Rebutting Rex

An anonymous poster on Public Address called “Rex” has posted a lengthy diatribe on why all the officials are wrong, and why Labour did nothing wrong. The fact it is anonymous speaks for itself (I could understand the need to be anonymous if one was attacking the Gopvt, but not for defending it), but in case anyone takes silence as agreement, here’s a few flaws in Rex’s argument.

“None of the relevant watchdogs (including the Auditor-General, the Solicitor-General, and the Chief Electoral Officer) had, after previous elections, declared such spending “electioneering” – the Auditor-General had never declared the spending unlawful; the Chief Electoral Officer had never counted such spending towards party election campaign limits”

This spin overlooks the obvious reality. That said authorities were totally unaware that the pledge cards had been funded out of taxpayer funds, and that they were not included in their election returns.

I have absolutely no doubt the Chief Electoral Officer would regard the previous pledge cards as an election expense. But the system relies on the political parties including them in their return. Labour never included them, so they were never picked up.

Likewise the Auditor-General does not generally look at every payment made by Parliament. They do a small random sample generally. Hence again the AG had no idea the pledge card had previously been funded by the taxpayer.

Most of Rex’s argument rests on the fact previous pledge cards were deemed legal and not electioneering. This is absolutely not the case. The Chief Electoral Officer and Auditor-General were almost certainly unaware about previous pledge cards. And both gentleman warned Labour (one specifically and one generally) before the election about their spending.

“The second major problem with the result of yesterday’s events is that the scope of the Brady report is arbitrary. Brandishing his wide definition of “electioneering”, Brady has picked on only one type of Parliamentary spending (advertising) and focused on only one, specific period of time (the three months before the 2005 general election).”

Rex now follows the tactis or arguing this definition means almost all expenditure is electioneering. He overlooks the AG several times refers to proximity to an election being a key factor. Something m,ay be fine a year before an election but not fine the week before the election.

“Indeed, if Labour’s pledge card expenditure in 2005 was unlawful, then so was its pledge card expenditure in 1999 and 2002, and so was much activity undertaken by National in previous election cycles (including the English pledge pamphlet in 2002). Why should only this most recent advertising expenditure be paid back, but not that from previous elections? Why should Labour be landed with the bill for the 05 pledge card, and National not be landed with the bill for its 02 pledge pamphlet? How is that fair and consistent?”

Rex is correct that all of Labour’s pledge cards would have been illegal. The interesting thing about the 2002 English pledge card is I honestly can’t even recall it. It was certainly not a centrepiece of the election campaign and I suspect the costs was less than 10% what Labour”s 2005 one was.

But anyway Rex only needs to turn to the AG’s report for his answers. His June 2005 report was designed to serve as a warning, and after he saw behaviour had not changed he did a full review for those three months after the warning. And he has not demanded any money be repaid – the public has.

“That’s close to $50 million of taxpayer funding in each of the past few election years. If we’re to take the Brady report seriously, the vast majority of this would have been used for ‘electioneering’ as the Auditor-General has defined it, is thus unlawful spending, and thus should be paid back.”

This is nonsense. For a start National showed that even in an election campaign a party can have less than 10% of it’s spending as “electioneering”. And the AG has said that fruther back from the election, less material will be seen as electioneering.

“If the Auditor-General is serious about ensuring that taxpayer money appropriated for parliamentary purposes has not been used for electioneering (in his broad definition), then he should be seeking to root out all unlawful expenditure and demanding repayment.”

“The reason to pick on National in my above examples is that it has undertaken a cynical, hypocritical campaign to pretend that it is purer than pure and Labour is blacker than black when it comes to using taxpayer funding for electioneering purposes.”

The facts are 8% of National’s expenditure was found to be illegal, while 66.1% of Labour’s was unlawful. To try and argue this is the same level of compliance is silly.

“Which leads us to the nub of National’s credibility problem. If it genuinely accepts the Auditor-General’s definition of “electioneering”, then it has to accept that it has unlawfully spent millions (if not tens of millions) of taxpayer money over many election cycles. It should now proceed to pay the money back. If it genuinely believes the rules were clear, and that they were to be interpreted as the Auditor-General has interpreted them, then it needs to be signing an awfully large cheque to taxpayers. Of course, National will never do this, nor will the media demand that it pay this money back. But that doesn’t make its position any less craven or any less hypocritical.”

Rex’s use of craven, cynical and hypocritical against National suggest his claim not to be partisan to be somewhat untrue.

“First, the Auditor-General acted unprofessionally. While his report says that it was ‘unhelpful’ that some of his provisional findings were leaked to the media, he allowed himself to be dragged into the public debate.”

The answer here is simple. Helen and helpers disgracefully lied and misrepresented the draft report. They painted him (as Rex does) as some sort of lunatic out of touch with reality. If Labour had not attacked his draft report with such ferocity, I am sure he would not have felt the need to clarify it. The fault is entirely with the politicians who used the media to attack him. You can’t cry foul when your victim answers back.

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