Third Party Spending Limits

It is a timely day to look at the third party spending limits in the Electoral Finance Bill. I blogged a couple of weeks ago:

You see there are two levels of spending one should look at, in setting a limit.

  1. How much does a third party need to spend to be effective? You see if the limit is set below that level, then you defeat the entire purpose of having advocacy in a democratic society. How much money do you need to spend to be able to effectively communicate a message to the target of 2.7 million people.
  2. How much spending constitutes starting to drown out or dominate the debate? The limit at which the ad on TV is appearing every day for weeks on end, or in every newspaper repeatedly.

So the limit for third parties (there is an argument that there should be no limit, but this is accepting that you have a limit as political parties have a limit) should be between (1) and (2).

Now the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Family First put out a release yesterday giving a practical example of how the limit of $120,000 over 11 months is so low that it will prevent them from even sending a brochure to every household:

Both trusts had planned on sending a brochure to every household in NZ next year in a similar fashion to what political parties do. The brochures would have highlighted issues important to each of the trusts and shown how the political parties have each responded to those concerns. This would have been paid for through donations from members and supporters with no taxpayer funding.

However, Family First has gained a quote to do this and discovered that it would be banned under the Electoral Finance Bill.

“The cost of just the brochures and envelopes is quoted at $135,000, and then there is the cost of postage to add on,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ. “However, the proposed electoral law restricts 3rd party advertising to $120,000.”

“The Electoral Finance Bill will mean that this simple one-off activity of placing one brochure into the hands of NZ homes in 2008 to present our concerns will be illegal. This is perfect proof of just how restrictive this bill is.”

So if $120,000 is too low, what is the right level? Well the Electoral Commission which advocates a level of at least $250,000 actually did research on what one can purchase at five levels:

a Limit before registering as 3rd party, $5,000
b Spending cap in Bill – $60,000, which is 1.25% of $4.8 million;
c $120,000, which is 2.5% of $4.8 million
d $240,000, which is 5.0% of $4.8 million
e $480,000, which is 10.0% of $4.8 million

Note that the Government originally went for the 1.25% figure, but has now increased this to just 2.5% or $120,000.

Now if one looks at the information provided by their media agency, you’ll see that it takes $240,000 to even reach 60% of the NZ adult population. $480,000 will reach 75%.

The $120,000 is half of what was recommended. Why?  It is nothing to do with stopping people “buying” elections or drowning out the debate.  One can only conclude it is about stopping lobby groups from being able to effectively criticise the Government.

If it is not about that, then why did the Government and Select Committee ignore the advice of the Electoral Commission to have a higher limit?  The Commission provided factual research on what one can and can not purchase at various levels, and the level was set very low, knowing it would restrict lobby groups from being able to communicate in election year.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust wants to be able to put one pamphlet into every household next year – yes just one extra piece of junk mail. They want to be able to communicate what the policies are of all the parties on law & order issues which are of concern to them, and how they rate those policies. The Electoral Finance Bill will prevent them being able to even do this – yes it will stop a simple flyer going to every home.

And worse of all, this restriction on being able to even send a flyer to every home will apply for all of 2008, not just the election campaign itself.

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