Audrey Young explains the electoral spending gerrymander

Before we turn to Audrey, first people might enjoy a couple of radio ads that have started playing on the radio today, by John Boscawen.

johnbos_60_nov07.mp3

johnbos_30_nov07.mp3

The former is around 2 MB and the latter 1 MB so don’t pound them too much.

Audrey’s Q&A is here.  Some extracts:

What did the old law say?
Spending parliamentary money on advertising that expressly solicited votes or money was banned, as it is now. The difference is the rules didn’t say “anything else goes” – which is the effect of the new law. The new application is at variance with the and the Solicitor-General who took the view of the old rules that political advertising could be deemed to be political advertising if it looked like political advertising.

So what has changed?
To understand the extent of how things have changed, and will change, we have to identify the different regimes under which spending rules applied and will apply, inside Parliament and outside Parliament. The pledge card was of concern under two regimes: whether the Parliamentary Service, which paid the invoices for the card, met the conditions under the Public Finance 1989 of expenditure voted to it (the found it didn’t); and whether the card breached requirements of election expenditure under the Electoral Act, which applies to all electoral contestants. The Electoral Commission found overspending, but the police did not press charges. The police recommended that Parliament’s rules be changed to prevent such expenditure on the pledge card.

This is a useful reminder.  While the Police stuffed up their invetsigation, they did have a very useful recommendation.  They recommended that basically all advertising from parliamentary budgets be banned for the final 90 days.  The Government is doing the absolute opposite and allowing everything except an explicit solicitation for votes to be run.

How would the pledge card be treated again under each of the regimes?
It would now be a lawful use of parliamentary funds. But under proposals in the Electoral Finance Bill, such advertising expenditure will no longer be allowed to be scrutinised by the Chief Electoral Officer or the Electoral Commission alongside other election contestants. That is because the EFB expressly exempts “any publications that relate to a member of Parliament in his or her capacity as a member of Parliament” from being counted as an election expense.

This is the double whammy.  Not only are legalising their use of taxpayer money on  such blatant electioneering, but they are exempting such expenditure from even counting as election spending.

Winners and losers?
Sitting MPs will have a huge advantage over non-parliamentary parties and candidates. The immunity on their spending runs for the entire three years of an election cycle. Their opponents have restrictions placed on their advertising from January 1 of election year.

Each party, or an individual MP, could run, say, a $15,000 newspaper and radio tax-payer funded campaigns on their policies funded by Parliamentary Service – at any time of an election cycle up to election day.

For example:

* Only will protect health services.
* Only will give you meaningful tax cuts.
* Only New Zealand First cares about the elderly.
* Only the Greens will save the Earth.

And even worse the $20,000 limit a challenger has, now has to bs spread over 11 months instead of 90 days.  This is the ultimate in protecting incumbent MPs – they can spend many many times more than their challengers.

Something else to consider if that MPs can pool their money totally legally.  So if this bill is passed, six MPs in safe seats could transfer $30,000 of their $60,000 budgets to Mark Burton.  Burton could then spend $240,000 of taxpayer money on promoting what he has done for Taupo, while his out of Parliament challenger can only spend $20,000.

Many people, especially on the left (but including me), decry the US political system where boundary gerrymandering has left 85% of US House seats uncompetitive.  When House Reps win a seat, they often hold if for life. They should decry the same thing happening here – with the gerrymander being funding instead of boundaries.  In the US the gerrymander happens because they allow politicians not bureaucrats to set the boundaries.  Our gerrymander is allowing incumbent MPs to rewrite both the Electoral and the Parliamentary spending legislation to suit the incumbents, instead of democracy.

So if you are against our political system becoming “Americanised” oppose both the Electoral Finance Bill and the Appropriations Bill.

Even if you support state funding of political parties, you surely do not support that the expenditure of those funds should be exempt from the spending caps under the Electoral Act?

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