The Report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System (1986) rightly urged caution when considering political finance. The commissioners argued that “Nor is it fair if some in the community use their relative wealth to exercise disproportionate influence in determining who is to govern and what policies are to be pursued” …
I urge the government and the select committee to reflect deeply about whether unfettered spending doesn’t risk undermining the integrity of our democracy. Transparency around who is spending does not go far enough on its own without also adopting an upper spending cap to keep the playing field as level as consistent with the protection of free speech.
Despite the warning of the Royal Commission, unfettered spending was permitted for the 1993 electoral referendum. An aggressive and expensive advertising campaign by big business interests eroded the substantial lead MMP had enjoyed for many months before the vote to a very close vote on the day.
Had they succeeded in buying the 1993 referendum, the integrity of our democracy would have been seriously and perhaps irrevocably eroded.
Hopefully the current Government will heed the warning of Dr Johansson and we learn from the 1993 referendum experience.
The MPs on the Electoral Legislation Select Committee need to treat this threat to democracy seriously, and listen to New Zealanders urging spending limits for the 2011 electoral referendum.