Much ado about nothing

The hysterical Dom Post editorial:

Could money be about to wash over New Zealand politics in a way unprecedented in the modern era?

No, there has been no change in how much you can spend as a third party.

Last year, the court decided (rightly) that a satirical song about former Prime Minister John Key should not have been censored before the 2014 election. But it also upended a longstanding assumption that only political parties could broadcast partisan TV and radio advertisements in the three months before an election.

Which is great. Why should political parties be the only ones who can advertise on radio and TV?

It concluded that while the parties could still do so, using a limited pool of state money, anyone else could join them. That opens the way for significant spending by outsider groups, and perhaps an onslaught of the “attack ads” that blanket the airwaves in the US.

No, as the third party spending limits are unchanged. The only change is that a third party could spent some on their money on radio and TV now, as well as newspapers, direct mail, Internet, billboards etc,

If this interpretation is right, such third-party pressure groups will face a $315,000 spending cap for the three months before the election, and no limits on spending at all until then. (By way of comparison, the NZ First Party had $200,000 in state funds to spend on TV and radio ads before the 2014 election).

A false comparison. A party contesting every electorate can spend $2.98 million on advertising as well as the $200,000 in state funds. The limit for political parties is far higher than third parties. As a matter of free speech, I don’t think there should be any limit on third party spending. The link between amount spent and impact is pretty low (ask Colin Craig and Kim Dotcom).

The vast majority of third party spending comes from unions trying to help Labour and attack National. If they want to run ads on radio or television, they should be able to.

Once upon a time there may have been a case for broadcast ads being so powerful, they need to be restricted. But this is long past. All forms of advertising should be treated the same.

If I was running a third party, and someone gave me $300,000 to spend on political advertising, I wouldn’t spend a cent of it on television advertising. I’d spend it all on video adverts on Facebook where you can target voters with huge precision.

So the Dominion Post, and Professor Geddis, are creating much ado about nothing.

It’s not clear that the airwaves really will be swamped in partisan ads funded by vested interests this year, but it’s alarming that they might be.

Almost as alarming as the fact third parties can use carrier pigeons to distribute flyers.

Whoever wins the 2017 election should urgently fix this and other anomalies in the law.

No urgency at all. A non existent problem. All it does is allow third parties a greater choice of mediums to advertise on. The only fix needed is to remove the restrictions on parties being able to use broadcast media for advertising – beyond their state allocation.

If various Labour supporting unions want to waste their money on television adverts against National, let them do so.

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