State funding overshadows private donations

Simon Collins in the Herald reports on a presentation by former Alliance staff and Otago University lecturer Bruce Edwards on money in politics:

Otago University political scientist Bryce Edwards told a sociology conference in Auckland yesterday that the controversial Electoral Finance Bill, now before Parliament, was based on a myth that corporate donations could “buy elections”.

In fact, declared donations over $10,000 to political parties at the last election totalled only $3.2 million – the same as the amount paid by taxpayers for free broadcasting time, and only one-eighth of what taxpayers paid through the Parliamentary Service for “party and member support” plus MPs’ travel and communications.

Dr Edwards said critics were correct that business had a strong influence on New Zealand politics. But he said its influence came mainly from the need for any Government to maintain “business confidence” in a capitalist economy.

“That’s where the political leverage of the wealthy is exerted – not in donations, which are utterly insignificant in comparison,” he said.

He said there was no clear relationship between party spending and votes. For example, Act spent more than any other party except Labour and National at the last election ($1.4 million), yet received only 1 per cent of the vote, while the Alliance gained its highest vote (18 per cent) in 1993 when it spent only $500,000.

On the other hand, the weight of taxpayer funding of parties in Parliament now gave a huge advantage to incumbents.

Dr Edwards said the parliamentary funding should be much more tightly controlled to make sure it was only used for parliamentary duties, but controls on donations from supporters should be loosened.

The Electoral Finance Bill makes the incumbency advantage far worse of course.  It tries to exempt all parliamentary spending from the spending restrictions, while forcing a new candidate to make $20,000 last all of election year.

This is why new candidates such as Grant Robertson have started delivering their pamphlets this year.  $20,000 is a ridiculously low limit for electorates of 45,000 voters.  It’s 4c per voter per month.  It’s less than what Councillors get for many of their elections.

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