Dom Post on Labour’s electoral breaches

Today’s Dom Post editorial:

Politicians are not above the law.

They should not seek to be. For the third time in six years the Party has been found to have breached the rules governing election advertising. The Electoral Commission has referred the matter to police. They should prosecute.

The breach is not as serious, or wilful, as Labour’s 2005 misuse of $824,000 of public money to subsidise its election campaign.

Certainly not as serious, but arguably more wilful. In 2005 they could claim they honestly thought that anything paid for by Parliament was not an election expense. In 2011, there is no way they could genuinely hold that view.

It would appear that the only way to convince Labour politicians they too must operate within the law is to hold them to account when they fail to do so. In 2005 police mystifyingly opted not to prosecute prime minister Helen Clark’s chief of staff, Heather Simpson, for exceeding Labour’ election spending limit, despite receiving legal advice that a prosecution would result in a conviction.

I blogged at length on the 2005 investigation. I found a degree of incompetence that was disturbing. The Police in fact investigated the wrong offence and didn’t even understand concepts such as strict liability. They have a chance to redeem themselves now.

The latest offence is similar. Labour campaign spokesman Grant Robertson has attributed it to a difference of opinion between the party and the commission over what constitutes advertising. Labour did not consider the postcard advertising, in part because it had received prior authorisation from the Parliamentary Service, he said. That is an irrelevance as Mr Robertson, a bright, capable new MP of whom his party has high hopes, should know.

Grant would indeed know this. All MPs should know this. It has been made clear by the Electoral Commission.

That role is filled by the Electoral Commission which offers any individual or organisation seeking to produce electioneering material an opportunity to have it vetted in advance.

To find out whether its postcard complied with the law Labour had only to submit it to the commission. It did not do so.

And this is why it had to be referred to the Police. Labour had a chance to get an opinion on it, and simply decided not to.

The lessons of the past have not been learnt. It is time for them to be reinforced.

It is bad enough that the public’s hard-earned money gets squandered on political bumf by all parties. It is even worse that Labour cannot be bothered complying with the rules when it does so. It has trifled with the law long enough. It should be stopped.

The question for the Police should be what message will it send out if they do not prosecute? I believe it will mean that the Electoral Commission will be a lame duck, if the Police take no action.

The challenge for the Police may be in deciding whom to prosecute, as it must be an individual, not a party. But a proper investigation should establish who in Labour made the decision to publish them and not seek an opinion from the Electoral Commission.

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