Labour have said that their previous pledge cards were not declared as election expenses (I had been previously informed they had been but clarified on Friday I had been told they were not), which might make people think the electoral authorities are being inconsistent in including it this time. However there are a number of easy explanations.
The first being that if Labour had not previously included the pledge cards in their declarations, then the Electoral Commission would have no way of knowing that the cards were not included. They were known about this time because of National’s complaint to the CEO. So this is possibly the first time that the Electoral Commission has been asked to make a decision on if they count.
Another less likely possibility is in previous elections they were distributed outside the 90 day period – which would not count. Also it is worth noting that in previous elections the total expenditure was not near the maximum allowed so all around there was probably less scrutiny.
What is also apparent from this article is that Labour is quite ignorant about the difference between rules for taxpayer funding and the rules for whether it counts as an election expense.
Labour keep saying that as the pledge cards “does not urge people to vote, join or give money to a party, it does not qualify as an election expense.”
However that rule they are quoting is the rule for whether The Parliamentary Service can pay for it. The three things prohibited are indeed asking for money members or votes.
But the rule for whether it counts as an election expense is different. It says “”encourages or persuades or appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote for the party”. And hence the two electoral agencies have decided their pledge cards did count. Labour keep quoting thee wrong rule.
Now people might think hang on there is no precedent for counting taxpayer funded material as election expenses but indeed there is. In 1988 Reg Boorman in Wairarapa was found guilty of corrupt practices as the court found his parliamentary produced material had to be included in his expense return which out him over the limit.
Finally as Labour’s Mike Williams claims it is all unclear, let us remember his quote from 7 December 2005 when National made the GST error with its broadcasting allocation. He said “there was no way it could have misinterpreted the law”.