Trotter on Electoral Finance Bill Third Reading

December 23rd, 2007 at 9:50 am by David Farrar

I’m reading a column in the SST about Labour’s performance in the third reading of the Electoral Finance Bill:

It’s the little things that get you. Those dismissive, off-hand, arrogant little gestures that suddenly throw the bigger picture into sharp focus.

I’d tuned into the live-feed from parliament to watch the third reading debate of the Electoral Finance Bill. Here, at last, I thought, is Labour’s, New Zealand First’s and the Greens’ big chance to make their case. …  But, what did I see on the government side of the House? Row after row of empty seats. The contrast with the Opposition could hardly have been starker. Around the figure of Opposition leader John Key, I counted off practically all of National’s key spokespeople, and behind them sat most of the party’s backbenchers.

Where was Helen Clark? Where was Michael Cullen? Where was Phil Goff? Where were the serried ranks of the centre-left, proudly demonstrating their solidarity with the bill’s authors? For if ever there was an occasion for the whole of the house to be in attendance this was it.

How well I recall my old political studies professor, Tony Wood, lecturing his New Zealand politics class on matters constitutional. No, he said, this country does not have a written constitution, but it has something which is almost as good the Electoral Act. The clauses of that act, he told us, were entrenched meaning that they could not be repealed or amended except by referendum, or by a majority comprising three-quarters of the House of Representatives. The law pertaining to elections, he solemnly informed us, was the cornerstone of our democracy.

So where, on this day that vitally important aspects of “the law pertaining to elections” were about to be amended and repealed without the mandate of a referendum, and without anything approaching a three-quarters majority of the House of Representatives, were Helen Clark, Michael Cullen and Phil Goff?

Their seats were empty.

They should not have been. By their absence from this crucial debate, Labour’s leaders sent everyone their fellow MPs, their loyal supporters, the electorate as a whole a devastating (and some have said electorally suicidal) message.

They simply didn’t care.

Accused of holding New Zealand’s democratic traditions in utter contempt; charged with harbouring authoritarian, even dictatorial, ambitions; Labour’s leaders simply couldn’t be bothered to defend either themselves or their bill. They had other places to be; other people to see.

John Key knew where he had to be on Tuesday evening and he was there. The cameras captured the image for the whole of New Zealand to see. A young man, his eyes alight with passion, defending New Zealand’s democratic traditions and promising the nation that, should it repose its trust in his party: “We will repeal this bill.”

And as he sat down, all his colleagues rose to give him a standing ovation. The chamber rang with their applause.

He should have been answered by a prime minister. In response to Key’s charges we should have heard the thundering rebuttal of a Labour leader every bit as committed to upholding New Zealand’s democratic traditions as the National Party. We should have heard her prosecute the case against the malefactors of great wealth; against the economic royalists who would buy elections in the same way that they had bought everything else belonging to the people of New Zealand.

And when she sat down, all the government members, and with them all of those representing NZ First and the Greens, should have risen to their feet and cheered her to the echo.

And following the prime minister, Michael Cullen should have stood and eviscerated the Opposition with his rapier wit. And following him, Phil Goff should have bruised them with his wrath. It didn’t happen.

This unmandated, unloved, and probably unworkable bill was voted into law to the noisy condemnation of its enemies and the sullen silence of it friends.

It’s the little things that get you.

As you read about how the Government has broken the constitutional conventions around the “cornerstone of our democracy” you would be forgiven for thinking you were reading Matthew Hooton’s column.  But no, that was last week.  This was Chris Trotter’s column.

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Not just the Herald

December 22nd, 2007 at 1:49 pm by David Farrar

The Herald has (rightly) been seen as the media outlet most oppossed to the Electoral Finance Act. But they have lots of allies.

The Dominion Post said:

When United Future MP Peter Dunne is prepared to jump ship, it’s a fair bet the vessel in question is the Titanic, The Dominion Post writes.

… The legislation is undemocratic, and the process by which Labour and its supporters have foisted it on the public has been an exercise in the arrogance of power.… The indefensibility of Labour’s position is only highlighted by the fact that at the same time it acted to restrict the role of those outside Parliament in political debate, it ensured that MPs are protected against challengers by extending a temporary regime that allows them to spend public money on their campaigns in a way the auditor-general had previously ruled was illegal.

And The Press says:

In any event, whatever happens next year, the legislation is thoroughly bad law and the process by which it was shoved through Parliament indefensible.

The Government has only itself to blame for the mess it has made of the matter. The bill was introduced with next to no consultation with anyone other than the cronies Labour needed to get it through the House. This was unforgivable for legislation of this kind. Consensus may be an unreachable goal on something as inherently as contentious as electoral finance, but some measure of consultation was called for. Labour did not make the slightest effort at it. The result was a bill that was a disaster that few but the party’s most uncritical followers could swallow. It was all too plainly designed not to deal honestly and fairly with an important problem but rather to shield an embattled government from any critical comment during an election year. The Government has since made multiple amendments in an attempt to remove some of the more offensive elements of the legislation, but the effort has not been sufficient. The Government was clearly prepared from the outset to ride roughshod over long-established principles. Trying to patch the matter up with all sorts of adjustments and fixes was never going to work. It should have gone back and started the process over.

The country is now left with a highly inadequate piece of legislation governing a central element of the democratic process. Parties and pressure groups will enter the election year with no clear idea of what sort of advertising is permissible. There is a clear risk that parties will engage in tit-for-tat complaints to try to shut down rivals by tying them up with expensive and time-consuming legal battles. Worse than that, from January 1, 11 months before any likely election, a firm engaged by the Electoral Commission will be conducting surveillance of political advertising to see that it complies with the law, something that will strike most fair-minded people as having the smack of Big Brother about it.

The Northern Advocate:

It’s a victory for shroud-waving, paranoia, envy and deceit. It gives power to the parties and to hell with the people. It says that if you can’t win by fair means, then make the foul lawful.

It has all been a telling illustration of how immune politicians can become to adverse public opinion that they can treat those to whom they should be answerable with such arrogance.

Having none themselves, they fail to recognise principles in others and scorn any who raise a voice in dissent as being driven by greed and self interest. By their definition it is not possible to defend democracy or to be capable of moral rectitude without agreeing implicitly with their own political ambitions.

I am told there is also an excellent ODT editorial, but I can’t locate a copy.

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Just $70 will keep a billboard alive for another day

December 20th, 2007 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Okay the Free Speech Coalition has spent all its money. In fact slightly over-spent. So the billboards are only up for a month.

But just $70 will keep a billboard alive for another day. If you go and donate $70 at the Coalition’s website, we’ll keep a billboard up for another day. We can even proudly allocate a day to you, so you can claim the credit for a particular billboard on a particular day.

If you wish to donate more than $70, that of course is great. For those “rich pricks” as our Minister of Finance calls them, we have the following options:

  1. $70 for one non-Auckland billboard for one day
  2. $100 for one Auckland billboard for a day
  3. $150 for two non-Auckland billboards for a day
  4. $200 for one Auckland billboard for a weekend
  5. $500 for a billboard for a week
  6. $2,000 keeps a billboard up for an entire month. 11 of these and they are up until election day.
  7. $5,000 gets you an entirely new billboard with a new authoritarian and a new location for a month. You can pick to have it in your local town or suburb.
  8. $10,000 gets you your own personal billboard for three months

And if you are a “poor prick”, you are very welcome to donate less than $70.  Many supporters have given $20 and they are valued.

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A pissed off NZ Herald

December 20th, 2007 at 6:29 am by David Farrar

Good God the Herald is not happy and not shy at showing it.  I only picked up yesterday’s edition last night as I flew home.  The front page story was expected, but on Page Three they have done a half page montage of all the MPs who voted for the Electoral Finance Act and have said they will be republishing the montage *every* month until the general election.

All praise the Herald.  It is vitally important that MPs understand that what they have done is so bad, that there will be consequences.  Destroying the constitutional conventions around the Electoral Act is not a minor escapade.

Also have to enjoy their sense of humour as the montage is headed up “In order to Inform, Enlighten and Entertain”, with a note that this is the only things the media are allowed to do from 1 January under the Act.

Their editorial pulls no punches:

The Electoral Finance Bill’s passage through Parliament late yesterday corrodes democracy and shames those whose names stand beside it as it enters the statutes. From January 1, political discourse will be less free, except for political parties – those private organisations that happen to provide the incumbent members of Parliament.

Today’s Herald has a story on the billboards and also Tim Shadbolt’s plans.

Audrey Young also blogs the Best of the Electoral Finance Bill Awards.  Best Speech gone to Maori Party MP and longtime protester Hone Harewira.  You must read this speech:

Yes folks money talks, but nothing talks quite like the truth, and the truth about this Bill is that it’s nothing but an arrogant dismissal by this Labour-led government to deny the citizens of Aotearoa / New Zealand the right to participate in one of the fundamental rights of any so-called “democratic society”  how you elect your government.

It’s about the sweet scent of power, and the lust for control. It’s about the decadence of corruption, the stench of deceit, and the refusal to accept the reality of impending defeat.

Yes, there have been amendments, hell we even voted for one of them, but given the constitutional importance of legislation that will play a critical role in determining how the next election will be fought  stitching up this deal behind closed doors, and then adding a veneer of democracy through a select committee process, is nothing but a sick joke.

We will not be party to this desperate attempt by Labour to stay in power at the expense of the fundamental human rights of the citizens of this country.

We will not be party to a bill designed to put fear into those who would speak their mind, by forcing them to run the gauntlet of registration, audit, notification, financial agency, monitoring, reporting, scrutiny, and penalty.

Madam Speaker, money is not what drives people to vote, it is truth …

And I sincerely hope and pray, that those who have sacrificed the truth for the delusion of power, that overwhelms this decadent and depraved piece of legislation, will come to see the folly of their ways when the people reject this sham, come Election 2008.

Again what a great speech.  Now for the other awards from Audrey:

Worst speech went to Winston Peters and no one could disagree.  A bizarre rambling speech.

Best quote went to John Key:

“If you are in favour of free speech then you are in favour of freedom of speech precisely for the views you despise. Otherwise you are not in favour of free speech.” They are not the word of a random right winger. They are not the words of a former treasurer of the Act Party… They are the words of Noam Chomsky, a man who is not from the left but from the far left.

Indeed.

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Some Billboards to enjoy

December 19th, 2007 at 12:24 pm by David Farrar

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(more…)

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Free Speech Coalition saddened by passage of Electoral Finance Bill

December 18th, 2007 at 6:32 pm by David Farrar

The FSC put out this press release this afternoon:

The Free Speech Coalition, set up to campaign against the Electoral Finance Bill, is sad that MPs from Labour, NZ First, and the Greens have ignored the massive public sentiment against the bill.

The Act discourages individuals and groups from participating in the electoral process and spending their own money, while at the same time allows MPs and parliamentary parties to far more easily use taxpayer funds on their election campaigns and not even have it count towards their spending limits. It is the ultimate act in hypocrisy.

The MPs have

• Ignored the Law Society’s advice that the Bill should be scrapped
• Ignored the Human Rights Commission opposition to the regulated period, and their request to allow the public to submit on the amended Bill
• Ignored the NZ Institute of Charted Accountant’s advice that the Bill is unworkable
• Ignored the Electoral Commission’s advice on spending limits
• Failed to provide legislative certainty around the exemptions for MPs
• Protected anonymous donations with massive loopholes which may result in less, not more, disclosure
• Continually misrepresented key clauses of the Bill

“New Zealand has no written constitution. At the end of the day 61 MPs in Parliament can pass any law they like, no matter how repugnant. Previously constitutional conventions have protected Acts like the Electoral Act, but the passage of the Electoral Finance Bill sees the demise of that convention.” said spokesperson David Farrar.

“We hoped the parties supporting this Bill would listen to the near universal opposition from the media, from the legal profession, and from the public and do the right thing. Sadly they have chosen not to.

“We do not believe there should be no consequences for those parties which passed the Electoral Finance Act into law. The NZ Herald correctly labeled it as an “Attack on Democracy” and we believe it is time for Democracy to attack back.

“The Free Speech Coalition will commence an advertising campaign tomorrow against parties and MPs which voted for the Electoral Finance Act. This campaign will continue into 2008. A media advisory with details of the campaign will be released tomorrow.

ENDS

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Electoral Finance Act now law

December 18th, 2007 at 5:24 pm by David Farrar

Subject to royal assent, the Electoral Finance Act is now law.

In favour – Labour 49, NZ First 7, Green 6, Progressive 1

Against – National 48 against, Maori 4, United Future 2, Act 2, Field 1
Total: 63 to 57

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Sounds like United Future is voting against

December 18th, 2007 at 4:35 pm by David Farrar

Peter Dunne is saying the perception it is anti-democratic has become the reality and they no longer think it should be pushed through.

UPDATE: Yes Dunne has confirmed he is voting against.

UPDATE 2: I have very mixed feelings about the sincerity of what Peter Dunne has done.  I am glad he has voted against, but at every stage where his vote was actually important he has gone with the Government.  He never once protested the 11 month regulated period.  He voted against many amendments which would have improved the Bill.  I am not sure one vote flipflop at the last possible moment, knowing it will make no difference to the outcome, really means he does not continue to share liability for the law.

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King comes clean with her interpretation

December 18th, 2007 at 3:27 pm by David Farrar

As I blogged last week, Annette King was due to reveal today a new interpretation of the parliamentary exemption, so that Labour’s pledge card.  She has been forced into this humiliating backdown because her original intepretation excluded statements made outside the House on policy to be enacted by a future Parliament, and the 9th floor realised this ruled out Labour’s pledge card and related campaign activities.

You see Labour is broke and needs to both have the taxpayer pay for its campaign, but also in case they do raise some money, not have the taxpayer spend count towards the limit.

So King has to back down.  And she did so today in the third reading.  She said:

My original view was too narrow.

She went onto to say that the exemption for MPs should include

provision of policy options and analysis to the electorate

A 180 degree flip-flop from her earlier view.  Sounds much like an election campaign to me – providing policy options and analysis to the electorate.

And then finally she referred to how

MPs behaviour governed by Appropriations Act 2007 and Speaker’s Guidelines

In other words having amended one law to over-ride the Auditor-General, they now want the other law (the Electoral Finance Act) to exempt from spending limits anything approved by The Parliamentary Service.

This final act of Annette King’s is the final proof that the motivations of those voting for the Bill is entirely self seeking – it is to allow them to run taxpayer funded election campaigns, and not even have them count as part of the limits they place on everyone else.

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A quiz from Audrey

December 18th, 2007 at 2:30 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young blogs:

It is hard to decide what the worst feature of the Electoral Finance Bill is:

a) that it was pursued with such self-interest by Labour without the bipartisan approach associated with something as important as electoral law;

b) extending the regulated period for electioneering almost all of election year; or

c) that it gives incumbent MPs an even greater unfair advantage over outside rival candidates and groups that oppose them or their policies.

Audrey goes on to talk about how it will legalise Labour’s pledge card.

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The end of the battle

December 18th, 2007 at 10:34 am by David Farrar

I started blogging on the proposed changes to the Electoral Act on 6 December 2006.  Ironically it was a post about how National had agreed to lend bi-partisan support to Helen Clark’s moves to reform the Electoral Act.

And this really highlights the magnitude of Labour’s incompetence on this issue.  National was nervous about being seen to defend secret trusts, anonymous donations and parallel campaigns by the Brethren. They did not want electoral reform to be a controversial issue.

All Labour had to do a year ago was sit down with National, and other parties, and agree on some basic principles, publish them for public comment, and then introduce a law based on that.  It would have flown through.

My 2nd post in March was to express concern at secret negotiations on the EFB and that changes should only be made with bipartisan support or an election commitment.  My concern was truly justified.

Then in April I commented on the leaked Cabinet paper.  And while I took issue with a couple of self serving aspects (protecting Owen Glenn’s donation) I blogged support for most of the proposals.

Then the Herald got hold of further details such as state funding of parties and extending the 90 day period and I started to go negative.

Then there was nothing for three months as Labour continued with secret negotiations instead of having a public policy process.  They are the only ones to blame for the law being passed a week before Christmas.

And then we saw in July their desire to screw maximum advantage for themselves and the outright incompetence of Mark Burton combined to create the horror known as the original Electoral Finance Bill. And that is why opposition rose up to it.  I certainly was planning to support the Electoral Finance Bill initially, and just seek improvements.  I never imagined it would be so draconian and unprecedented that one could get the Human Rights Commission and the Law Society agreeing it should be thrown out rather than amended.

Anyway since December 2006, I have made a total of 192 posts on the subject of the changes to the Electoral Act.  There are also 26 posts from early 2006 detailing Labour’s corrupt behaviour in the 2005 election where they defied the Chief Electoral Office and over-spent deliberately, bring the category total to 218.  This will be No 219.

The word count is somewhat horrific but I have published over 91,000 words on the Electoral Finance Bill. Now some of that is cut and paste but still a scary amount of words.

But it has been worth it.  Sadly the bill is about to pass, but those who support it have suffered for it, and hopefully will suffer next year for it.  And also many of the improvements to the EFB are due to the strength of the opposition.

I believe the blogs have played a pretty significant role.  Just one example is the submission of the Human Rights Commission.  This was not picked up by any media outlet as the media traditionally only cover submitters when they appear orally.  It was blogs which went through the 700 or so submissions, started writing about them, and then had the media follow through with stories. 

The same happened with some articles on the bill.  A couple of legal opinions strongly attacking the EFB were scanned in and placed on blogs.  Now these opinions had been public for several days already but not reported.  But once they got published on blogs, the media within hours had stories about them.

So it has been a battle well worth waging, and while today’s third reading marks the end of that battle as a loss for those against the Electoral Finance Bill, there is an old saying about winning a battle and losing the war, and those parties voting for the Electoral Finance Bill may yet discover that.

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Less is more

December 18th, 2007 at 9:44 am by David Farrar

Bryce Edwards makes the case for less, not more, state intervention in the democratic process.

It is not commonly realised that the US political system is one of the most highly regulated in the western world. Considerable regulations have been developed in order, ostensibly, to ensure a level playing field in elections. Of course, no such level playing field can be created from the huge restrictions on political activity that these state interventions impose.

By contrast, the New Zealand electoral system has historically been relatively laissez faire, with few state impediments to political activity. New Zealand political parties have been generally regarded as private organisations, and hence have had little obligation to report upon their internal affairs. Unfortunately, New Zealand has recently been shifting towards the American system of intense political regulation.

… The 1986 New Zealand Royal Commission on the Electoral System (RCES) anticipated the problems of the state-party relationship: ‘we recognise that there are dangers inherent in excessive State intervention in the democratic process. If taken too far, controls may represent an unjustifiable intrusion on the freedom of individuals, groups, political parties and candidates’ (RCES, 1986: p.185). Arguably, the regulation of politics has now been taken too far in New Zealand. And the consequences are not just a reduction in political liberty, but also many other apparently unintended consequences, including the creation of barriers to new political parties entering Parliament, and a reduction in the ability of the public to participate in politics.

In a perverse way, modern reforms actually exacerbate many of the problems they were intended to solve, as well as creating new problems along the way. Primarily, state intervention simply distorts political behaviour. As elsewhere, the reforms may be well intended but essentially, the cure of political regulation ends up being worse than the disease of financial scandal.

Read the full article.  It’s very good.

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Growing confusion over Electoral Finance Bill

December 18th, 2007 at 6:49 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports Steven Price from the Coalition for Open Government saying that despite the regulated period being all of 2008, an advertisement might start off the year legal, yet end up illegal at some unspecified time closer to the election.

This just goes to show what a mess things will be.  The true impact of the Bill will not be how many people get prosecuted, but how many people don’t speak out because they don’t know if doing so will be legal or not.

As Bill English says:

Mr English said under the current law there was a “bright line” at three months before the election and there was nothing in the bill to steer the Electoral Commission towards having a different rule on January 7 than a week before the election.

The bright line gives certainity.  Now advertisers have to face that their advertisements may become illegal on some unspecified date.  Good law is meant to have as little uncertainty as possible.

And this is not the only area of confusion.  The Electoral Commission still has no definition of how the exemption for MPs in their role as MPs is meant to work.  Instead they will have to rely on whatever partisan interpretation Annette King invents during her third reading speech today.  And no one really knows how a Court will interpret this area.

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The Electoral Suicide Bill

December 17th, 2007 at 1:49 pm by David Farrar

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The latest advertisement from John Boscawen is above as an image.  The link below takes you to an 800KB pdf of it.  It ran in the Sunday Star-Times.

Electoral Suicide Bill Ad

Do Labour, the Greens, United Future and NZ First really want to be explaining next year why Tim Shadbolt has gone to jail for sticking up for his constituents in Southland by running advertisement ten months before the election.  Do they think there is any way they can overcome the symbolism of that? Sure there are grounds to disagree about whether the ads he ran in December would infringe, but there is no doubt his ads planned for early next year will run afoul as they will call for the Government to be brought down.

It is no coincidence that those parties supporting the Electoral Finance Bill are well down in the polls.  Now they can gamble that the issue will fade, but that is a very risky gamble.

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Hooton on media regulation

December 16th, 2007 at 4:49 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton writes in the SST about the prospects of media regulation if Helen Clark wins a fourth term. First he looks at why we have the Electoral Finance Bill:

If she wins a fourth term, Helen Clark’s next move will be to regulate what can and cannot be written in our newspapers or broadcast on our radios and TVs.

Back in the 90s, it was the unions that first became accustomed to running anti-government advertisements.

The teacher unions were prolific. Billboards lampooned ministers while newspaper advertisements said “vote public education”. Mysteriously, these would coincide with Labour prattling on about “privatisation”. Leftist health groups ran similar campaigns.

Even though these campaigns clearly benefited Labour, no action was taken against them by the Bolger government.


For the first time, Clark’s government came under the sort of concerted attack that National governments had always tolerated. Clark was determined that such criticism not be allowed to happen again.

Clark’s answer was the Electoral Finance Bill, written secretly by Cullen and Labour’s election strategist, Pete Hodgson, specifically to silence dissent. They took the most draconian parts of Canadian law and merged them with the most draconian parts of British law to create a monstrosity unknown in any genuine democracy.

While the initial draft of the legislation was an outrageous attack on free speech, the revised version is arguably worse in that it recklessly risks next year’s election being decided by the courts. Every newspaper in the country, whether left- or right-leaning, has condemned the bill and the government that dreamed it up.

Media criticism of the government is likely to only get worse next year. The extraordinary arrogance and unpleasantness of key ministers, combined with clear failure across a range of policy areas, including health, mean that Labour is likely to face a media next year that is more sceptical of Clark, and perhaps even hostile, than any she has experienced before.

If she wins, Clark will be more determined that such criticism never be allowed to happen again.

The same arguments used to suppress criticism by paid advertising will be used to suppress criticism by the media. We will be told the media has been guilty of trying to influence public opinion “unduly”, whatever that means. Criticism of the government will be called “attack journalism” by “right-wing hacks”. It will be necessary to take “a closer look” at what is written and broadcast to stop the media “rorting” the next election.

Now you might think that this is all silly, that the Government would never try to control what the media can say. Well look at these warning signs:

Already, the threats have begun. Last year, Clark slammed this newspaper for giving me “endless column space”. This week, she broadened her attack to the media generally. Her foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, has threatened darkly that he has news for the media, and “it’s all bad”. My colleague Chris Trotter, New Zealand’s most reliable harbinger of emerging leftist thought, says media policy has been a “sleeping dog” of this administration. He warned the media this week to “think long and hard before kicking them into snarling wakefulness” by editorialising against Labour.

It is difficult to believe that Clark, a former social democrat, would take us down this road. But, then again, it is difficult to believe how far she has already travelled. She is not taking us to North Korea, but she is heading to Singapore, where free speech and a free media are tolerated as long as they support the objectives of the ruling party, and where dissent is OK as long as no one hears it.

This gets pretty close to it.  Clark sees criticism of her and her Government as criticism of New Zealand.  Anyone who criticises her must have disloyal motives. They must be in the pay of wealthy or foreign interests, it is concluded.

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Will Shadbolt go to jail?

December 16th, 2007 at 10:25 am by David Farrar

I didn’t think the actual ad run this month by the Invercargill City Council and other supporters of Southland Institute of Technology would cause problems under the Electoral Finance Bill/Act. But the ones planned for next month certainly would:

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt plans to spend $300,000 on an anti-government advertising campaign opposing the cuts, which he says will see an estimated $24m wiped out of the Southland economy each year.

He plans to use the slogan “Bring down the government” in a second series of newspaper advertisements to run next month.

The ads are likely to fall foul of the new Electoral Finance Act, which is expected to be passed into law on Tuesday. The new law will stop third parties from spending more than $120,000 on political advertising during an election year.

If Shadbolt is convicted, he will automatically lose his job as Mayor. Those planning to vote for the Electoral Finance Bill on Tuesday should reflect on whether they want to be associated with the electoral consequences of having a popular Mayor forced out of office due to him standing up for his local constituents against the central Government.

Spending $300,000 to fight a decision which will cost your community over $20 million is a very logical thing to do. And this is not a big wealthy person funding this – it is a democratic body on behalf of its 50,000 residents. It is stopping the Council from spending $6 per resident to fight a decision which affects their community.

And don’t anyone imagine that the Council’s action will not be near universally supported. They are fanatically passionate about the SIT in Invercargill and 95% of the population there will be cheering the Council on.

The Electoral Finance Bill may become the tombstone for those parties who support it.  I’ll leave the final words to former Labour Prime Minister Mike Moore:

The former Labour Prime Minister has today labelled the piece of legislation as fatally flawed. He says the restrictions in the electoral finance law, promised by the Government to be passed next week in Parliament, are without precedent in the free world.

Mike Moore says the bill is wrong in principle and in substance and will end up doing the opposite of what its authors expected.

 

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NZ First on Electoral Reform

December 14th, 2007 at 8:09 am by David Farrar

A commenter yesterday pointed out a clause in NZ First’s 15 fundamental principles, which highlights their hypocrisy on the Electoral Finance Bill:

Electoral Reform

Electoral reform will be determined by the electors. The Government’s duty will be to ensure the fair representation of all views and the holding of appropriate referenda.

So consider this:

  1. The public had no notice before the last election of electoral law changes
  2. NZ First negotiated in secret with Labour on electoral law changes
  3. There was no public policy process to allow policy to be set on which the law was based
  4. Opinion polls (Colmar Brunton) have shown the majority against further third party restrictions
  5. The Human Rights Commission called for a second round of public submissions, which NZ First ignored
  6. The public will be restrained from criticising those who voted for the law, by the law.

So is that what NZ First calls having electoral reform determined by the electors?

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Shadbolt threatens Government

December 14th, 2007 at 7:46 am by David Farrar

The Invercargill Mayor is quoted in the Herald:

Mr Shadbolt said a proposed $8 million cut for the institute would lead to a loss of 1400 students and be bad for the region.

“This is a direct attack on everything we’ve done and everything we’ve achieved in the last five years and we’re not going to stop on Friday and say, ‘Oh well, that’s the end of it’,” he told Radio New Zealand.

“There’s an election coming up and we’ll be doing everything we possibly can. We’re going to launch a campaign to bring down this Government if they are going to launch a campaign to bring down our province.”

Except sadly for Tim and Invercargill, their campaign will be limited to $120,000.

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Electoral Finance Bill (not) to have third reading today

December 13th, 2007 at 11:12 am by David Farrar

NZPA reported close to midnight:

… under a deal understood to have been worked out by MPs late tonight, there will be a break in the urgency motion for the Electoral Finance Bill to be debated for the last time tomorrow [now today].

When it has been passed, urgency will resume and the remaining bills dealt with. After that the adjournment debate will be held.

The arrangement will allow Parliament to adjourn for the long summer recess late tomorrow, avoiding having to come back after the weekend. Friday is not a sitting day.

I would expect the Governor-General to give royal assent to it on Friday, at which stage it will come into law. The regulated period will start on 1 January 2008, but the new laws around donations etc will come into force on the day royal assent is given.

UPDATE: It turns out there was no deal, and the House remains in urgency. When the bills put to urgency are finished with (might be today even) the House will rise and resume on Tuesday. I would expect question time from 2 – 3.30 or so, EFB third reading from 3.30 – 5.30 and then after the dinner break the adjournment debate.

UPDATE2: Have just had confirmed there never was any deal at all, that the media stories came from talk at the press gallery party last night. In fact as I understand it, the position of the leadership is that they are quite happy to still be debating the Electoral Finance Bill on Christmas Eve, and will not be making any deals to help the Government get it through quicker! I think it is great National have managed to succeed in not having the third reading until the week before Christmas.  If you’re not willing to give up some of your Xmas shopping time to fight a bill like this, then you don’t deserve Xmas! So well done Nats.

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NZ First Tauranga says Kill the Bill

December 13th, 2007 at 10:54 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports that the Tauranga electorate of NZ First passed a resolution calling on its MPs not to vote for the Electoral Finance Bill.

Party activist and executive member Ralph Maxwell said the executive comprised about 18 people. There was one abstention and one vote against the resolution. He said the bill was not supported within the party and that the caucus was supporting it because it would help their own survival.

Mr Maxwell may be wrong on one aspect.  The caucus support for the Electoral Finance Bill may in fact harm their chances of surviving the next election.

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How very flawed this law is

December 12th, 2007 at 2:28 pm by David Farrar

The committee stage of the Electoral Finance Bill is over, and the likely third reading is Tuesday 19 December 2007 – an entire three days before the effective holiday shut-down.

This is an opportune time to highlight some massive flaws in the Bill – not the deliberate flaws in cracking down on criticism, but the inadvertent ones which undermine the claims about stopping anonymous and trust donations and the Brethren.

You see as often is the case with any attempt to regulate election finances, the solution proves worse than the problem. Just look at McCain-Feingold in the US. And this Wired article (hat tip: Gonzo) and photo show what happens when you have bad law (and the EFB takes us much closer to US law – not further away)

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Here are some of loopholes the Government have introduced due to rushing this process, and being more concerned about advantaging Labour than having a good law:

One can still donate $250,000 a year anonymously

The worst thing about the Greens/Labour compromise to protect Labour’s anonymous donations is that they have said you can donate $1,000 anonymously to a party [Clause 25A(2)] and it does not have to be declared. They should have banned anonymity (which is different to non disclosure) for all donations except petty cash/raffle tickets etc.

You see someone could arrange for $1,000 a day to be donated anonymously through bank cheques. So long as they do not tell the party they are doing it, and the party does not know it is the same donor, then that money can be received and even worse not even disclosed. So $1,000 a day is $250,000 a year or $750,000 an election cycle.

This makes the law worse than the status quo. If someone wanted to donate $20,000 anonymously at present, they would simply make a one off $20,000 anonymous donation. And that donation would be disclosed on the party’s return – so the public would at least see they have received that $20,000, even if not from whom.

Now they are motivated to make 20 $1,000 anonymous donations over time, and the party takes the money, and the electoral commission don’t even learn about the donations, let alone have them count as part of the $240,000 cap. Again – I repeat – no one at all outside the party will know about these donations. The Electoral Commission and the public will have no idea if there have been 20 $1,000 anon donations or 1,500 $1,000 anon donations. It will be totally below the radar.

The way to avoid this was banning all non-trivial anonymous donations, but having a reasonable disclosure limit. But the desperation to protect Labour’s anonymous donations gives us this gaping loophole. They also could have fixed this by stating a person can not make multiple anonymous donations.
One can more easily give $66,000 and not be disclosed

Another loophole, brought about to protect Labour’s donors, is that you can receive not only up to $30,000 over three years [Clause 22A(1)(b)] in undisclosed donations from a donor, plus they can give $36,000 anonymously [Clause 28C(3)] through the Electoral Commission. This is because the law allows for both undisclosed donations and anonymous donations. So the Greens and Labour are allowing $66,000 to be donated to a party without the identity being known.

Trusts can still make donations

The bill which came out of the select committee had a huge gaping loophole in it. One could donate say $100,000 to Trust A, have Trust A donate it to Trust B and Trust B donate it to Party C. The only obligation was on Trust B to reveal Trust A gave it to them, and not on Trust A to reveal who they got it from.

Now this loophole got fixed at the last second (SOP 162) , but it is still relatively easy to still have trust donations – you just collect money from donors without guaranteeing (or having an understanding or agreement) to pass it on to a particular party or parties.

Here’s an example. You set up the Free Market Trust and the Trust (not any Party) seeks donors. It explains it wants to support free market policies in NZ and will use any money received for a variety of activities – it conducts some research, some advertising. The trustees of that Trust independently decide what proportion of their income gets spent on what. They may collect $1.0 million, spend $50K on admin, $80K on research, $70k on publicity and $800k on donations to parties with free market policies. If the Trust can pass a test that there was no knowledge or expectation from its donor, that the Trust would make a donation.

Trusts can donate from their earnings

Here’s another loophole. A trust collects donations. It invests all the donations it collects in various activities. Say they collect $2 million in donations. The trustees are smart people and get a 15% return of $300,000 a year on that money. They donate that $300,000 a year or $900,000 over three years to political parties. Now so long as they never donate the capital which in turn was donated to them, they should never have to disclose who their original donors were.

The Exclusive Brethren can still spend $840,000 or more

The Exclusive Brethren will be able to spend a million dollars again if they so wish. How? Because many of their members are rich, and even the main secret seven could register as third parties and spend $120,000 each which is a total of $840,000. Ten of them could spend $1.2 million.

The law stops one rich person giving money to six poor people, so that he or she can not spend $840,000 through proxies. But the EB tend to be wealthy business owners who can each spend $120,000.

And the secret seven could even run joint ads for a total of $840,000 – the EFB in Clause 105A(3) allows for ads to be apportioned between third parties. Yes the law specifically allows third parties to pool resources and run joint advertisements.

On the other hand – a reputable lobby group such as the Automobile Association is restricted to spending $120,000 on behalf of its 1 million members if it wishes to advocate for or against parties with motorist friendly policies. They can only spend 12c per member, while individual members of the EB can spend $120,000 each.

Lobby Groups can easily become parties

Because political parties only need 500 members, and they have much much higher spending limits, a number of lobby groups may become political parties so they can spend more than $3,000 a week on advocacy such as “Support parties who support Kyoto” or “Punish MPs who voted for the Electoral Finance Bill”. They will need to have at least one candidate but that won’t be a barrier.

Remember the section on donations was cooked up in secret between Labour and the Greens. They showed it to the Select Committee at the very last minute. Despite what the Greens claim, it is primarily about protecting Labour’s anonymous donations and the loopholes they have put into the law is actually going to drive anonymous donations underground so that the public won’t even know about them anymore.

They could have avoided many of these problems if they had adopted a principled approach and had proper public consultation on the policy principles for the Bill. That would have found widespread support for banning all anonymous donations, and a law could have been drawn up which reflected that. Instead though we have a shabby self serving law full of loopholes, and which will undermine, not enhance, the integrity of our electoral legislation.

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Fisking the fisking of the fisking of the Greens

December 12th, 2007 at 1:08 pm by David Farrar

The Greens complained about the Herald’s editing of their 200 words on the Electoral Finance Bill. Graeme Edgeler fisked their 200 words (as did I)

Russel Norman has now fisked his fisking (and kudos to him for responding). And in response Graeme Edgeler has fisked the fisking of his fisking. I think Graeme is well ahead, as he resorts to that awful trick of quoting the clauses of the Bill.

One sad part though is when Russel plays the man, not the ball, and says:

Edge, I’m sure that you are not duped. You don’t support campaign finance reform. The right and the anti-greens are winning the PR spin, as you were sure to do with the Herald backing you.

Graeme is in fact a strong support of campaign finance reform.  His submission to the Select Committee on the Bill was quoted by officials more often than any other (I think I was second!).  He, like myself, supports the principles of more transparency and not having an arms race with fundraising.  I think overall he even supports the Electoral Finance Bill as an improvement on the status quo (I strongly disagree with him on that).  He just doesn’t like it when people get their facts wrong on what the Bill does or does not do.

But this shows the mindset of supporters of the Bill.  Anyone who points out its gaping flaws is an enemy and tool of the vast right wing NZBR/CIS conspiracy blah blah blah.

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A new sort of filibuster

December 11th, 2007 at 12:37 pm by David Farrar

National has played some very smart cards to delay the Electoral Finance Bill without launching a fullscale filibuster against it.

Hell if it was up to me, I’d file 30,000 amendments and as each one takes a minute to vote on this would add on 500 hours to the debate and they would conclude it in around 30 weeks time.  Sure the Clerk’s Office would never ever talk to you again, NZPA would send an assassin after you for forcing them to listen to 30,000 votes and the Whips would lose their voices, but it would effectively kill the bill.

But the smart people at National have gone for a much better option.  They are delaying the bill by actually debating it clause by clause.  They have organised their MPs so each MP can speak on seperate clauses.  This makes it very hard for the Committee Chair to take a closure motion when MPs can point to speakers who have not yet spoken, clauses not yet debated and amendments not yet considered. Generally only an hour per Part of a Bill will be given but if you do what National has done, you ensure each Part’s debate lasts several hours.

And so they should.  The Government has used eight sub-parts in Part 2 of the Bill, just so it can be rushed through debate.  This deals with all the details of party donations, candidate donations, third party donations, party advertising, candidate advertising and third party advertising.  If only one hour was allowed for Part 2, then each sub Part would only get around eight minutes debate or two speeches.

National has also avoided using hundreds of time wasting  amendments.  I’d say 90%+ of their amendments have been constructive amendments based on submissions made.  The Government’s even adopted a small number of them.

Finally National has also craftily used a provision in Standing Orders where MPs can lodge questions not just to a Minister (which are restricted to 12 a day) but to any Committee Chair. So last week suddenly ten committee chairs were all asked about progress of work before their committees.  A very legitimate and cunning way to delay things a wee bit.

It will be interesting to see how the Government intends to get through the final stages, without resorting to urgency as they have promised not to do.  Assuming we trust them, this leaves two major options:

1) Complete committee stage today (they will have from 3.30 pm to 6 pm and 7.30 pm to 10 pm), have a members day tomorrow and then have third reading on Thursday.  This will then mean the 11 new bills will only be introduced and have first readings under urgency next week and with 22 hours of debate needed could keep the House going to around midday Thursday.

2) Complete committee stage today and then go into urgency on the 11 new bills and remaining business. This will take the House through until very late Thursday or maybe even Friday.  Then resume next Tuesday for the EFB 3rd reading and an adjournment debate.

Of note is that the electoral agencies asked for the EFB to be passed into law by 30 November at the latest if it was to have a 1 January commencement for the regulated period. Even that was very tight – in the UK they had months and months to get ready.  But even the incredibly tight one month deadline has been missed (and remember the Government delayed introducing the EFB for months on end while it did secret negotiations about it) and if it is only given third reading next Tuesday, that leaves only three days before basically Wellington closes down.

The sensible thing would be to delay the date the EFB comes into force until 1 April.  But no the Government is hell bent on regulating from the 1st of January.

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United Future gets it wrong – again

December 11th, 2007 at 9:55 am by David Farrar

This is getting irresponsible.  United Future has once again put out a publication that is inaccurate regarding the Electoral Finance Bill.  They have just done an e-mail to supporters (thanks to those who passed it on) and in it Peter Dunne says:

In essence, what it says is that where a lobby group is explicitly promoting a particular party, there is a limitation on how much that group can spend in support of that party.

This is 100% wrong.  Under both the current law and the Electoral Finance Bill a lobby group can’t spend a single dollar explicitly promoting a party, without it counting as part of a party’s limit (which needs their consent).

The Electoral Finance Bill covers campaigns such as the motor vehicle industry campaign against “Labour’s crazy car policy”.  That is not an explicit campaign in support of a party. It is a genuine campaign against a policy which they see as harming their industry.  And because they mention the name of the party in Government, it is now going to be seen as an election advertisement – even for ads in January.

The real irony of the United Future newsletter is this statement:

At the outset, I have to say that there have been a number of inaccurate and extreme comments about this bill and its implications that should be debunked.

Indeed, and those inaccuracies have been from United Future, Labour, Progressive and Greens who time and time again have either not understood their own legislation or are deliberately misrepresenting it.  For witness the next sentence:

For example, it does not restrict any citizen’s freedom of speech, nor does it limit the ability of lobby groups to participate in the election process.

Both statements are quite wrong of course.  An individual advocating for or against a party next year will be deemed to be running an election advertisement and need their name and address on it for stuff such as protest march placards or posts into Usenet.

And the statement about lobby groups is clearly wrong – the motor vehicle dealers being just one example.

And Peter Dunne doesn’t mention why he voted for a third party spending limit which is less than half that recommended by the neutral Electoral Commission.

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State funding overshadows private donations

December 10th, 2007 at 3:47 pm by David Farrar

Simon Collins in the Herald reports on a presentation by former Alliance staff and Otago University lecturer Bruce Edwards on money in politics:

Otago University political scientist Bryce Edwards told a sociology conference in Auckland yesterday that the controversial Electoral Finance Bill, now before Parliament, was based on a myth that corporate donations could “buy elections”.

In fact, declared donations over $10,000 to political parties at the last election totalled only $3.2 million – the same as the amount paid by taxpayers for free broadcasting time, and only one-eighth of what taxpayers paid through the Parliamentary Service for “party and member support” plus MPs’ travel and communications.

Dr Edwards said critics were correct that business had a strong influence on New Zealand politics. But he said its influence came mainly from the need for any Government to maintain “business confidence” in a capitalist economy.

“That’s where the political leverage of the wealthy is exerted – not in donations, which are utterly insignificant in comparison,” he said.

He said there was no clear relationship between party spending and votes. For example, Act spent more than any other party except Labour and National at the last election ($1.4 million), yet received only 1 per cent of the vote, while the Alliance gained its highest vote (18 per cent) in 1993 when it spent only $500,000.

On the other hand, the weight of taxpayer funding of parties in Parliament now gave a huge advantage to incumbents.

Dr Edwards said the parliamentary funding should be much more tightly controlled to make sure it was only used for parliamentary duties, but controls on donations from supporters should be loosened.

The Electoral Finance Bill makes the incumbency advantage far worse of course.  It tries to exempt all parliamentary spending from the spending restrictions, while forcing a new candidate to make $20,000 last all of election year.

This is why new candidates such as Grant Robertson have started delivering their pamphlets this year.  $20,000 is a ridiculously low limit for electorates of 45,000 voters.  It’s 4c per voter per month.  It’s less than what Councillors get for many of their elections.

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