Dom Post on PPTA

January 24th, 2011 at 9:46 am by David Farrar

Just saw this editorial:

Those who read newspapers and magazines during the Christmas break – most of us, surely – will have seen a series of big Post-Primary Teachers Association advertisements. They said: “Around the world, the countries that believe in investing in education understand the central importance of teachers … Attracting great teachers for our children, and keeping them in New Zealand, costs money. How can the government … not make that investment?”

The PPTA is wasting their money. Well, not entirely. If their aim is to get a better pay deal for their members, the money is wasted. If the aim is to help Labour by painting National as anti-education, then they may feel it is a good investment.

PPTA members do not believe that an administration that has supported the Rugby World Cup, South Canterbury Finance, Warner Bros and hated private schools cannot afford to give them a 4 per cent pay rise. That they have had three successive rises of 4 per cent when many parents got nothing or lost their jobs seems to have happened in a parallel universe.

I wonder if they will keep their strike action going for all of 2011.

An irony of the PPTA’s advertising campaign is that, under Helen Clark’s Electoral Finance Act, the union would have had to think twice about mounting it. Third-party advertising was heavily proscribed throughout an entire election year.

That this highly political union can now advertise its distress about pay rates to the full extent of its members’ willingness to fund it until three months before polling day – without falling foul of an anti-free speech law – is thanks only to its enemy, the Key-led Government.

Very true.

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Return of the EFA

November 22nd, 2010 at 11:57 am by David Farrar

God I am pissed off. The Electoral (Finance and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill has been reported back, and National and Labour have voted for introducing a cap on third party spending.

I really wonder sometimes why we bother changing Governments, when the  new Government adopts so many politics of the old Government – especially a policy that was a big part of why they got thrown out.

The law is not as bad as the old EFA, for four reasons, but is still an unjustified limitation on the rights of New Zealanders to campaign against Governments or parties they don’t like. The four mitigating factors are:

  1. The limit is $300,000 over three months rather than $120,000 over 11 months. That is around 10 times as high per month.
  2. The bill does follow a public and transparent public policy process where people were allowed to have their say, and where most backed a limit
  3. The bill has bipartisan support, and is not an attempt by one party to do over their opponents
  4. There have been some trade-offs with Labour agreeing to back higher spending limits for candidates

But don’t read that list of mitigating factors as signalling agreement with the bill. I think National has sold out far too cheaply. I did say in my submission that I supported bipartisan agreement, and if National concedes on something , then basically Labour should do the same. But the only concession that in my opinion would be suitable for having a limit on third party spending would be removing the draconian ban of political parties being able to but advertising time on television and radio. If National could have got Labour to agree to that change, then I would grudgingly accept a compromise on third party spending.

I think many of those who protested against the EFA will feel a sense of betrayal with this bill. National has put the desire to be bipartisan with electoral law (which is commendable) ahead of doing what is right.

I did support the bill at select committee stage on the basis it did improve things in several areas. And the select committee has also made many other minor improvements which I support (and will detail in a later post). But the inclusion of a limit on third party spending, combined with no lifting of the ban on parties buying their own broadcasting time, means that I no longer think the bill is worth proceeding with.

I accept that in reality few third parties will find the $300,000 limit a barrier. The trade unions tend to be the biggest spenders and their biggest contribution is staff hours (which do not count as spending). And the limit is simple to get around also. But by agreeing to such a limit, National has now made it easier for future Governments to lower it, to try and silence their opponents.

Labour should be very very happy with the willingness of the Government to not just give them a veto over changes to the existing law, but also to introduce measures the National Party submitted against, all for the sake of bipartisan electoral law. It is a universe different from what Labour did in its last term, and my fear is that a future Labour Government will not return the benevolence and when they are next in Government, make changes without bipartisan support.

National MPs who railed against the Electoral Finance Act should feel very sheepish when they vote for this bill to become law. I suggest National Party members take advantage of end of year meetings to ask their MPs why they agreed to support limits on third parties using their own money to have a say during election campaigns.

UPDATE: Whale provides us with this updated billboard:

It would look better if it was 6 metres by 4 metres in size I think.

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The electoral finance reform the Government turned down

April 20th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

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.

Nat Lab Green ACT Maori
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
Donations Cap None Yes $35K
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:

  1. Consensus Package – changes which all or almost all parties supported
  2. 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)
  3. Parallel Campaigning Package – a left leaning package which is the consensus package plus more regulation of parallel campaigning
  4. Broadcast Reform Package – a right leaning package which is the consensus reform package plus liberalisation of the broadcasting regime.
  5. 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
Donations Cap None None None None None
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.

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Consensus kills most meaningful electoral finance reform

February 16th, 2010 at 11:26 am by David Farrar

Simon Power has announced the Government’s electoral finance reform package:

The Government has today announced its reform package for electoral finance laws.

Justice Minister Simon Power says the decisions are the result of a thorough process.

“The package comes after extended consultation with all parliamentary parties and the public.

“As a result, Cabinet has decided to progress reforms only where there is broad public and political support.

“If we are to have a system which is fair, workable, enduring, and in place before the 2011 election, broad consensus is essential.”

Sadly, this means that many good reforms are not occurring. I will detail these below. There are some useful changes, but I am frustrated that some really stupid parts of the law are remaining.

However I have great sympathy for the need to have broad support for the electoral law, so that changes to electoral law do not become the ultimate prize of the victor, trying to skew the playing field to keep them in power (as Labour did with the Electoral Finance Act).

Effectively Simon Power (and Cabinet) has given Labour a veto over major reforms. I don’t like the outcomes this has led to, but do think it is generally the right thing to do, to not force changes through which don’t have widespread support.

It is the polar opposite of what Labour, the Greens and NZ First did with the Electoral Finance Act.

The Cabinet paper is here. Major aspects are:

  1. Parallel campaigners who spend more than $12,000 must register with the Electoral Commission, but there is no spending limits of such campaigners.
  2. Spending limits for parties and candidates to be inflation adjusted for future elections, but no increase to compensate for the lack of such adjustments since 1993.
  3. The definition of an election advertisement will exempt personal political opinions on the Internet
  4. One does not have to use your home address on election advertisements
  5. The Electoral Commission can give advisory opinions on the legality of proposed advertisements
  6. A new requirement that parties disclose all their income from donations in bands, including those below the disclosure threshold
  7. Include an associated persons test to make it harder to do what NZ First did, and not disclose donations as they were from seperate companies, even though they had the same owner.
  8. No change to the regulated period or the broadcasting regime.
  9. A proposal to align parliamentary and electoral advertising rules

My thoughts on the changes are as follows:

  1. A pretty major win with no limit for parallel campaigners. It is not that I want third parties spending huge amounts of money for or against a party (the unions tend to be the biggest spenders) but that it is wrong for MPs to legislate to restrict the amount of criticism that can be advertised against them. Also the public are quite capable of forming their own views about very expensive campaigns.
  2. The lack of any change to the broadcasting regime is hugely disappointing. It is quite simply wrong that parties can not purchase their own advertising on radio or television, and also that effetively the major parties get a higher overall spending limit than smaller parties.  I also think it is wrong that current parties in Parliament get so much of the broadcasting allocation. Labour and the Greens refused to back change here, so the Government did not proceed.
  3. I am rather pleased with the decision to have further transparency with donations, by having disclosure in bands of all income. I proposed this at both stages of the review as it will give the public a more accurate picture of a party’s funding. It will be interesting to see under the OIA who else, if anyone, proposed this.
  4. The associated persons test for donations is very much needed to prevent what NZ First did.
  5. The lack of an increase to party and (especially) candidate spending limits is regrettable as they are too low, and prevent candidates from being able to do even basic communications such as direct mail. Even the Green Party supported retrospective inflation adjustments back to 1993, but Labour did not support this, so it did not proceed.
  6. While it is good the length of the regulated period has not increased from three months, I am astonished they did not go for a fixed start date of 1 August to avoid the current problem of candidates not knowing when the regulated period starts until they are halfway through it. I will be interested to discover under the OIA why this change did not occur. As far as I can tell from the Cabinet paper it may have been technical problems with snap elections.
  7. Allowing the Electoral Commission to issue advisory opinions on advertisements is very welcome. It should be difficult to breach the law.
  8. Also very sensible to allow a non-home address on advertisements so long as one can still contact the identified promoter.
  9. There is a proposal that Parliament ban use of parliamentary funds, during the regulated period, on any publicity material that can be deemed electioneering under the Electoral Act. I strongly support this and proposed such an action. Outside the regulated period only material which explicitly calls for votes (or members or money) is banned, but during the regulated period anything which even appears to encourage support for a party or candidate will not be able to be funded by the taxpayers.

I back the change package as announced, and will submit on them. My criticism is about the changes not made. Hopefully over time a consensus can be gained to do further reform.

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South Australia Electoral Finance Act

February 2nd, 2010 at 5:04 pm by David Farrar

South Australia Labor have copied what NZ Labour tried:

SOUTH Australia has become one of the few states in the world to censor the internet.

The new law, which came into force on January 6, requires anyone making an online comment about next month’s state election to publish their real name and postcode.

The law will affect anyone posting a comment on an election story on The Advertiser’s AdelaideNow website, as well as other Australian news sites.

It could also apply to election comment made on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Even worse the Libs voted for it:

The law, which was pushed through last year as part of a raft of amendments to the Electoral Act and supported by the Liberal Party, also requires media organisations to keep a person’s real name and full address on file for six months, and they face fines of $5000 if they do not hand over this information to the Electoral Commissioner. …

The law will apply as soon as the writs for the March 20 election are issued. The writs for the election can be issued any time between now and 25 days before the election. The law will then lapse at 6pm on polling day.

At least it is not for all year, like the EFA was. And the EFA did have a blog (but not a general Internet) exemption.

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Electoral Finance details

September 28th, 2009 at 2:28 pm by David Farrar

Here are the major proposals or options from the proposal document.

Broadcasting Allocation

Option 1 is the status quo of $3.2 million for political parties that can only be spent on broadcasting, and parties can not buy additional time.

Option 2 is moderate reform where the allocation can be spent in any advertising medium, and parties may buy additional broadcasting time.

Option 3 is significant reform where the funds can be spent on any purpose (not just election advertising) plus parties may buy additional broadcasting time.

Personally I would restrict access to the allocation to non parliamentary parties, but that is not an option.

Option 3 is effectively state funding of political parties, so I am not in favour. If we are to have taxpayer funds supplied, they should be for the express purpose of election advertising, not to pay people to administer the party.

I support Option 2 then, as it is the fairest, allowing parties to purchase time beyond their allocation and also allowing them a choice of medium.

I would suggest the amount allocated be set in legislation (and inflation adjusted) so a future Government can not just double or triple the amount allocated.

I was pleased to see the paper say:

While some submissions on the issues paper supported an increase in state funding to political parties, many submissions considered there was no case for additional state funding to political parties at the current time, particularly in light of the donations returns for the 2008 general election which demonstrate that some political parties are able to raise adequate private funds for their campaigning.

That was a point I made – the empirical evidence from 2008 is that there is sufficient private funding.

Parliamentary Service Funding

No change at this stage just  a desire to harmonise definitions of electioneering. I still believe the best way forward is to prohibit PS funding of any advertising during the regulated period.

Private Donations

No change. This is not entirely surprising. Personally I would have got rid of the ability to donate anonymously through the Electoral Commission.

This means the law passed by Labour and the Greens, as it applies to donations, will remain in force.

Campaign expenditure limits

The Government has decided in principle that the limits for party spending (currently $2.4 million effectively) and constituency spending (currently $20,000) should increase. They are seeking feedback on what level they should be set at, and also a desired mechanism to adjust the amount for future elections.

If you inflation and population adjust back to 1995, and include the $1 million broadcasting allocation then the party limit would be close to $5 million. I think $50,000 is around what you need at electorate level to be able to do even a basic campaign. That is a bit over $1/voter only.

Ideally the limits should be calculated using research on how much one needs to spend to reach x% of the population with a frequency of y.

Future increases should be based on inflation and population growth.

Regulated Campaign Period

Four options

  1. Starts on Writ Day. This means a period of around five weeks. Would give PM’s party a huge advantage as they could spend up large before writ day knowing when it will be before others do. Mind you I doubt any party would come close to spending up to the limit for such a short period.
  2. Starts on 1 August in the scheduled election year. This is my preferred option.
  3. Starts on 1 May in the scheduled election year. I think this is too far out as it covers the period of the Government’s Budget and you don’t really hit campaign mode until after that.
  4. The status quo of three months before the election. My least favoured option as it means you are halfway through the regulated period before knowing exactly when it starts.

The paper also canvasses two options for snap elections. Either have it retrospective to three montsh before the election date, or have it from the date of the announcement (which I favour).

Election Advertising

Definition will be based on 1993 Act’s definition of seeking to influence voting behaviour, and will be media neutral. It will not include policy advocacy that does not mention parties.

Exemptions will include media, personal correspondence between individuals, low cost merchandise (pens etc), personal opinions published on the Internet (or by text messaging), website maintained by parties and candidates and parallel campaigners (if registered), and anything put out by electoral agencies.

This seems quite good. The website exemption may seem strange to some, but it is hideous trying to work out what portion of a site is an advertisement and further it is a passive medium which people seek out – it is not like advertising that is displayed to people who are not seeking it.

All adverts will have name and full daytime address (but need not be home).

Parallel Campaigning

Two options.

The first is a “proportionate” regulatory scheme that has a high registration threshold and overall expenditure limits. Registered campaigners will not have to disclose donations to them as per the EFA. Registration restricted to NZ citizens, residents and organisations.

The second option is the status quo. No registration but you must identify yourself. This could possibly include restricting advertising to NZ citizens, residents and organisations.

While the first options is considerably superior to what was in the EFA, I am not convinced there is enough of a problem to change from the status quo. There was very little third party spending in 2008 and the main problem in 2005 was the lack of transparency by the Exclusive Brethren, not the fact they spent money.

Some will argue as parties have a limit, so should non parties. But the argument against that is the voting public will tend to discount the message anyway, if they perceive an inappropriate amount of money is being spent on a campaign. The public should be trusted – even the 15% who think Hillary is alive!

At the end of the day I think the spending by the EB helped the left, more than it harmed them.

Broadcast advertising by parallel campaigners

Two options again. The status quo is no spending is allowed. The other option is to allow parallel campaigners to advertise on TV and radio if there is a system of “proportionate regulation”.

I don’t like having to choose between two restrictions. I would prefer no need to register, and being able to spend on TV and radio.

The ability to gain access to TV and radio advertising might make the option of proportionate regulation of parallel campaigners more attractive for some.

Monitoring and Compliance

Electoral Agencies to be merged as detail in previous post. Best of all the new agency will be able to advise parties and candidates as to what constitutes an election advertisment.

No changes to penalties or time limits, and I presume (sadly) the Police will retain the prosecution function.

Overall it is a good document. There are definitely some things I do not agree with, but they have generally made quite sensible decisions, and the options outlined are workable models. Of course of high interest will be which option they choose!

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Edwards on EFA

September 20th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Bryce Edwards continues his excellent summaries of chapters on the 2008 election campaign, with one on NZ First.

Also people will be interested in a draft of an article on how the Electoral Finance Act impacted on third parties last year.

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Six Electoral Commission Decisions

August 7th, 2009 at 8:46 pm by David Farrar

The poor folks at the Electoral Commission are still working their way through some complaints under the Electoral Finance Act. They have released six decisions:

  1. Pacific Party had a qualified audit report as they had faulty records. No surprise with Taito Philip Field in charge.  The Commission found they had breached the Act but it was too inconsequential to refer to Police.
  2. Direct Democracy Party has not filed a donation return, which is an offence. However too inconsequential to refer as they have deregistered.
  3. Republic of NZ Party has not filed a donation return, which is an offence. However too inconsequential to refer as they have deregistered.
  4. Maori Party were given use of a house for free, to use and rent out. As it was from an overseas person this was an offence, but they refunded the rental gained and too inconsequential to refer to Police.
  5. Road Transport Trust donated to a number of political parties. The Electoral Commission ruled they should have disclosed who the contributors to their donations were, but no offence as there was no intent to conceal.
  6. Pro-National Asian Video. The Commission found no offence by the NationalParty as the Party’s Financial Agent did not authorise the video, but the person who published it without authorisation may have breached the Act and will be referred to the Police.
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Electoral Act Infringement Outcomes

May 29th, 2009 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Police have responded to my OIA request for the outcomes of the electoral complaints and referrals. I have uploaded the spreadsheet – ero-case-outcomes-as-at-28-may-2009.

There are a number of categories, I have grouped them by:

Proceeding

This mean the case has not been closed, or at least not notified to the affected parties.

  1. 9 candidates not filed expense retruns on time (7 now have)
  2. Labour for several advertisements being distributed on polling day in Blenheim and Taranaki
  3. Rodney Hide’s yellow jacket
  4. Nicholas Keesing for distributing election material on polling day
  5. NewstalkZB for prohibited election programmes with Winston Peters and Shane Jones
  6. Shane Jones for an election advertisement without a promoter statement

The Police have said they will update me when these are resolved. Nos 3 and 4 will be very interesting. 5 could also be a precedent about MPs on talkback during the regulated period.

Prosecuted

  1. Family Party for late filing (twice) of donation returns when donation exceeded $20,000
  2. Two cases of double voting
  3. NZ First banners in Tauranga with no promoter statement

No 3 I am of course very interested in. Also to some degree with No 1.

Warning Given

  1. National Ohariu Candidate for display of ribbons on election day
  2. Toroa Radio for a prohibited election programme for the Alliance
  3. 41 cases of double voting
  4. Te Runanga O Kirikiriroa Trust for an advertisement supporting a party not approved by that party
  5. Nicky Wagner for an advertisement not authorised and no promoter statement
  6. ACT for a Hunua flyer not authorised and no promoter statement
  7. Cobb & Co Paraparaumu for an election advertisement supporting a party not approved by that party
  8. Dog registered to vote
  9. Labour boolet at Waikato University with no promoter statement

These all look reasonable sensible to deal with by warning.

No offence

  1. Six cases of apparent double voting
  2. Jim Anderton’s e-newsletter, as it had a promoter statement on website where people subscribed to it
  3. NZ First donation return for 2007 as Party Secretary took reasonable steps
  4. Social Credit for late 2007 donation return as they had a reasonable excuse
  5. EMA Northern for exceeding spending limit of third party ads – not an offence as Police found it was an issue ad, not an election ad
  6. A phone survey which may have been an election advert – isolated and no promoter known
  7. Jim Anderton ad in Southern Express as Police accept advert published in his Ministerial role
  8. Voter enrolled in two electorates – turned out to be two people with same name

No 2, No 5 and No 7 are interesting as in this case the Police have reached a different conclusion to the Electoral Commission. And of course a Judge (if it ever went to court) could have reached a different conclusion also. Now the EFA is toast, we’ll never know where the fine line between an issue ad and a election ad is to be drawn.

Once again thanks to the Police for the OIA response. It is disappointing that not all cases are yet resolved, but as I understand it the officers on the electoral team has been seconded to other jobs at various times.  This is one reason I still prefer that the electoral agencies can directly refer to court, rather than go through a spcialist agency, and also the Police. The Police will always struggle to treat electoral offences as a priority against other crimes.

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ODT on Electoral Finance Act

May 12th, 2009 at 8:45 am by David Farrar

I have been amazed at how many people have jumped to wild and wrong conclusions about “loopholes” with donations disclosure because the level of donations disclosed is less than the level of spending disclosed.

Parties are not obliged to list all income. This is not a loophole – it is a deliberate design. They are only obliged to list donations abover $10,000 – the level at which it is though influence might be purchased.

Personally I am interested in the notion of whether or not a party should disclose its total income in bands (such as x donations over $10K, y donations between $1k and $10K, and z donations under $1k) but this would be a radical change to our current laws.

Anyway let us first look at what the ODT says:

The general election last year was the only one in our history to be conducted under the mysterious fog of the Electoral Finance Act, a piece of legislation brought in by the Clark government at the behest of the Green Party as an exercise in forcing disclosure of funding sources, and in hope of nobbling political opponents, but which no-one – least of all its architects – fully understood.

The intention indeed was to silence the critics. And the Greens remains supporters of the oppressive law which made it illegal to say “I don’t support the Green Party” on a non-blog website unless you disclosed your name and address.

The distance between what the major parties spent on their election campaigns and what they listed in their donations returns is so great as to suggest sufficient loopholes still existed to legally exploit.

It is not a loophole. For example National receives between $1 and $2 million a year in small donations from its 40,000 or so members. That is not some bad thing exploiting a loophole – that is a good thing.

Likewise what could well be the case with many parties is that they received many donations at just below the disclosure limit. Parliament has said we only need to know your identity if you give over $10,000. So it is not surprising many donors then give under $10,000.

The commentators who call this a loophole reveal an ignorance of the law. It has never been a law to disclose all income – political parties are in fact private bodies. It has been a law to reveal large donations over a certain limit.

So complaining that donations revealed does not match expenditure revealed is like complaining that your household expenses are larger than the interest from your investments – and overlooking yur salary. They are not comparing apples and oranges.

The EFA also supposedly prevented secret trusts from making large donations without declaring the source, but herein lies a conundrum: there was nothing to prevent one entity making many donations which were under the $10,000 disclosure barrier.

Yes there is. The ODT does not understand the law. All donations from a source are totalled up. You can not avoid the $10,000 disclosure barrier by say giving $5,000 a month.

There are some loopholes to the donations regime – such as different companies with the same shareholders all donating – but that is not the same loophole as the ODT claims above.

The need for transparency is the one aspect of the EFA which must be retained when the cross-party committee eventually reaches its recommendations.

That means all donors to parties should be named, and that what constitutes electoral advertising is clearly defined, including publicity by a government in office during an electoral campaign.

I hope they don’t mean all donors. Forcing parties to reveal every $50 donor will effectively out tens of thousands of party supporters and infringe their right to privately support the party of their choice. The disclosure level should be at the level of which infleunce could be suspected by the size of the donations.

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Labour breached EFA – again

May 4th, 2009 at 12:15 pm by David Farrar

Just saw a story on NewstalkZB about Labour breaching the EFA with undisclosed donations:

Mike Smith, Labour’s party secretary, admits failing to disclose $25,000 from Meatworkers Union; says omission was an oversight Labour acknowledges it made a mistake in the filing of its donations ahead of last year’s elections.

Labour’s Secretary Mike Smith says he is personally responsible for failing to disclose donations totaling $25,500 from three branches of the New Zealand Meatworkers Union. He says the omission was an oversight and is in breach of the Electoral Act which requires that donations from the same donor of more than $20,000 be declared. The donations should have been declared last year.

The incident follows other instances of Labour being found to have breached the laws under the now-scrapped Electoral Finance Act.

The parties that have breached the law the most often are Labour, Progressives, Greens and NZ First – the very ones that voted for it.

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Candidate Expenses and Donations

April 6th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Bryce Edwards has some analysis of the candidate expenses and donations.

  • Total candidate expenditure is $2.26m
  • Total disclosed donations to candidates is $1.26m
  • Average spent for a winning candidate is $12,836
  • In only 38 out of 70 (54%) electorates, did the candidate spending the most money win!!
  • The top five spending candidates all lost – Russell Fairbrother, Paul Adams, Nicky Wagner, Ron Mark and Stephen Franks
  • Only 2 of the top ten winning candidates won their seats, and only seven of the top 20.

Bryce also has calculated the average spending per candidate for each party.

The amount spent by candidates on Internet advertising was interesting for me. The top spenders:

  1. Charles Chauvel $5,551
  2. Jills Angus Burney $2,658
  3. Brendon Burns $2,250
  4. Pita Sharples $,2000
  5. Aaron Gilmore $1,318

What did Charles spend $5,551 on?

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Clark on Q&A

April 6th, 2009 at 5:57 am by David Farrar

Some interesting parts to the Clark and Davis interview on Q&A. I do have to say though that I hope it will not become a permanent feature having an MPs partner on with them.

PAUL Exciting times. Looking back, what was the biggest mistake you made as Prime Minister, I’m sure you’re not gonna tell me your biggest mistake, can I change the question. What is the thing that you did which if you looked back you might do differently?

HELEN No I wouldn’t even go there because I never look back, that’s part of my style, I know journalists often got fed up with me saying move on move on, but I do. You know in politics there’s always an opposition employed to pick over the things you’ve done and why this why that why not the other way, well let them do it but I’m moving on to the next thing.

It is a real pity that Clark won’t answer this question, because I think you learn a lot from a person when they talk about what they would do differently. And while one should not dwell over long on mistakes, I find it useful to acknowledge them and learn from them.

PAUL Not so the one MP who’s name we cannot remember who did not stand up. Peter can I ask you this seriously, what was Helen like in the weeks or the days and the weeks after last year’s electoral loss?

PETER I think she felt rejected basically, because she felt she’d done a good job which I also believe and had put her best foot forward and had been frankly an almost incomparable Prime Minister and yet somehow the public had not seen that the same way. So it took some time for her to frankly come to terms with that and if I was in that position I’d feel the same way I guess.

This has a bit of an attitude about how the public made the wrong decisions, and Labour/Clark did nothing wrong. The reason I say this, is not to swipe at Davis, but because from all accounts most of the Labour Caucus are still in this space. They think John Key just conned the public and all they have to do is wait for him to be exposed.

FRAN Yes she has but I think it’s more than just you know meet and greet and all of that, I think where Helen Clark has scored is she’s also made a contribution and I saw her for instance one example chairing the OECD ministerial in Paris in 2003, and that was probably her first forum where she brought together a number of players, it was after September 11, there was a big you know fracas going on between Europe and America at that stage over the invasion of Iraq which had just happened but she brought together some disparate players to talk about what they could do to move economies forward and particularly also on the trade dialogue, so she chaired that, other actors paid tribute to her, so I’ve seen it there and I’ve also seen her at APEC where she has quietly moved a number of issues on to the agenda, for instance climate change in Korea, it wasn’t on the agenda, Australia claimed credit for it later but she put it there.

I quote this part from Fran, partly because it does highlight where Clark was skilled, but also to balance Fran’s later comment.

FRAN Well that’s right and it was interesting that she said she’s been empowered to do exactly that by Ban Ki-moon the Secretary General. I’d like to just go back, I think she will shake it up and she’s had that track record in New Zealand but one thing that struck me from that interview was that slight disconnect about not understanding why Helen Clark was voted out despite being competent, and to bring to the point one of the issues really was this issue about democracy in New Zealand with the Electoral Finance Act, that and together with Winston Peters that long running scandal that basically cost her her leadership here.

Disconnect is the right word for it. Now Labour have at least done a mea culpa over the Electoral Finance Act, but that was only one part of an arrogance the Government displayed on everything from the pledge card to Winston Peters. Frankly Labour should apologise for their disgraceful behaviour at the Privileges Committee and afterwards. Those MPs are not stupid and they all know that Winston knew about the donation. Yet they covered up for him. Until we get some mea culpas for that also, I’m not convinced they have understood why they lost the election.

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Norman attacks academic

March 30th, 2009 at 3:51 pm by David Farrar

A bad-tempered e-mail forwarded to me reveals that Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has written to political scientists Nigel Roberts and Stephen Levine to try to stop them publishing the research of an academic opponent of the Electoral Finance Act. Levine and Roberts are currently editing their traditional post-election book due out soon, and the book contains a chapter written by University of Otago political scientist Bryce Edwards who is evaluating the impact that the EFA had on last years’ election campaign. Norman has emailed them to essentially say that they shouldn’t be publishing it and that Edwards shouldn’t be researching in this area.

The email from Norman, which was sent to Edwards, and which he kindly forwarded to me, is rather extraordinary, and gives an interesting insight into how thin skinned the Greens (or Norman anyway) is of dissenting views. Despite having a PhD himself, Norman is clearly he’s no fan of academic freedom. Edwards has been widely published and reported on in the area of political finance, yet according to Norman, Edwards, “lacks academic credibility in this area”. Could it be that Norman still can’t handle having the EFA criticized? It seems that Norman and the Greens have dug themselves into a hole on the EFA, and while everyone other former fan of the now-repealed legislation has given up trying to defend the indefensible, the Greens are tying themselves up in knots over it all. They are in a political bunker on the EFA and the idea of an opponent of the EFA researching the effect of the legislation is just too much for them.

Worse than that – in Russel Norman’s view – Edwards has said some critical things about the Greens on his blog! Oh dear. Norman says in his email to Edwards, which Norman also creepily sent to the book editors, ‘you have demonstrated a long history of bias against the Green Party, and you have consistently made untrue statements about the Green Party’. Geez, is Norman turning into Winston Peters?! Norman says: ‘Your previous writing leads me to the view that you are simply unable to give a dispassionate academic account of the EFA’s impact on political parties due both to your virulent opposition to the EFA and to your one-sided and inaccurate commentary on the EFA and the Green Party’. Norman or his staff seemingly went through two and a half years of writings by Edwards to compile their dossier on him.

In fact Norman’s email tirade reads like something Rob Muldoon might have said when he was at his worst. The National Party gets requests from lefty academics all the time, but I doubt that the party then sends out hostile replies that question the academic’s integrity because they might be politically biased! I thought that everyone now accepts that academics have their own biases and that for them to pretend otherwise is just a sham.

Put it like this. Jane Kelsey has well known views on free trade. Think how much outrage there would be if the leader of the National Party fired off an e-mail to senior academics saying Kelsey should not be allowed to publish academic reseaerch on free trade, because she doesn’t support it, and she is biased against parties that do support it? There would be an avalanche of outrage – the Association of University Staff would leap in to defend academic freedom etc. Luckily most National MPs have better things to do than try and get academics prevented from publishing academic research.

And funnily enough, Russel Norman’s nasty little email was actually in response to Edwards kindly inviting Norman to have an input into his research. Considering the Green Party had problems obeying the EFA, I would have thought they would have wanted to detail these problems so a replacement law can avoid the mistakes of the EFA.

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Third Party expenditure in 2008

March 18th, 2009 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Electoral Commission has published the details of spending by registered third parties in 2009. From largest to smallest they are:

  1. CTU $104,110
  2. PSA $71,304
  3. Free Speech Coalition $29,491
  4. Dairy Workers Union $16,740
  5. NZ Meat Workers Union $8,571
  6. EPMU $5,690
  7. Maritime Union $3,282
  8. Vote for the Environment $1,296
  9. NUPE $1,285
  10. Health Cuts Hurt $293

So the total union was a bit over $200,000. And nine out of ten third parties that spent money were clearly left wing – in fact the FSC was the only expenditure from the right. So again when the left go on abour big money in politics, remember the left spent six times as much.

Some interesting details in the individual returns. The CTU spent $35,000 on 300,000 flyers (the real cost would have been all the paid union staff distributing them) and they spent just over $20,000 on their You Tube ads attacking Bill English and John Key. Also Labour approved $47,000 of their costs reminding us of how closely linked they are.

Seven unions donated money to the CTU for their campaign – the largest was the PPTA at $50,000.

Interesting the two unions that both spent over $30,000 had qualified audit reports in which they say they can not form an opinion as to whether the returns are correct. The EFA is such a bad confusing law, that the Auditors said they can not know if the law has been complied with. And this is no surprise – the Institute of Accountants warned of this before it was passed, and Labour and Greens ignored the advice.

The Dairy Workers Union appear to have misunderstood the donations return. It is meant to be for them to list what donations they received. Instead they have listed the donations they made – $10,000 to CTU, $12,000 to Labour and $3,000 to the Greens.

In May we will get to see the donations returns for the political parties.

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Candidate refuses to file expenses claim

March 12th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

NZPA reports:

A candidate who stood for the Human Rights Party in last year’s general election is refusing to submit his campaign expenses and says he is waiting to be arrested.

Anthony Ravlich stood in Auckland Central and gained 67 votes, 0.2 percent of those cast in the electorate.

Today he released an email he had sent to the Chief Electoral Office, telling it he was not going to complete the election expenses form “as a matter of principle” because his party’s policies did not receive any publicity in mainstream media.

Compliance with the law is not optional, based on whether or not you like the media coverage you got.

At least he has it all now. He won’t go to jail – he will be fined though.

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Two Electoral Commission decisions

March 1st, 2009 at 12:30 pm by David Farrar

Two interesting decisions by the Electoral Commission.

The first is hilarious. It is about Richard Green pruning his hedge so it displays “Green”. Yes the EFA even covers hedges. Some quotes:

The hedge does not appear to contain a promoter statement, and there is no evidence that the publication of the hedge was authorised by the financial agent for the Green Party. Therefore if the hedge is an election advertisement then the failure to provide a promoter statement and to have authorisation in writing for that publication would appear to contravene sections 63(2) and 65(1).

Heh, imagine a hedge having to have a promoter statement.

Luckily for Mr Green, the Electoral Commission decided any breach was not wilful, and even if it was, not significant. Interestingly, they didn’t actually determine whether or not the hedge was an election advertisement or not!

Then we have the late disclosure of donations from the Family Party – as previously covered here:

The Family Party have been referred to the Police for possible prosecution. This may be seen as a bit unfair, as the Greens got off for a similiar offence. However that was in the early days of the EFA, and the Commission points to an explicit notice to political parties in May reminding them of the need to report donations that aggregate to more than $20,000 within ten days.

Whether the Police prosecute is another issue. To date the Police have not prosecuted for any offence referred to them.

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ODT on EFA

February 21st, 2009 at 11:32 am by David Farrar

The ODT Editorial says:

The vote was 112-9 in favour of repeal, with only the Green Party arguing for retention.

A clearer admission by the Labour Party, which controversially and determinedly pushed the legislation through against vociferous opposition inside and outside Parliament, that it got wrong one of the most important pieces of law sponsored during its nine-year parliamentary tenure would be hard to come by.

Yep. I was not planning to get actively involved in politics or campaigning (beyond offering opinions on my blog) but the EFB/EFA motivated me to devote hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on fighting this reprehensible law.

With justification, opponents complained that the EFA stymied political debate and freedom of expression. But equally, it was the Labour-led government’s determination to push ahead, with little consultation and without achieving a greater degree of cross-party consensus, that outraged many.

And to make it worse, the cross-party consensus was ready and waiting. National had agreed in principle to greater donation transparency and some restrictions on third party campaigns. The way Labour blew away any sort of moral high ground on these issues was a near unparalleled act of stupidity.

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Further on S92A

February 19th, 2009 at 1:47 pm by David Farrar

I was pleased to see Labour’s Clare Curran ask a question in Parliament yesterday on S92A. While Labour are still being somewhat non commital on what they would do, it is encouraging that they understand the concern enough to start asking questions about it. I am hoping their edging away from S92A will cotinue!

Also kudos to Peter Dunne who accepted the petition today at Parliament. I understand ACT regard S92A as a huge compliance cost on business and are also unsupportive of it. And the Greens have admirably always opposed it.

The more I think about S92A, the more it reminds me of the Electoral Finance Act. They have certain things in common:

  1. Both were appallingly unclear
  2. Both generated significant opposition from the public, due to concerns over their rights being infringed
  3. Both did not and will not be as bad as people fear, but will still have a “chilling effect” due to the lack of clarity, and the severity of the potential penalty (termination of Internet access)
  4. Both have pissed off enough people, that they will engender a culture of complaints to test the law

What I mean by No 3 is worth elaborating on. In reality S92A is not going to leads to scores of NZers having their Internet access cut off. Just as the EFA did not lead to dozens of NZers going to prison for advocating against the Government. So yes the opposition (including me) does tend to focus on a worst case scenario for dramatic effect.

But just because the worst case scenario is unlikely, does not mean there are no negative consequences. MPs would do well to recall the words of the Electoral Commission on how the EFA had a “chilling effect” on political dialogue. Stuff such as doing parodies of political party billboards could end up with you getting infringment notices against your Internet account. Is an ISP going to decide whether or not a parody is fair dealing or not?

The other danger is the culture of complaints that it will engender. I am hearing all sorts of stories that people will be filing copyright complaints against Government websites, political parties, even blogs.

A lot of the best satire and parody on You Tube involves using something that is copyrighted. Whether or not it is “fair use” or “fair dealing” as allowed for under the law is not always an easy call.

Anyway Juha Saarinen at Geekzone has blogged an e-mail by lawyer Rick Shera on how the NZ law is significantly worse than even the law in the United States.

So far 12,000 people have signed the CFF petition against S92A. Many of those signing are artists themselves.

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EFA about to be dust

February 17th, 2009 at 7:17 pm by David Farrar

Peter M has commented that it seems Parliament is going to conclude the third reading of the Electoral Finance Act Repeal tonight.

I will post an update once I hear it has been repealed.

Technically that won’t happen until the GG signs the law, but I’m happy to drive out to Vogel House tonight so there is no delay :-)

UPDATE: And the NZ House of Representatives consigned this law to the dustbin of history at around 7.45 pm. The vote was 112-9 in favour.

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Family Party breaks the EFA

February 16th, 2009 at 9:14 am by David Farrar

The Family Party appear to have broken the Electoral Finance Act.

on 7 January 2009 they disclosed that two donors had donated $36,000 and $39,775 – Elias Kanaris and Paul Adams.

The disclosure was meant to be made within 10 working days of the amount donated exceeding $20,000 over 12 months.

Kanaris should have been disclosed by 4 December 2008. And Adams by 24 October 2008.

They had better have a very good excuse for why they didn’t file on time. I suspect they will simply claim they were unaware of the new requirements.

The Party Secretary is Anne Williamson. Assuming she is also their finanical agent, she may be facing a fine.

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Audrey’s Mea Culpas

February 14th, 2009 at 2:11 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young blogs three mea culpas:

  • Gerry Brownlee’s stuff up over urgency for the Electoral Finance Act repeal
  • David Parker’s mea culpa over inflicting us with the the Electoral Finance Act
  • Audrey’s own mea culpa over her doubts about how Lockwood would go as Speaker

Gerry’s stuff up is also covered in this article.

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Electoral Finance Act Repeal First Reading

February 13th, 2009 at 6:38 am by David Farrar

Somewhat annoyingly, the EFA Repeal Bill is not yet online. But Parliament started the first reading debate on it yesterday, and the Herald reports that it was encouraging:

When Labour’s electoral spokesman David Parker stood to speak in last night’s first reading of the bill to repeal the EFA, he was quick to follow his leader Phil Goff and get Labour’s backdown on record.

“So we do concede that there are imperfections with the existing law, that it did produce an overly complicated regime, that it can be improved.”

It prompted MP Jonathan Coleman to yell “so you’re admitting you got it wrong” . Mr Parker – to his credit – refused to rise to the bait and just agreed, in triplicate.

“I have already admitted that. I’m happy to do mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa again. There were imperfections.”

I thought Parker handled himself well, and with dignity.

Yesterday, Labour and Progressives leader Jim Anderton said they would support its repeal after getting assurances National was genuine about working with them on a more enduring replacement.

Only the Green Party is refusing to support the repeal, saying while it was flawed it remained better than the previous law.

And this tells us more about the Green Party, than anything else.

Mr Anderton put in a plea for National not to take vengeance, saying he accepted it was “aggrieved” by what had happened and believed the EFA needed to be replaced.

“Just as we on this side of the House have come to this view, I ask those on that side to be constructive.”

And sadly Jim Anderton is right. I know there are times when I want “utu”, but at the end of the day the Electoral Act is too important to become a plaything for the Government of the Day.

Mr Parker, Mr Anderton and Greens co-leader Russel Norman all stressed that they stuck by the principles of the EFA – and any replacement had to address the transparency of funding of political parties, as well as limits on how far other people and groups could go in campaigning for a party in an election campaign.

I don’t think there is any serious opposition to transparency around party funding.

The issue of restrictions on third parties is more divisive. Ironically the way it is worded about “limits on how far other people and groups could go in campaigning for a party in an election campaign.”, well the limit is $0. It is illegal under both the old and the new law to publish any advertisement campaigning for a party, without the party’s permission – and the cost comes out of the party’s limit.

What Parker and Anderton really mean is they want limits on how much third parties can spend attacking political parties.

I think the bigger issue is around transparency of third party advertising, rather than limiting it. I also think one needs to look at carrots, not just sticks, when it comes to third party activities. I’ll blog in ore detail some ideas at some stage.

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Greens to oppose EFA Repeal

February 12th, 2009 at 11:37 am by David Farrar

The Greens cement their position as extremists, by announcing they are going to vote against the repeal of the Electoral Finance Act.

Russel Norman say:

The Electoral Finance Act can be better but even now it does a lot more good than bad.

More good than bad. I wish I could live in that universe.

This just shows what antipathy they have for people spending their own money on having a voice, rather than looting the taxpayer for funding.


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Rudman gets it 100% wrong

February 11th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Brian Rudman gets it 100% wrong in today’s Herald column.

At least in the United States, the donors have to declare their contributions. The repeal of the Electoral Finance Act means that Alan Timothy Gibbs of Kaukapakapa will no longer have to declare $200,000 in donations to Act last year, nor will new Act list MP John Boscawen have to reveal he stumped up $100,000. Ditto the rich horse industry brothers Peter and Philip Vela, who gave last-minute donations of $100,000 to Labour and New Zealand First.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  The Government announced last year that the donation transparency provisions of the EFA would be retained in the Electoral Act. This has been confirmed on multiple occasions since, and is well known and understood. That is part of the reason why the repeal maybe backed by every MP in Parliament.

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