Paranoid and odious

Yes, that is the view of two newspapers on the “better” Electoral Finance Bill, and neitehr of them are the NZ Herald.

First the Hawke’s Bay Today says:

The Electoral Finance Bill was inspired by an instinctive hatred of personal wealth (especially when it benefits political opposition, as witnessed by the Exclusive Brethren’s ridiculous attack on Labour and the Greens) and resentment by the Government that it was unable to steal public funds for its election campaigning. However, the overarching impulse, revealed in the desire to raise the weights of any opposition, has been to legislate to remain in power.

Wow “hatred” and “steal”. Wonder if this is still just a beltway issue?

In its revised form, the bill moderates the naked desire to clear the decks of political dissent. Plans to give Government advertising campaigns immunity and to suppress pressure groups were ditched (though the use of megaphones falls under the bill’s ambit and an 11-month restriction on political expression before an election is the longest for any western democracy).

Despite the changes to what many of its critics correctly deemed irredeemable, the bill remains an obnoxious piece of lawmaking for what has driven it, for the disdain it has shown to the principles of freedom of expression and fairness and for the loathing and contempt that it generates for those who, in principle anyway, we ought to be able to show at least a modicum of respect.

Now we turn to the Dominion Post political editor, Tracy Watkins.  Now she won’t use strong words such as steal and hatred will she.  Oh wait she’s just called Labour “paranoid”.  The plan to con everyone that this new bill is wonderful and lovely seems to be failing.  Here’s Tracy:

A wise old man probably once said that you should never try to write a law while you’re feeling angry and paranoid.

And if he didn’t, then he should have.

Because all Labour’s problems over the Electoral Finance Bill stem from its decision to rewrite the rules for the next election campaign while it was still angry over 2005 and paranoid about 2008.

Labour’s electoral finance reforms might have been more convincing had it had tackled anonymous donations and secret trusts from the start – but its failure to do so for fear it might cause some of its own funding to dry up made the legislation look even more serving than it already was.

It may even have stayed on the side of the angels if it had kept its eye on the prize, tackled the most disturbing aspects of what groups like the Exclusive Brethren can get away with once they set their mind to it under the current law, and disdained to sweat the small stuff.

Instead it produced a piece of legislation which looks suspiciously like a scratch for every itch that’s ever bugged it or the select committee members on the campaign trail.

Megaphones? Hell yes. Let’s throw that in there as well.

Placards? Yup. We better spell that out.

Indeed.  Labour could have done a very simple bill to deal with the Exclusive Brethren type campaign.  But instead we have this monstrosity.

The rewritten bill is an improvement on the first. But National will use it to kick Labour with every step of the way to the next election. Which is what you get when you abandon the long standing principal of bi-partisanship around electoral law. And in case Labour forgot, that bipartisanship existed for a very sound reason. It was to avoid tit-for-tat law.

Cough, principle, cough. But the important point is that Labour has shattered the bi-partisanship convention. And frankly National would be mad if they ever allowed Labour to have any input into any future changes. They’ve lost the moral right to be consulted.

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