A testy exchange in Parliament yesterday over a section which has had little attention – the protecting of incumbent MPs.
The current limit of $20,000 incl GST for the last 90 days is already incredibly low. If you decided to do one direct mail letter to every voter, then your entire budget is gone. This money has to cover your campaign launch, your hoardings, your publicity expenses, your advertisin, your car branding etc etc.
Now by extending the period you can spend $20,000 over, back to 1 January means that defeating an incumbent MP will become near impossible. Because said MP has a taxpayer funded budget of $60,000 to spend to swamp the electorate with newsletters and adverts all talking about the good job he or she is doing.
Incumbents always have a huge advantage anyway. This just makes the job of challenger even harder, as in Parliament Bill English asked “Is this a shoddy attempt to protect useless Labour MPs who are expecting to get rolled from their seats?” to which Cullen responded “stop National Party candidates with extraordinary deep pockets and who have been running around the business sector getting very large donations, spending vast sums of money getting their useless backsides back into this place”.
$20,000 is hardly a vast sum of money. Hell an MP can cover their own campaign with just a 3% tithe on their salary over three years.
Also of interest is these reports from teh hearings yesterday:
Also at the select committee hearing, former Electoral Commission chief executive Paul Harris picked holes in the bill, arguing it is too wide in its definition of election advertising and that it will likely catch activities not intended to influence an election. He also criticises the $60,000 spending cap on third parties as too severe. Dr Harris believes it should be benchmarked at a percentage figure of spending limits allowed to political parties. Dr Harris says another major failing of the proposed legislation is that it does not address anonymous donations to political parties. He says more transparency is needed.
He accepted there needed to be limits on how much third parties could spend but suggested a cap of $240,000 — 10 percent of what a political party could spend.
In my submission I suggested $250,00, so quite nice to see I am in the same ballpark as Dr Harris.
Business New Zealand has also taken a stand against the bill, with the lobby group’s economist, Stephen Summers, telling the Electoral Select Committee hearing it will affect the body’s ability to comment on policy. He describes the bill as restricting free speech. Mr Summers also condemned the way the bill has been presented to the public, saying consultation has been poor. He says the bill should not proceed, or should at least be delayed until after the next election so it can be improved to a satisfactory level.
Business New Zealand told the committee the “draconian” bill curtailed freedom of speech and should be thrown out, but if it wasn’t the cap needed to be raised and the election campaign period reduced.
Consultation has not been poor. It has been non-existent! In fact it has been even worse than non-existent – the Minister has written to groups and lied about the Bill.