The Dom Post editorial is to the point:
There are ominous signs that Labour has learned little from the pledge card debacle of 2005 and will adopt the same shameful approach to the use of public money for its campaigns in 2008, The Dominion Post writes.
Not quite true. They have learnt to change the law so there is less chance they will get caught.
Its defence of its breach of the Electoral Finance Act over a booklet pubished using public money hints at a smoke and mirrors exercise to skip round the legislation it pushed through last year with the stated aim of cleaning up the electoral process and make everything above board.
And there is a lot of interest over how much money went on that booklet. I am hearing well into six figures. The big question is whether that election advertisement also counts as an election expense or does it qualify for the special Labour inserted exemption of being for parliamentary purposes.
It is a dangerous game and Labour MPs and party bosses should be left in no doubt that legal jiggery-pokery will be seen for what it is – yet another attempt to push the law to the very limit, and achieve more state funding of political parties by stealth.
Indeed, that was the purpose of the Electoral Finance Act and the Validating Act. To make legal their previously illegal expenditure funded by the taxpayer.
Labour has already misled the public over questions of political funding and embarrassed itself in the process after party president Mike Williams failed to mention a $100,000 loan from millionaire Owen Glenn.
And let us not forget the mystery of the NZ First donation – there one moment, gone the next.
Now it has distinguished itself by being the first to be named as breaching the Electoral Finance Act, though it will not be prosecuted, with the Electoral Commission unsurprisingly deciding that the booklet, We’re Making a Difference, is election material, designed to encourage people to vote in a particular way and needed to follow the rules for that and carry an authorisation from the party’s financial agent, along with that person’s home address.
More worrying, though, are the comments Finance Minister Michael Cullen made in Parliament in response to questions over the breach.
Dr Cullen explained that two pieces of legislation covered the spending on the booklet – the Electoral Finance Act that everybody outside Parliament must work under, and the Parliamentary Service Act, which gives MPs virtually open slather when it comes to spending the public’s money on their re-election, after they rewrote the law rather than accept Auditor-General Kevin Brady’s findings that they had been spending money on campaigning illegally.
Dr Cullen told Parliament that while the Electoral Commission determines what is election spending, “matters that are properly authorised as being for parliamentary purposes do not count as election advertising for the returns of expenses”, adding that “parliamentary purposes “cover a wide range of activities by members of Parliament”.
This is what Labour wanted the law to say. But they knew the backlash would be too great if they explicitly said “Anything with the crest on it is exempt” so they stuck in a parliamentary purposes exemption without defining what it means, with the highlight being Annette King recanting on her own definition after she realised it would rule out material such as their pledge card and the election booklet that was complained about.
The implication is clear. It means, as National deputy leader Bill English said in Parliament, that the Electoral Finance Act has been made a mockery of, and that “alongside the election expenses that are tightly monitored there is now a large slush fund of millions of dollars that political parties can spend in an election year”.
That is what Labour wants. But the law on this issue is yet to be decided. No one really knows what this parliamentary purposes exemption will mean.
That is simply unacceptable, and if Labour persists will rightly be seen as cynically manipulating the loopholes of a system it set up in the first place.
The loophole is deliberate. We saw that with Annette King’s reversal of her own definition.