Opinions on paying back the pledge cards

The NZ Herald editorial is headlined “Why Labour must repay taxpayers”

, in league with lesser parties in Parliament, appears determined to do itself a lasting dishonour by retrospectively validating its use of state funds to produce its election pledge card. The public has already seen this response for what it is: a disgraceful device to save the party a bill for $446,000.

If Labour and a number of small parties force legislation through Parliament to validate this sort of spending retrospectively, it stands to be as memorable as the seven-minute passage of members’ superannuation enrichment some years ago. Incidents such as these remain in memory for a lifetime, to be recalled whenever it is claimed that politicians are a self-serving breed.

It may be hard to write a cast-iron definition of what is policy information and what is election advertising but it is rather like the difference between art and pornography. It may be hard to define but everyone knows the difference when they see it.

The Auditor-General is not alone in finding Labour’s pledge card a misuse of the public fund. The Electoral Commission believed the card took the party over the permitted spending limit, and the Solicitor-General, whose opinion was cited by the Auditor-General, believes the spending on the card not only breached Parliament’s rules but was unlawful.

The rules were set after the last election, which destroys Labour’s claim that this spending goes back too far for any party to be able to pay it back. The Government’s real concern is that the party simply cannot pay the bill; it gives itself away with an attempt by some ministers to turn the case into an argument for full public funding of election campaigns. That would be the ultimate in self service. The party should have recognised the pledge card for what it plainly was. Its only honorable course now is to raise the funds and pay the bill.

The Press is equally firm:

The arrogance of political parties knows no bounds when it comes to the defence of their own self-interest.

Nowhere is this shown better or more flagrantly than in the Government’s suggestion that it will legislate to validate its advertising expenditure which breached parliamentary rules. The public are well used to politicians’ brazen disregard for the rules but, even for them, this marks a new low point. There should be widespread outrage at the misappropriation of public money for political advantage and any attempt to validate this. But adding to this must be deep concern over Prime Minister Helen Clark’s criticism of the watchdogs who have highlighted the inappropriate spending – the Auditor-General and the Solicitor-General.

In particular, Brady has dismissed the farcical argument, especially from Labour, that the money was spent on promoting party policy, which is within the parliamentary rules for leader’s funds, rather than electioneering, which is not. It beggars belief that a campaign gimmick, such as Labour’s $446,000 pledge card, could have any other intention than to solicit votes. So, it is not Brady who is shifting the goal posts but Labour and any other party which votes for validation of this sort of political rort.

Politicians have already acquired a malodorous reputation for protecting their perks and allowances. So taxpayers will be scarcely surprised that Labour is in a state of denial as it scrambles to legitimise its party spending. But in doing so, it is showing a blatant disregard bordering on contempt for the very agencies, which have highlighted the illegal spending. These include the Auditor-General, who is the independent watchdog over public spending, and the Solicitor-General, who provided a legal ruling. Labour’s rejection of their findings threatens to undermine the authority of these offices.

Labour’s defiance in the face of these powerful critics reflects more than a reluctance to refund a substantial sum of money. It is typical of the arrogant political style of this Government which, into its third term in power, has grown increasingly isolated from the public’s expectations of what is fair and reasonable. This is shown by its misuse of public funding in the first place, by its self-serving justifications for doing so and now by its proposal to abuse its office by changing the rules to validate its actions.

Labour has determined that the longer-term political damage from legislating to protect itself would be less than if it admitted it was wrong and repaid the money. This is the latest instance of Labour’s cynical and unhealthy, power-at-all-costs political approach which has become all too common.

Ouch, one can almost get blistered reading it. And then David Slack from Public Address comes up with an equitable way for Labour to pay the bill:

Total cost of pledge cards: about $400,000.

Total number of Labour MPs – 40 or so.

“Donation” per head. $10,000

Hurt? Of course it would hurt. But they might want to consider how much more hurt they might do themselves by passing retroactive legislation of such gob-smacking self-service.

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