I welcomed earlier this week the formation of the COG which has put proposals together for changes to the Electoral Act. It is vital that changes are not introduced for partisan gain.
Reflecting more on the proposals, I do wonder if COG has overlooked a very basic and core principle – one I would certainly advocate. And that is that NZers should be encouraged to donate to, to join and to participate in political parties. Democracy is stronger when you have parties with active involvement from the public. Private funding of parties is not a bad thing, but in fact highly desirable. You want parties to value members and supporters. You want parties to hurt, if their members leave them.
Now this is not to say there should be no limits on levels of donations and disclosure at appropriate levels. But any restrictions should come in only when a clear case can be made that the “good” of encouraging donations is being trumped by the “bad” of disproportionate influence.
Now this leads into the story in the Dom Post today that Labour is trying to secretly get the numbers to support direct state funding of political parties (which is different to the broadcasting allocations). Now there is a debate you can have on the pros and cons of that, but there is a more fundamental issue at play.
No move to direct state funding of political parties should happen without the consent of the public. It would be outrageous and wrong to ram through a law change in advance of the next election. Having illegally had $800,000 of taxpayer funding, Labour wants to legalise such funding for future elections – before it has even paid the money back!
There are only two ways state funding of political parties should be brought in. The first is for political parties to go into the 2008 campaign with explicit policy that if elected they will vote for state funding of political parties. Then if those parties form a majority they have a mandate to do so for post 2008.
The other is a referendum.
A move to direct state funding will change the nature of our democracy and political parties for ever. There are arguments for and against. But it must not be done without a mandate.