It’s legal because they changed the law

There has finally been some attention paid by the media to Labour’s “information kit for the over 60s” which their MPs are posting and handing out in the tens of thousands.

Matthew Hooton has blogged on this several times in recent days.

This is a continuation of Labour’s 2005 pledge card strategy where Labour tries to get the taxpayer to pay for material it can use during the election campaign – and also tries to not have it count towards as part of their $2.4 million spending limit.

There are two questions involved:

  1. Is it appropriate and legal for the info kit to be paid for by The Parliamentary Service (taxpayers) for distribution during the election campaign?
  2. Does the info kit constitute an election advertisement under the Electoral Finance Act?

The answer to (1) is that it is legal – but, and this is important, only because Labour, NZ First and Greens rammed through a law change to over-turn the Auditor General’s interpretation of the previous law.

The Auditor-General could well have found, if the law had not changed, that this info kit was electioneering – especially as it was produced and distributed so close to an election. If it was a genuine info kit it would have been produced and distributed last year or even earlier this year.

But Labour First and the Greens changed the law (without even giving the public a chance to submit on the law change) so that only material which explicitly sought support for a party (as oppossed to implicitly) is covered. Under this law change Labour’s 2005 pledge card could be legally taxpayer funded again.

My solution to this rorting of the system is simple – ban taxpayer funding of such advertising in the last 90 days. If it was a genuine info kit then they can produce and distribute it when there is not an election a few days away.

This is all part of Labour’s strategy to hold its most marginal seats. Part One was the Electoral Finance Act to silence new candidates by extending the $20,000 limit in the regulated period from 90 days to all of election year. This is a limit of around 5c/voter/month. Part Two was changing the law so incumbent MPs could use taxpayer funded advertising during the election campaign. It is all designed to keep incumbent MPs in their jobs.

Considering the huge amount of interest in the pledge card last time, it is surprising it has taken so long for the media to cover this issue. Has TVNZ or Radio NZ told their viewers and listeners that Labour and “friends” changed the law to make these info kits legal?

The second issue is whether or not the info kits are advertisements under the Electoral Finance Act. I tend to think they are not. The issue for me is whether MPs should be allowed to use their taxpayer funded budgets so close to an election to be writing and sending stuff to tens of thousands of voters.

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