Espiner on Electoral Act breaches by Labour

has a blog post and an article on the breaches of the Electoral Act by .

I was interviewed on ZB late yesterday afternoon about this. I seem to be the only person defending the decision of the Electoral Commission to warn rather than refer to the Police, in regard to Labour’s breach of the Act.

Colin in his blog says:

 

There’s a certain poetic justice to the news that Labour breached its own Electoral Finance Act with the distribution of a pamphlet boasting the Government’s achievements that did not carry the correct authorisation.

This draconian and extremely complex new law was rammed through Parliament by Labour late last year, and we all suffered through many lectures from Justice Minister Annette King about the “common sense” new regulations and how the Electoral Commission wouldn’t prosecute where offences were “so inconsequential there is no public interest in doing so.”

So who’s the first party to break the new law? National, which railed against it? Nope, Labour. It might be only a minor breach – not putting an authorising agent’s name on the brochure. But hey, a breach is a breach and there’s plenty of egg on Labour faces today. …

Cullen talks of the good advice the commission has handed down to all parties, a timely warning about being careful to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, but the simple fact remains that Labour broke the law and it’s not going to be prosecuted. Again.

Any of this sound familiar? There are a couple of precedents. Such as, ooooh, off the top of my head, the $400,000 pledge card illegal expenditure, which the police decided was illegal but decided not to prosecute because it wasn’t in the public interest.

Then there’s the police decision not to prosecute Trevor Mallard for punching Tau Henare, not to prosecute the Prime Minister over the speeding motorcade, not to prosecute David Benson-Pope for bullying, and not to prosecute the Prime Minister over Paintergate.

Meanwhile, National MP Shane Adern gets prosecuted for driving a tractor up the steps of Parliament and Nick Smith for contempt of court.

The commission decided in its ruling to let Labour off with a warning and to refer any future breaches (most likely by other parties) to the police. That’s certainly very lucky for Labour, and the problem is the commission risks looking like a Government toady for not having a little more backbone.

Certainly National can be frustrated that once again, Labour appears to have got off scot free. “Do as I say, not as I do” seems a fairly apt expression here.

Indeed, it is the rather than the lack of referral to the Police which is the issue for me.

Then in Colin’s article:

The Government has been left red-faced by an Electoral Commission ruling that it breached its own controversial by distributing pamphlets without the correct authorisation on them.

Labour got off with a warning, however, after the commission decided not to refer the matter to the police.

Cullen said the Electoral Finance Act provides a very broad definition of what election advertising was.

The pamphlet contained “simple statements of fact” about what the Government had done.

What I love is Dr Cullen almost complaining that the Act provides a very broad definition of what election advertising is, as if that had nothing to do with him or the Government.

Meanwhile Audrey Young Mike Houlahan works on what may be the bigger issue. Does the taxpayer funded booklet have to be included in the party’s expense return?

Yesterday Dr Cullen indicated that he believed such literature was exempt from the expenses returns set out under the Electoral Finance Act. He told Parliament two different forms of legislation governed whether taxpayer’s money could be spend on election adverts. “The Parliamentary Service Act governs what members of Parliament can spend money on. The Electoral Commission determines what is election advertising.

“Matters that are properly authorised as being for parliamentary purposes do not count as election advertising for the returns of expenses.”

However, Electoral Commission spokesman Peter Northcote said unless a booklet such as We Are Making A Difference was being handed out by a Member of Parliament in their capacity as an MP, it would count towards election expenses.

“Just because something is funded by Parliamentary Services does not automatically mean that exemption applies,” Mr Northcote said.

If Labour’s financial agent does not include the cost of that booklet in their election return, then they should expect to be defending that decision in court.

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