Electoral Finance details

Here are the major proposals or options from the proposal document.

Broadcasting Allocation

Option 1 is the status quo of $3.2 million for political parties that can only be spent on broadcasting, and parties can not buy additional time.

Option 2 is moderate reform where the allocation can be spent in any advertising medium, and parties may buy additional broadcasting time.

Option 3 is significant reform where the funds can be spent on any purpose (not just election advertising) plus parties may buy additional broadcasting time.

Personally I would restrict access to the allocation to non parliamentary parties, but that is not an option.

Option 3 is effectively state funding of political parties, so I am not in favour. If we are to have taxpayer funds supplied, they should be for the express purpose of election advertising, not to pay people to administer the party.

I support Option 2 then, as it is the fairest, allowing parties to purchase time beyond their allocation and also allowing them a choice of medium.

I would suggest the amount allocated be set in legislation (and inflation adjusted) so a future Government can not just double or triple the amount allocated.

I was pleased to see the paper say:

While some submissions on the issues paper supported an increase in state funding to political parties, many submissions considered there was no case for additional state funding to political parties at the current time, particularly in light of the donations returns for the 2008 general election which demonstrate that some political parties are able to raise adequate private funds for their campaigning.

That was a point I made – the empirical evidence from 2008 is that there is sufficient private funding.

Parliamentary Service Funding

No change at this stage just  a desire to harmonise definitions of electioneering. I still believe the best way forward is to prohibit PS funding of any advertising during the regulated period.

Private Donations

No change. This is not entirely surprising. Personally I would have got rid of the ability to donate anonymously through the Electoral Commission.

This means the law passed by Labour and the Greens, as it applies to donations, will remain in force.

Campaign expenditure limits

The Government has decided in principle that the limits for party spending (currently $2.4 million effectively) and constituency spending (currently $20,000) should increase. They are seeking feedback on what level they should be set at, and also a desired mechanism to adjust the amount for future elections.

If you inflation and population adjust back to 1995, and include the $1 million broadcasting allocation then the party limit would be close to $5 million. I think $50,000 is around what you need at electorate level to be able to do even a basic campaign. That is a bit over $1/voter only.

Ideally the limits should be calculated using research on how much one needs to spend to reach x% of the population with a frequency of y.

Future increases should be based on inflation and population growth.

Regulated Campaign Period

Four options

  1. Starts on Writ Day. This means a period of around five weeks. Would give PM’s party a huge advantage as they could spend up large before writ day knowing when it will be before others do. Mind you I doubt any party would come close to spending up to the limit for such a short period.
  2. Starts on 1 August in the scheduled election year. This is my preferred option.
  3. Starts on 1 May in the scheduled election year. I think this is too far out as it covers the period of the Government’s Budget and you don’t really hit campaign mode until after that.
  4. The status quo of three months before the election. My least favoured option as it means you are halfway through the regulated period before knowing exactly when it starts.

The paper also canvasses two options for snap elections. Either have it retrospective to three montsh before the election date, or have it from the date of the announcement (which I favour).

Election Advertising

Definition will be based on 1993 Act’s definition of seeking to influence voting behaviour, and will be media neutral. It will not include policy advocacy that does not mention parties.

Exemptions will include media, personal correspondence between individuals, low cost merchandise (pens etc), personal opinions published on the Internet (or by text messaging), website maintained by parties and candidates and parallel campaigners (if registered), and anything put out by electoral agencies.

This seems quite good. The website exemption may seem strange to some, but it is hideous trying to work out what portion of a site is an advertisement and further it is a passive medium which people seek out – it is not like advertising that is displayed to people who are not seeking it.

All adverts will have name and full daytime address (but need not be home).

Parallel Campaigning

Two options.

The first is a “proportionate” regulatory scheme that has a high registration threshold and overall expenditure limits. Registered campaigners will not have to disclose donations to them as per the EFA. Registration restricted to NZ citizens, residents and organisations.

The second option is the status quo. No registration but you must identify yourself. This could possibly include restricting advertising to NZ citizens, residents and organisations.

While the first options is considerably superior to what was in the EFA, I am not convinced there is enough of a problem to change from the status quo. There was very little third party spending in 2008 and the main problem in 2005 was the lack of transparency by the Exclusive Brethren, not the fact they spent money.

Some will argue as parties have a limit, so should non parties. But the argument against that is the voting public will tend to discount the message anyway, if they perceive an inappropriate amount of money is being spent on a campaign. The public should be trusted – even the 15% who think Hillary is alive!

At the end of the day I think the spending by the EB helped the left, more than it harmed them.

Broadcast advertising by parallel campaigners

Two options again. The status quo is no spending is allowed. The other option is to allow parallel campaigners to advertise on TV and radio if there is a system of “proportionate regulation”.

I don’t like having to choose between two restrictions. I would prefer no need to register, and being able to spend on TV and radio.

The ability to gain access to TV and radio advertising might make the option of proportionate regulation of parallel campaigners more attractive for some.

Monitoring and Compliance

Electoral Agencies to be merged as detail in previous post. Best of all the new agency will be able to advise parties and candidates as to what constitutes an election advertisment.

No changes to penalties or time limits, and I presume (sadly) the Police will retain the prosecution function.

Overall it is a good document. There are definitely some things I do not agree with, but they have generally made quite sensible decisions, and the options outlined are workable models. Of course of high interest will be which option they choose!

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