NZPA story on Electoral Finance Bill submissions

Stuff has been carrying the NZPA story on my submission, and Nicky Hager’s submission. I’ll comment on a few parts of it:

Election reform legislation would not stop the Exclusive Brethren’s “secret seven” spending hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning against the Government, a committee of MPs has been told.

Parliament’s justice and electoral select committee is considering the Government’s Electoral Finance Bill which is designed to stop covert campaigns like that waged at the last election by seven wealthy Exclusive Brethren businessmen.

However its wide definitions of third parties and advertising have been criticised by social agencies, churches, unions and business groups, which say the bill would limit their existing advocacy activities.

Prominent blogger and former National Party staffer David Farrar today told MPs the bill would fail to stop groups like the Exclusive Brethren’s so-called “secret seven” spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a political campaign.

I should point out I wasn’t suggesting making the bill even more draconian by having say an even lower third party limit.  My point was that they are justifying all these terrible restrictions on political speech on the basis it will stop the Brethren, and it actually won’t even do that.

Experience from countries like the US shows that the more restrictions you have,  the more dirty the funding becomes.  Because those absolutely dedicated to spending money will always find a way to do it, but Joe and Jane average are the ones who will be put off participating.  The US has a maximum donation limit of $2,000 yet money plays a far far bigger role in US politics than it does in NZ.

They would be able to do this by each registering as a third party and then spending $60,000 each – amounting to $420,000.

That is based on each of them only spending their own money – something they likely can do as they are generally wealthy business owners.  It would be illegal under the Bill for one person to give money to someone else to spend to avoid the cap, but if each person genuinely has the money themselves and wishes to register so they can spend $60,000 – well the EBs could have 20 members register as third parties and between them they could spend $1.2 million still.   So don’t believe the Government when they say this Bill is necessary as it will stop the EB.

Individuals, if they chose, could also sign up 500 people, register as a political party, then spend up to $1 million even if they did not stand any candidates.

There has been some interesting discussion in previous comments about this, if the Bill does proceed.  One could get 500 people and register a political party called “Oppossed to the Electoral Finance Act Party”.  That party would then appear on every ballot paper, reminding people as they vote about the law.  The party’s only aim could be to urge people to vote against MPs who voted for the Bill, and as a party it would have a $1 million spending cap.

Farrar, who runs the right-leaning Kiwiblog weblog, said there was little evidence that elections could be successfully “bought” and third parties that wanted to campaign would always find loopholes.

He believed the bill should be withdrawn and any changes to the electoral finance laws should begin with wide public consultation to build a consensus before a bill was drafted.

I f the committee decided the bill should proceed, they should recommend enforcement powers be taken away from the police and given to the Electoral Commission, he said.

The police failure to prosecute both Labour and National for Electoral Act breaches in 2005 had been “incompetent”, he said.

Indeed it was incompetent.  I should also point out that while I strongly advocate both parties should have been prosecuted, I certainly do not believe the level of “sin” was equal.   Labour’s action in ignoring three formal warnings from the Chief Electoral Officer (and in actually lying to him) was much more serious.  National for the broadcasting over-commitment should have been fined at least $100,000 to remove any gain from their mistake.  For Labour the maximum fine for corrupt practices is a pathethic $20,000, so I honestly believe jail time was appropriate.  And I think it would have been a very simple case before a Judge.  As previously documented the paper trail is damning.

Author Nicky Hager, whose book The Hollow Men, details many of the links between the Brethren campaign and National’s leadership at the time, said law changes to crack down on third party campaigns were necessary.

“This is the growth area in dodgy election campaigning and everything that can be done to control it would be an investment in not having dodgy electioneering in the future.”

Durign Nicky’s submission, he proved a point I had made in my arguments against extending the regulated speech period to all of election year. I had submitted that if you accept the rationale for all of election year, then at some future stage people will seek to extend this to say 18 months and eventually maybe the entire electoral cycle.

And indeed when asked by NZ First about what to do if National starts spending money say this year, Nicky Hager advocated that the regulated speech period should ideally apply 100% of the time.  Yes, every second of every hour of every day.

So think carefully about whose vision of New Zealand political life you support.

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