A reader has sent me a copy of their complaint to the Speaker over Labour using taxpayer funded resources to organise their Campaign for Change. The complaint is:
Dear Mr Carter
In light of a story by Richard Harmon which appeared on the blog Politik this morning, I wish to ask you to investigate the use of the Labour Party leader’s budget for campaign purposes. It is my understanding that political parties are prohibited from seeking votes or recruiting members, among other things. The link to the Politik story is here: http://politik.co.nz/en/content/politics/1124/Labour-Party-volunteer-workers-rebel-over-living-conditions-Labour-party-Matt-McCarten-Andrew-Kirton.htm
In August last year, it was announced that Matt McCarten was standing down as Labour’s Chief of Staff, and moving to a position in Auckland where he would be involved in outreach activities. On 6 September 2016, the New Zealand Herald carried a story where the Leader of the Labour Party gave a clear undertaking that McCarten would not be involved in any campaign activities. The Herald story quotes Mr Little thus:
Labour leader Andrew Little says his adviser Matt McCarten’s taxpayer-funded salary is within the rules because McCarten will be doing “outreach” work for Little rather than campaign work.
McCarten is leaving his job as Little’s chief of staff to head a new Auckland office for Little as part of Little’s election year strategy.
That office was on a lease taken out by the Labour Party but Little’s Parliamentary budget was paying for some of it at market rates under a sublease agreement.
Staff would be a mix of party workers and those, including McCarten, whose salaries were paid out of Little’s Parliamentary budget.
Parliament’s rules provide some flexibility on how political parties use their staffing allocations but prohibit taxpayer-paid staff from campaigning. That includes trying to sign up party members, get donations or ask for votes. However, there has always been a thin line between Parliamentary and campaign-related work, especially for those in more political positions.
Little said McCarten’s work was not campaigning but “outreach” for Little such as organising events and meetings when Little was in Auckland.
He denied he was trying to use taxpayer funds for campaign-related work, saying party work would be done by party workers in the same office rather than McCarten and other Parliamentary-funded staff.
“I know the level of scrutiny that is applied to Parliamentary Services funding. We are always looking to make sure we are well within the rules, not just the written word but the spirit of it as well. That will continue to apply in every appointment I make, every activity I do.”
He said there was nothing unusual about the arrangement.
Little got defensive after further questions, saying the media could “pick apart employment arrangements” but he was more concerned with the issues facing Aucklanders such as housing and burglaries.
On Saturday 17th June, Scoop carried a media release from the “Campaign for Change”, which talked about Mr McCarten having established a programme which was “independent of any political party”. This link to that media release is here: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1706/S00237/new-zealand-launches-campaign-for-change.htm
Today’s Politik story alleges that the Labour Party has brought 85 foreign nationals to New Zealand and states “It is part of Matt McCarten’s “Campaign for Change” which he describes as a non-partisan campaign to get people engaged and involved.
But how non-partisan is debatable.”
I would agree that the independence of Mr McCarten’s campaign is now looking highly debatable. The fact that today’s Politik story contains a number of quotes from the general secretary of the Labour Party, Andrew Kirton, which would support the view that the Labour Party has had clear knowledge of what Mr McCarten has been doing.
“Last night Labour’s General Secretary Andrew Kirton confirmed that there had been issues with the scheme which had arisen over the past week.
He said the scheme had been originated by Andrew Little’s former Chief of Staff, Matt McCarten, who now runs Labour’s campaign office in Auckland.
“There were some issues with capacity, “he said.
“He couldn’t really supervise them on a daily basis.”
This leads to a very strong suspicion that the Labour Party, via Matt McCarten, has indeed been using taxpayer funds to campaign for the upcoming General Election. As a taxpayer, I strongly object to public money being used other than for the purpose it was intended. It is particularly ironic that just in the last couple of days, Andrew Little and other Labour MP’s have been highly critical of Rt Hon Bill English for the way in which National’s leader’s budget has been spent.
I am uncertain of what powers your office has to investigate as to whether there has been an unauthorised use of taxpayer funds for party political campaigning in this instance. However I urge you to open an investigation if that is permissible. I recall that in the mid-2000’s, the then Auditor-General investigated a similar issue, and found that there had been abuse of the rules around taxpayer funded campaigning. If deemed necessary by your office, perhaps the A-G could be invited to investigate what are serious allegations that go right to the heart of the transparency of our political system, and the separation between legitimate political party activities and overt election campaigning.
I look forward to your response.
I think The Parliamentary Service has to investigate. The Auditor-General made very clear in 2006 that parliamentary budgets (including staff) can not be used for campaigning, and it is obvious that Matt McCarten has not been spending his time arranging visits for Andrew Little, but instead importing 85 campaign workers for Labour into New Zealand.