than $US144 million (NZ$165m) of her own money chasing the California governorship. She was trounced.

In our last general election, the Conservatives spent a whopping $1.8m, which was more than Labour spent. For that expenditure, they received just 2.65 per cent of the vote – which works out to $31.71 a head. Three years later and even more money down the drain, that party is not polling any better.

Don’t get me wrong, money is required to get your message out. What is pretty clear, however, is that diminishing returns set in fairly rapidly. There are lots of studies showing this. The University of Chicago’s Steve Levitt – who also co-authored the popular Freakonomics – has observed that: “When a candidate doubled their spending . . . they only got an extra 1 per cent of the popular vote. It’s the same if you cut your spending in half, you only lose 1 per cent of the popular vote.”

It has some impact, but not a huge amount. Dotcom’s millions might get Mana-Internet from 1.1% to say 3.0%. However the free publicity from the media reporting his every tweet is probably worth far more to them.

National came to power and quickly repealed the Electoral Finance Act. To its credit, a chastened Labour Party did not stand in its way. Unfortunately, however, many of the restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles on third party campaigns were retained.

Greenpeace learned this recently after the Electoral Commission ruled that a website the lobbyists had set up to attack Energy Minister Simon Bridges was subject to electoral law restraints.

The commission also ruled that another campaign Greenpeace is involved in around climate change would also constitute an election advertisement and so was subject to the law. That interpretation is now to be the subject of court proceedings.

I sincerely wish them the best of luck. Ultimately, however, we should look to repeal the offensive provisions through Parliament.

Yes, I’d repeal all the third party spending restrictions except the need to identify the publisher.

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