The Coalition for Open Government has two very good posts on the need to enforce the electoral rules. They point out there are currently four bodies involved in electoral issues:
* The Electoral Commission (registers parties, allocates broadcasting funds, receives donation and expenditure returns)
* The Chief Electoral Office (conducts elections a division of the Ministry of Justice)
* The Electoral Enrolment Office (enrols voters, and is a division of New Zealand Post)
* The Police (responsible for investigating and prosecuting breaches of electoral law).
The COG say the system is almost designed so there is no one body responsible, and call for one integrated electoral agency. I strongly support that. The Electoral Commission should be given total responsibility for elections (as they have an independent board) and also the power to prosecute directly. The Police have shown what I can only call incompetence in electoral matters.
The COG states:
The evidence was clear – it doesn’t add anything now to speculate whom – but someone in the Labour Party (perhaps more than one) should have been convicted of a corrupt practice and probably have been sent to prison for their overspending, and someone in the National Party should have faced that $100,000 fine for their broadcasting cap breach.
Labour’s breach of the spending cap was not accidental (an illegal act) but deliberate (a corrupt act). It is not hyperbole to say a prison term was warranted for those responsible. they ignored the law, and lied to the Chief Electoral Office with impunity. The non prosecution of National was almost as baffling. National actually effectively pleaded guilty. They admitted what had happened, and accepted responsibility for it. A prosecution would have been a slam dunk.
In their second post, the COG turn to penalties. Here I am very much in agreement also:
The current penalties are laughable; the Government’s proposed increases aren’t much better – what use is a new $40,000 fine for party secretaries (up from $20,000) when it’s introduced in the same law that gives some parties $3m+ each electoral cycle?
COG proposes that parties as well as individuals should be liable for prosecution. This is essential so it avoids the situation where no prosecution occurs because the law breach can’t be traced to a particular individual.
The penalties need to go up a lot – not maximum fines of $40,000 like the Government has proposed, but for corrupt practices, fines for political parties and corporations of $1,000,000. And for individuals of up to 7 years’ imprisonment and/or fines of $100,000.
You can get 7 years’ prison for stealing a car (or indeed anything over $1000) and stealing an election is at least as serious. 7 years is also the penalty for corruption as an MP, fraud/deception, and perjury – offences analogous to many of the crimes the Electoral Act deems “corrupt practices”.
One can argue about the exact amounts, but to my mind COG is clearly in the right ballpark of being high enough to be a disincentive, while the Government’s proposed levels are far too low. One has to ask the Government why they will not bring in harsh penalties for electoral law breaches – is it so they can break the law again if they get desperate again?