Election finance reform spin

The proposals to reform campaign finance law were tabled yesterday afternoon. While there are many good elements to them, they do nothing to crack down on anonymous donations to political parties, nor do they crack down on the trusts that National used last time. Yet Minister of Justice Mark Burton is not comfortable about coming clean on it. This from the House today:

Jeanette Fitzsimons: If this bill is passed as it stands, will individuals and corporations still be able to make unlimited anonymous donations to political parties—yes or no?

Hon MARK BURTON: Although the matter relating to donations has been referred to the independent review, which I also announced yesterday, it is certainly the case that the spending limits will be extended to 1 January in an election year, thereby ensuring that although donations will indeed be able to be made, the ability of any party to be grossly overfunded to the point that it overwhelms proper debate will be curtailed. In the end, in New Zealand we want our elections to be a contest of ideas, not a contest of bank accounts.

Which means yes. You can still make anonymous donations to political parties of whatever size. But it’s true that maintaining the caps on campaign spending by parties, and extending the period covered by the cap to the beggining of election year, is important. I just wish he would simply explain it simply and clearly.

49 Comments Posted

  1. you are trying to regulate ‘ideas’/ideals russel..

    and do you have some deep-seated fear of the lack of potency of your/green messages/arguments..?

    that leaves you so impotent in the face of rightwing bullsh*t..?

    that you want/plan to regulate to close that chatter/’free-speech’ down..?

    (yet..all the while doing absolutely nothing about the rivers of anonymous monies that flow into/influence the main political parties..?..

    do you have aspirations of diverting a little stream of that river flowing the way of both labour annd national..

    towards the greens..?

    for the life of me..i cannot see any other reasons..save some craven obesience to the labour party leadership..?

    and um..!..have any ‘off-the-record’ promises been made to you/the greens in exchange for support..?

    y’know..ministerial positions..?

    the gold rings at the top of that slippery pole you have been sliding up and down for ..quite some time now..to no avail..

    we could understand the temptations..

    (but hey..!..psstt!!..the election..?..credibility..?..)

    there’s ‘the rub’..eh..?


  2. so russel..

    have you read the coalition for open government (an ‘ally’..?..surely..?..) demolition of that anti-democratic/anonymous donation defending/supporting

    dogs breakfast of legislation you..(am i right?.. didn’t you say..?..personally..?) worked on/came up with..?

    (i..and i am sure many others..are looking forward to your explanations..

    as to how/why you/the greens did this..

    and why you..(see your original post above)..

    then tried to ‘sell it’ to us..?..)

    and do you have any fears/concerns this major feck-up on your/the greens part will impugn your/the greens credibility/leadership in any way..?

    anyway..here is that reasoned dennunciation of your work/actions..

    written by your erstwhile ‘ally’..

    the coalition for open government..



  3. I don’t think the billboards would’ve worked without the enormous budget that enabled them to appear everywhere across the country at once. But it’s true that the replication in the paper and the net made a much bigger hit.

    I am open to a discussion about the time period for the regulated period and whether $60k is the right amount. The other option to consider is whether the definition of election activity for non-party activities should be narrowed so that you only get caught by the spending cap for ads that actually mention the name of a party or say the word vote or election, rather than the way the bill is structured at the moment whereby if you refer to an issue that is closely associated with a particular party you get caught by the cap. The risk of this kind of approach is that it leaves a big loophole… eg in 2002 someone could have run a big ad campaign that says anyone who opposes GE is a lunatic and the ad camapign would not have been caught by any limits but would clearly be an anti-Green campaign…

  4. Russel siad:
    “Yes point taken – you do have a simple point of departure for the start of the regulated period. Problem is that it’s not working very well because your lot showed how effectively you can set the agenda in the months leading up to the three month regulated period by spending lots of money in a very smart manner. There’s no way the Greens can afford to do that so it meant that your party with lots of money got an unfair advantage IMHO. I’m open to other ideas to deal with this issue so that elections are fairer but this is one way.”

    I think the billboards were effective, but not due to the amount of money spent on them, but the fact they were brilliant and got so much media attention. I suspect if one had had them up for only a couple of weeks they would have done their job. More people probably read about them in newspapers than saw them. This is the way of the modern campaign. TV ads get shown once and then become a hit on You Tube where more people see them for nothing.

    Labour could have had their billboards with the ribbons up for 12 months and I doubt a single vote would have been swayed.

    But the problem with this extended period is you are using a sledgehammer to crack a fairly small nut. To go from a 90 day limit on party advertising to a 11 month limit on any individual or organisation being able to advertise on almost any policy issue is an overreach. Don’t you think a climate change awareness group should be able to spend more than $60,000 advocating carbon reduction policies? The Council for Sustainable Development could be badly hit by this.

  5. russel said..

    “Phil – goods and services are covered. With regard to the other elements of your freewheeling posts,…Free speech is not being closed down. That’s just rhetoric. the media are specifically excluded form the provisions and non-party groups are free to get invovled in the election, they just have to be honest about it by declaring who they are and there are limits on how much they can spend – just like the political parties..”

    (that was the spin..

    here is the reality the anti-ge/anti-battery-farming etc etc group face..

    (from the editorial in todays’ herald..)

    “..The losers in the bill are so-called “third parties”, which are not political parties at all.

    They are interested groups that simply want to contribute vigorously to the election without putting up candidates and they are to be severely regulated.

    Henceforth they must declare their intention to the Chief Electoral Officer, file a financial return detailing donations and outlays..

    ..and face limits on amounts they can spend.

    Is this necessary, healthy..?..”

    (and this is what you/the green party is supporting..?

    this closing down of free speech/political activities..?

    coupled with absolutely no changes to the anonymous money that sloshes towards political parties..?

    which was the original stated intentions of these ‘reforms’..?

    w.t.f. are you thinking..?

    you know as well as i that the prospects of such arduous/time-consuming mandates will stop most pressure-groups in their tracks..

    (seriously..how much more of a screw-up on your parts could this be..?..)


  6. Bryce

    There are VERY few things as absurd as the concept that “Money does not influence politics” . .. or the outcome of elections. In a truly democratic country it IS true that you cannot simply “buy” the election no matter how stupid your ideas, it takes an existing and powerful political organization too. So what money does is buy politicians and parties who already have a chance of winning (they are NOT going to invest $ in the “Really Useful” party, and so it greatly influences the EFFECTIVE outcome of the election even if it does not appear to make a big difference in the actual outcomes. The problem in the U$A is that it already owns both the major parties almost entirely, different moneyed interests largely behind the two parties but the effect is insidious and undemocratic.

    Money also owns the mainstream media (well of course it does), and the fourth estate has now largely ceased basic investigative journalism and instead sucks at the teat of Karl Rove’s apparatus. No surprises. What was it the communist said when he visited the USA. In Russia they lock up reporters and censor all the news, and only the party line gets reported. Here
    there is nothing but the same party line but you do not throw anyone in jail… how do you do it?

    The answer is “wage slavery”…. but that doesn’t suit the joke.

    My experiences with the system in America are what prompt me to advocate a period in which the cap on outside spending is zero and ONLY the political parties that are involved in the election are allowed to speak… with government funding for debate forums and specified amounts of advertising inches, websites, billboards and airtime. Signal, not noise.

    Because the voting public has a right to hear what the parties themselves are actually saying.

    Gerritt’s point about the power of the INCUMBENT government to advertise its policies and promote itself is well taken. It is a problem in EVERY democracy and a satisfactory solution is so far, elusive.

    This isn’t in my opinion, the best law we could wish for. It may be the best we can get, but it is NOT good enough. The money is already speaking in Parliament. Something that I can clearly hear…. possibly because I am trained now to recognize its subtle siren voice.


  7. Kevy,

    “It will be interesting to see how government parties react when they discover they can’t mention any initiatives introduced by them if those initiatives are referred in government agency ads.”

    That is the problem, they are not covered by the proposed legislation. The multi million Working For Families promotion run just before the last election would still run as it is a government initiative.

    Now you being, for example, opposed to Working For Families (either as a political party ot individual) in the eleven months prior to the election would have a spending cap on promotion against the policy plus (and I could be wrong in this) any alternative policy.

    What also irks me is that you have to register with a civil servant (and like we really need more unproductive civil servants?) your opposition to any government policy and have your spending monitored.

    Is it a coincidence that the Venuzualian basketball team is in New Zealand when this piece of legislation (all 73 pages) was harebrained together?

    A piece of legislation is bad when, as you descibe, a good lawyer can waltz through and demand that a judge decide on what is legal advertising and what is electioneering.

    I’m still amazed that the Greens support this mess under the guise of preventing Anon donors influencing an election when the proposed legislation does not even nullify the donations. Strange.

  8. Does this mean that GE researchers will be safe from anti-GE protests during an election year because the protesters will be covered by the 3rd party limits whereas the researchrs are just getting on with their job.

    Surely any good libel lawyer should be able to advise a wealthy client on the best way to waltz through the legislation without treading on any legal toes. Since the most contentious issue will be deciding at what point an advertisment is deemed to be political rather than general, it should be possible to stretch the legal process to last most of the election campaign by all the usual legal shenanagins of appeals and injunctions and what have you. That would make the advertisement a sub-judicae news item which pretty much guarantees it will become the most read or viewed or, at least most talked about, ad of the election campaign.

    It will be interesting to see how government parties react when they discover they can’t mention any initiatives introduced by them if those initiatives are referred in government agency ads.

  9. I don’t agree with you Bryce when you say that the role of the EB in supposedly boosting the Greens vote “indicates that parties or interest groups spending lots of money very often incur many negative consequences from their access to financial resources.”

    Firstly, we don’t know if the EB pamphlets had a negative or positive impact on the Greens’ vote (or Labour’s or the Nats’). Secondly, even if you did have evidence that the EB campaign backfired you can’t generalise from that to claim all ‘big spenders’ are going to cook up stupid campaigns that don’t achieve their aim.

    It just seems to me that there are at least two steps to the process. You need money to communicate using mass media (or even hand out leaflets at a stall cos they’re not all made by hand, even in the Greens) and the more money you have the more you get to engage in the political discourse. You buy your way into the debate. The second step is what you do with this power to communicate. Of course once you’re in there you can still stuff it up by saying things people really don’t like, but, if you’re not in there at all, or if your voice is drowned out by the communications of others with more money it won’t matter how good your message is. I guess it’s more accurate to say that money buys you an audience than that money buys a vote. But surely the discursive environment in which an election takes place impacts on the outcome? So even though it’s not one dollar one vote (and I think you’re wrong to suggest the Greens think it’s that straightforward, in fact I don’t think anyone thinks it’s that straightforward) it shouldn’t be that the voices of the rich are the only ones we get to hear talking about politics to the extent that we can help this.

    Isn’t Freakonomics the book which purports that increasing access to abortion was responsible for a dip in crime rates as potential criminals were aborted? If you’re interested in reading articles on the impact of election spending I can only suggest you use google cos with tens of thousands of hits I’m certainly not offering to pre-digest them all for you. I’m not suggesting that any say it’s one dollar one vote, just that money does impact on election outcomes.


  10. Hi Ruth

    The point about the EB anti-Green propaganda is that it ultimately worked against National and in favour of the Greens – which indicates that parties or interest groups spending lots of money very often incur many negative consequences from their access to financial resources. As I keep pointing out, I do actually believe there is connection between money and politics, but that it’s actually a very complex relationship and not the straightforward one that the Greens pretend it to be. And so it’s not very often that you’ll hear the proponents of finance ‘reform’ admit that money in politics can have a counter-intuitive effect – instead they always go on about how it buys influence or determines elections. The fact is that voters can be pretty smart and are very often capable of detecting rich parties selling their rich ideas, and they’re turned off by it. (So the National Party, Act, and even the Greens pump out lots of glossy leaflets and billboards, and the electorate often just turn away in disgust. Voters are sick of all the party political marketing and branding – and this is partly why 92% of NZers don’t trust political parties. You guys have been digging your own grave…) But that rant aside, I’d genuinely be interested to read the articles you suggest that show the money determines elections. In the meantime, though, have you read the Freakonomics book? There’s a good short section on the weak relationship between money and election outcomes in that.



  11. I think that when Bryce says

    “the Green Party probably owes their existence in Parliament to such huge amounts of money being targeted at them.”

    he pretty much undermines his own argument. Money spent on communication impacts on election outcomes – good and bad. Money buys the right to communicate one’s message. Bryce seems to miss this point. And so while yes, it’s true that if your message is very unappealing no matter how much you spend you might not get the public on side, BUT it is also true that no matter how much your message appeals to the public if you don’t have the money to communicate it to them via the mass media they will not find out what your policies are and it will not matter how much they would have wanted to vote for you if they’d known about them.

    As for academic pretensions, I’m not sure that this helps Bryce’s argument. Now, I am not going to put my degrees on the line but I am fairly handy with Google’s scholar search tool and I think it’s worth pointing out that when one searches for ‘scholarly’ articles on electoral spending one gets well over 20 thousand hits. I didn’t read them all nor check their peer reviews so I guess it’s possible that every ‘robust’ study actually supports Bryce, however, my flick through does not support this conclusion.

    BJ – I totally agree that there are still big loop holes. But yeah, the Greens are probably better supporting it than rejecting it for not going far enough.

    DPF- do you think it was a problem that the Nats spent so much money electioneering before it ‘counted’? Do you agree that this spending helped them?


  12. I do find it interesting that the Greens are the party that preaches tolerance yet offer none to the EB.

    It seems that you can attack the EB, George Bush and white middle class males but not attack anybody based on colour, sex, sexual preference, nationality or religion.

    Why are the Greens so determined to silence the democratic right of the EB to say they do not like or agree with you?

  13. Russel says:
    ‘Glad that you’re on the page that there is some kind of relationship between money and politics’
    Of course – I’ve never said otherwise. What I’m trying to get across is that proponents of greater restrictions on political activity have this grossly inflated idea of how important money is. It almost seems as if some liberals or ex/leftists want to jump onto a populist crusade to fight some phantom demon. Meanwhile all the time they ignore the real structural causes of political inequality in society – which is bound up with the economic system, not some conspiracy theory about Business Roundtable ogres.

    Russel says:
    ‘You seem to me to have a very abstract understanding of politics’
    I guess this is what politicians say when you want to defeat any dissenting academic analysis of politics – there’s a long tradition of it NZ, so welcome aboard… ‘Bloody intellectuals’ eh! 😉 But the point is that in a debate as important as this one we need to look at academic studies on these issues – and all the robust academic studies of the relationship between politics and money show that this relationship is relatively weak. By ignoring ‘abstract’ thinking or ‘intellectualism’ the Greens (and Labour) have failed to actually show that an overwhelming problem exists, nor they their solutions will solve it.

    Russel says:
    ‘That’s why parliaments the world over have such restrictions.’
    Have you ever wondered why elites throughout the world are so keen to place supposed restrictions on themselves? It’s normally because the elites configure electoral finance laws that act to benefit themselves in various ways.

    Russel says:
    ‘Funny that you’re on the same side as Act’
    Well I like to think of myself as non-dogmatic and willing to take the political side of anyone else regardless of whether I disagree with most of their other politics. I even sometime argue the same line as the Greens! I also tend to think that ‘money is wasted on the rich’… So many of the wealthy that intervene in politics in NZ are wasting their money – especially because so often it has a counter effect. For example, I’m sure the National Party would agree with me that the Exclusive Brethren campaign was counterproductive to them. Likewise, the Green Party probably owes their existence in Parliament to such huge amounts of money being targeted at them.


  14. Russel

    The $60K cap applies to any one registered entity. Duplicated many times the noise in the election still IMHO threatens to overwhelm the signal.

    I guess I should be grateful that there is a limit at all at last 🙂

    Still, I’d rather it were a shorter period and a cleaner clearer break.

    Simple laws are MUCH easier to enforce.


  15. so russel..by ‘covered’..you mean they have to be taken into account..

    therefor my point the anti ge spend was way over sixty grand is correct..

    so..we are back to the suppression of free speech for one third of our time..nearly one year..(!)

    and you think this is a good/’green’ idea..?

    and as for your (snide?) dismissal of my ‘freewheeling posts’..

    russel..i am only saying..what many others are thinking..

    wether or not you..and the other green party leaders/mp’s take that on board..is entirely up to you..


  16. Gerrit. Not sure exactly what your saying but here’s my understanding of what the bill would do: If a GE Free group wanted to speak out during the election year there is nothing to stop them doing so in the media or on their website. If they wanted to take out paid advertising more than $5k they would need to register as a ‘third party’ and they couldn’t spend more than $60k. So they can still get their message out there.

    BJ, yes I see your point but so long as the voices of the parties are the predominant ones in the campaign and aren’t overwhelmed by the Business Roundtable etc then it should meet your objectives and that’s the purpose of the $60k cap.

  17. Russel

    They have the same rights everyone else has, but in counterpoint…

    Surely the people of NZ have a right to hear the unadulterated ideas of the parties themselves AT SOME POINT leading up to the election.

    Which follows from the fact that it is the ideas of the parties and their principles which are the actual issue of the election.

    As long as the mass media is clogged with all manner of misrepresentation of our ideas and policies and National’s and Labour’s and every other party’s, from all manner of folks who can say whatever they damned well please cause they have the money to say it, then a true contest of ideas can never occur.

    It isn’t a restraint that can legitimately be held for a LONG time, but it would make a large difference in the way people perceive the process and the parties themselves.

    I’d encourage them to do so anytime they like up to 60 days before the election. After that the ACTUAL viewpoints of each party and their arguments should hold sway. I should point out that with the limitations of equal time/funding/access in that period that I would also wish to see, any “negative” advertising used by a party would have to be subtracted from their opportunity to present their own message.


  18. Russel,

    “And Gerrit you don’t seem to know a lot about the GE Free movt”

    It is not about the money, it is about the ability to get the message out there. If the incumbent government has a policy pro-GE, then the Greens ant-GE message will come under electioneering for the 11 months prior to the election, and will need to be costed into the election funding.

    There goes your “free” speech.

    While the government justifies using ministerial expenditure as promoting the governments position.

    If you think that is good for New Zealand then make a public statement on it, dont hide behind the money issue.

    “And I would just remind people that in spite of all the rhetoric, this bill does not stop anyone making their case in the media at any time and allows people to buy advertising to influence the election – they just have to say who they are and they can’t buy as much as they like.”

    I fact anyone (including the Greens) can buy very little while the incumbent government can spend on promoting their policy till the tax payer wilts.

  19. bj, there is a simple elegance to banning all private spending! But surely non-party groups have a right to make their point even in the last months of the campaign.

    I encourage the Exclusive Brethren to run an ad campaign saying “EBs for National”, that’s democracy. I just want them to be up front about their identity and don’t want them to overwhelm the parties with their money.

  20. Perhaps an additional 3 week period just before the campaign in which NOBODY says anything. Sort of like the calm before the storm… in which we contemplate our navels and our sins and the public can concentrate on the Rugby. This would take away some of the power of “setting the agenda” ahead of the election.


  21. Russel – 11 months IS too long. 90 days is enough… heck 60 days is enough, You are talking about the election campaign itself, and we stand or fall on the merits of our ideas in that time.

    If During that time nobody is able to push lies about our ideas into the channels of mass communications and we are able to express them clearly in those same channels, the public will get a far better idea of the real differences between National, Labour, ACT and the “Really Useful” party. All the political parties benefit from the clarity that removing opinionated money provides, but it can’t be and IMHO need not be, as long as 11 months.


  22. Phil – goods and services are covered. With regard to the other elements of your freewheeling posts,…Free speech is not being closed down. That’s just rhetoric. the media are specifically excluded form the provisions and non-party groups are free to get invovled in the election, they just have to be honest about it by declaring who they are and there are limits on how much they can spend – just like the political parties.

    Bryce. Glad that you’re on the page that there is some kind of relationship between money and politics. You seem to me to have a very abstract understanding of politics but there you have it. As a practising politician (hope to get better!) I am very confident that it is essential to place restrictions on the influence of money in the campaign. That’s why parliaments the world over have such restrictions. Funny that you’re on the same side as Act and the wealthy who are very firmly of the view that money buys influence which is why they fund parties and third parties and vigorously resist attempts to place caps on spending and donations trasnparent.

    dpf. I like engaging in this when I get the time and it’s bloody important. Yes point taken – you do have a simple point of departure for the start of the regulated period. Problem is that it’s not working very well because your lot showed how effectively you can set the agenda in the months leading up to the three month regulated period by spending lots of money in a very smart manner. There’s no way the Greens can afford to do that so it meant that your party with lots of money got an unfair advantage IMHO. I’m open to other ideas to deal with this issue so that elections are fairer but this is one way.

    And I would just remind people that in spite of all the rhetoric, this bill does not stop anyone making their case in the media at any time and allows people to buy advertising to influence the election – they just have to say who they are and they can’t buy as much as they like.

  23. Russel – firstly thanks for actually engaging on this issue. It’s a credit to you and the Greens that you have a co-leader engaged in such dialogue.

    The reality with campaigns is that they start the day after the previous election. If you use this as a rationale to restrict advertising, then one can advocate that limits should apply always. Campaigns are permament. Every day the debate and battle is at least implicitly about changing people’s minds for the next election.

    So to use that as a justification for an 11 month period of “restricted speech” is to justify it for 36 months.

    I can justify 90 days. It is when the Government goes into caretaker mode and when Parliament basically stops passing laws.

    While Parliament is in full law making mode, NZers should be able to spend money complaining about those law.

  24. Russel’s counterfactual argument about politics and money don’t actually work. First, because no one is saying that ‘money has *no* effect on politics’ – the argument is actually that the proponents of the ‘reform’ greatly exaggerate its impact and simplicity. Second, the argument ignores all the other more important reason that National did so well in the 2005 election. Regardless of whether we liked their message or not (and I personally didn’t), National actually had a political programme that was attractive to a huge part of the electorate. I doubt the billboards had a such a overwhelming impact, and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the advertising turned voters off National (just as the Greens’ strange billboards undoubtedly lost the party many votes). National’s election expenditure amounts goes up and down with different elections, and yet their party vote doesn’t necessarily follow that same direction. For example, in 1999 National increased their expenditure by a whooping 40%, taking their spend to $2.7m, yet the party actually lost 10% of their vote and were turfed out of government. Billboards couldn’t help them!

    The Act example given by Russel actually also disproves his argument. The experience of Act shows that a party can spend as many millions as they want but it won’t buy them power. Act have often been the biggest spending party, yet their percentage of the vote has declined drastically. They no longer even show up in the polls! If you’re trying to sell a discredited and stale policy like neoliberalism, no amount of money is going to save you. And it would be silly to argue that Act only got into Parliament in 1996 because of their money. You don’t have to be an Act supporter to acknowledge that in 1996 there was actually at least a 5% constituency in favour of continuing Rogernomics. The party actually stood for something that many people believed in, and the debates around neoliberalism actually had real political currency. Similarly, this is why the Alliance party also received 10% of the vote in that election. And, in fact, the Alliance provide another good example to disprove Russel’s argument. The Alliance party (which included the Greens) stood on a relatively radical left platform in the 1993 and received a huge 18% of the vote – despite having stuff all money to spend. In subsequent elections the Alliance had more and more money to spend, but their vote went down and down.

    Russel says that ‘you need money to communicate your messages to voters’ – but this is mainly only true if you see party politics as akin to selling baked beans or soap powder. Other people would say its about party ideology, a good election programme, a strong party organisation, and lots of willing party members and activists. Sadly it seems that the Greens are moving towards this ‘selling a brand’ with money approach.


  25. and goods..?..russel..and services..?

    are they also excluded..?

    and that is your only answer/response to the raft of issues arounfd this i and others have raised..?

    (playing ‘questiontime rules’..are we..?..)

    so..please tell us how you defend the suppression of free speech you are engaged in..


  26. “It is illogical to limit spending by parties if other interests are not also controlled. Supporters or opponents of a party or candidate should not be able to promote their views without restriction merely by forming campaign organisations ‘unaffiliated’ to any party…Nor should powerful or wealthy interest groups be able to spend without restriction during an election campaign while [the parties] are restricted.? Royal Commission on the Electoral Commission Report, 1986, p.193

  27. dpf. The issue is that the campaign goes over a much longer period than 90 days so if the caps on spending are to be meaningful they need to cover a longer time. We both know this to be true but for others here is a useful quote:

    “Under MMP the lead up for the campaign is just as important as the campaign itself. It is imperative that National maintain a high level of activity during the next two years prior to the commencement of the campaign itself.? Stephen Joyce, National Party Campaign Manager 2005 in Hollow Men p.214.

    Now we can argue about the exact length but 90 days won’t do it.

  28. Phil

    I’m with you on this ‘un.


    The only difference between me and Russell is I would cap the non-parties at $0 for the last 45-60 days before the vote… but I do agree with you that 11 months is way too long to have an election and it invites abuse in terms of money to have electioneering going on that long.

    Personally I regard the situation with such a jaundiced eye that I would eliminate the private funding entirely for such a period. Government buys some number of full page adverts, funds a number of pages on the web, and a series of debates.

    The difficulty is figuring out what a real political party is and keeping that bar low enough so that any newcomers aren’t locked out… the advantage is that arguments about who overspent disappear, the suspicions about someone “buying” influence through campaign contributions disappear.

    … and during the campaign the only adverts and voices I want to hear are those of the parties themselves. It’s THEIR ideas, not other people’s interpretations of what they say, which should be in the debate. Greens or Labour or National or the “Really Useful Party” can win on ideas or they can’t… but they shouldn’t be getting handicapped by whether Unions or Businesses or Religious organizations have the most money.

    Which makes me more radical than most here on this issue… but then, I’ve seen what money does to elections in the USA. There is NO way it is a good thing. Free speech is fine. Advertising isn’t free.


  29. Phil. This statement is false: “you know very well that if as required under this new legislation that ‘free’/donated labour/times/services had to be taken into any spending limiit accounting” .

    Donated time is still specifically excluded from the definition of donation – see s.22 of the bill.

  30. btw..if a political party..of any stripe ..cannot sell/tell it’s messages/policies in a ninety day election campaign..they don’t deserve to win..

    i can only echo what others are saying..and that closing down one third of our political lives/debate..

    is anti-democratic/anti-free speech in the extreme..

    and a warning to you..

    if you follow through and support..are part of..this exercise in repression..

    a large component of your support will ‘walk away’..

    and you may well cite nationals’ billboard campaign last time out..

    but hey.!..i see that as one of the knobbly/gnarly/uncomfortable bits of democracy/free speech..

    and as just a call to those holding/arguing/promoting opposing views to sharpen their act up/clarify those messages/ripostes..

    and of course..an inadverdant result of nationals billboard campaign/getting close to labour..

    ..was the goodies/middle-class welfare bribes clark/labour showered upon some/most..

    do you really think you would have got all those ‘last minute goodies’ if the polling hadn’t been kneck and kneck..?


  31. if I had a dollar for every time BB has said “the people of NZ will not stand for this” 🙂

    BB says “the Labour left wing coalition” – so does that mean that BB thinks that NZ First and United Future are left wing parties as well as Labour?

  32. russel..

    you know very well that if as required under this new legislation that ‘free’/donated labour/times/services had to be taken into any spending limiit accounting..

    that the anti-ge campaign would have blown out well over the sixty thousand dollar limit..

    you/the greens really are on a hiding to nowhere supporting/defending this piece of toxic legislation..

    the more it is examined..the higher the stench..

    i think it’s time to flop when you meant to flip..

    admit you made a bad call..and try to retain some dignity/credibility by rescinding that approval..

    ..and calling for the ‘real’ election campaign financing reform we were promised..

    cos’ this dogs’ breakfast isn’t it..


  33. Russel – I am not against a cap on non-party spending during the campaign period. But extending such restrictions out to an entire year so that for 30% of our entire lives non-parties are restricted as to how much they can spend on issues they are passionate about is deeply concerning to me.

    If one had a more concise time period, then one could have a lower limit for non parties. But when you have an 11 month time period, $60,000 is way too low. I could probably live with something like $150,000 (will pay two ads in all the major newspapers) over the last 90 days. But if you are talking an entire year, even that is too low – especially when it prevents them from even taking a stance on a policy issue.

    I really think you should also look at the effect on small protest groups. They are going to have to sign statutory declarations just to advertise a protest march in election year. The bureaucracy around this bill will be massive.

  34. dpf. I am willing to argue over the level of the cap on non-party interventions, but we need a cap on non-party spending just like we need (and have) a cap on party spending. And it needs to be lots less than the party spending cap of around $2m.

    This is especially important as Nat and Lab push the limit of the spending cap, with the potential for extra money to be diverted to non-party actors.

    Gerrit. We are very far from cosy with Labour as you would realise if you followed our public statements. There are restrictions on govt funded ad campaigns. Perhaps they should be looked at again in light of this bill but my understanding is that they all have to stop around June 2008 and the auditor general is keeping a close eye on it.

    And Gerrit you don’t seem to know a lot about the GE Free movt because we had nothing like $60k to spend on the campaign. We organised the Auckland rally for example with a budget of less than $10k – all borrowed until we collected money in buckets at the rally to pay the bills! I don’t think GE Free NZ will struggle to keep under a $60k limit.

  35. Russell reveals inadvertently how much this favours incumbents.

    ACT are the only party in the last 40 years or so to get elected to Parliament without already having incumbent MPs. This is a good thing that a party can overcome the massive advantage of incumbancy to break in.

    Russel also says “Having money to communicate your messages is a necessary but not sufficient condition of political success.”

    Now I couldn’t agree more. So having agreed money is necessary to communicate your message, why would one want to stop parties being able to communicate? Of course there should be some limit, but they are not even keeping pace with inflation.

    As Russel says money does not persuade people to vote for you by itself. It allows people to hear your message, but they still decide whether or not they agree with that message. ACT are proof positive that one can spend a massive amount of money yet as we saw in 2005 get decimated.

  36. On demonstrating the influence of money on politics…

    Perhaps the easiest way to address it is counterfactually. Imagine if National had not had the money to run their huge billboard campaign throughout 2005 (and outside the expenditure limited period) worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think their election outcome would have been significantly lower. Likewise if National had only $100k to spend in the campaign period and Labour had $2m, it would’ve made a big difference.

    Or consider the example of Act in 1996. In 1996 Act got into parliament for the first time and spent $1.6m, more than any other party. Labour spent $860k and Nats $1.4m. There is no way Act would’ve made it into parliament in 1996 without such a huge spend. Act represents the far right business sector and they funded Act’s campaign and got their reps in parliament (aside from the far right within Labour and National!).

    The far right have access to much more money for their campaigns and it influences the election outcome. That’s why we have rules to even up the playing field a little bit.

    And speaking as a former campaign manager, you need money to communicate your messages to voters. Having money to communicate your messages is a necessary but not sufficient condition of political success.

  37. Russell said “otherwise would become a war of money like in the US”.

    More like a war of coins. A $60,000 limit over 11 months in an election year is reprehensibly low.

    You are banning free speech for around 30% of our lifetime.

  38. Roman said:
    ‘please name one election in NZ which has been bought’
    I think this would be a tough question to answer. Donations just don’t play the overwhelming role in politics that liberals say it does. Business does indeed assert huge power in politics – but it’s not through the conspiracy and donations, it’s through their structural position in the economy. So, for example, the most controversial and revolutionary swing to the right by a governing party was the election of the Fourth Labour Government in 1984. But the party received stuff all donations from business prior to the election. Labour then implemented its New Right economic revolution because it was basically forced to restructure the economy in favour of business to prevent an economic collapse.
    Of course there are always substantial donations to parties of the right – including Labour. According to the Electoral Commission donations figures that have been kept since 1996, Labour has declared donations of $4.5m over this period, and National has declared donations of $4.5m – virtually exactly the same. So it’s not like the business donations are heavily slanted to National and not Labour. What’s more, Labour has been the biggest spender in the last two elections!
    But this all raises the question of how much impact all this money really has. In many regards campaign money often appears to have the opposite affect and can reduce the vote for parties! And smaller parties like the Greens (or NZ First, or the Alliance) have shown that you can actually be very electorally successful without spending lots of money. Basically, ideas and political programmes are more important in elections than money ever will be. If the Green are worried that they keep falling below the 5% mark in opinion polls they should start looking at their increasingly moderate electoral programme not their lack of big business donations.

  39. Russell,
    please name one election in NZ which has been bought. In the last one National had more money (just) and yet Labour still won.You are being disingenuous.
    Actually you could argue that labour bought the election with interest free student loans….oh, and now that I think more about it.
    Maybe you are right Russel. If you add the money Labour stole from us for election funding, then they did spend more and did indeed buy the last election.
    Hmm, with that in mind, perhaps this legislation will be good.

  40. russel..

    i must confess to be tiring somewhat of this forelock-tugging/incrementalist ‘we are only six votes’ excuse for lack of achievements/movement/anything(?) from the green party..

    y’see..some of us out here see this differently..

    those of us who over the years worked our guts out to help get you where you are..

    our expectations were/are that we were doing that to provide you the platform from which to speak up/out for the environment..

    and we see that you have the (powerful) tools of parliament/media/funding..

    yet..out fear of causing ‘offence’ to your political masters(?) in labour..

    you have not..and continue not to do much at all..

    your support of this bill..(cos’ it’s a little bit better’..when in fact the whole exercise just ‘reeks’..).

    is really just the latest example..

    (i don’t know what the f*ck you people think you are doing..

    but you sure as hell are doing s.f.a of what we expected of you..


    and as perhaps an example of the (terminal?) malaise in the greens..

    i received an email from a frog yesterday..asking me why i commented/wrote here on the greens falling under 5% in the polls..when neither frog..nor ‘an authorised frogblog editor’ had made a post on that discussion’..(!)

    in my reply..i noted that if we were restricted to discussions on only the subjects raised/authorised by frog..

    that not much would be talked about..

    and on that subject..i asked when we might look forward to seeing the first post on frogblog on metirias’ (unwanted) success..in getting her medical marijuana bill pulled from the parliamenty ballot..)

    his response was to abruptly cease the conversation…his original ‘concerns’ totally forgotten about..

    “..’i’ll pass that on..really busy..seeya..”

    and i would ask readers to consider the current waves of green publicity we are getting over bradford just ‘proposing’ to enter a voting age lowering bill into that ballot..

    but on the (they think) ‘poisoned-chalice'(?) of medcal cannabis..

    where they are already over that hurdle..?

    the silence is/has been resounding…

    (in many ways..russel..you seem to be so ‘off-course’..as to almost be beyond repair..)

    and believe me..i take no delight in seeing your current ‘course’ leading to there being at worst..no green mp’s..

    and at best..’more of the same’..?

    (it just ain’t good enough..!..)


  41. Russell,

    This bill proposes that the government have unlimited spending power to advertise government policies for the 11 months before the elections. While the opposition and third parties have very limited capacity to promote their policies because of the spending limits.

    Now this may be good while you are cosied up to Labour, think about if another party was the government and you were not so cosy with them.

    That party may have a policy to allow GE modified seeds into the country.

    For the eleven months up to the election they can freely use government coffers to promote that policy, while the Greens anti-GE policy would come under electioneering and be costed into their election spending cap.

    That is seriously what you want?

  42. Russel says:
    ‘Not a complete slam dunk on anon donors’
    This is somewhat of an understatement! The proposed rules against anonymous donations to “third parties” look to be incredibly simple to get around. If this is what the Greens are proposing to apply to political parties, then it would actually make the problem you seek to solve even worse. Under this situation voters would be told by the Greens and others that they don’t need to worry anymore about anonymous donations, yet the rules would be completely circumvented straight away! I guess this is what you call creating ‘a false sense of security’. It makes all the Greens statements on these matters also sound rather like rhetoric… But more than this, the Green Party never back up their statements about “money buying politics” or “money undermining democracy”. Is this just populist rhetoric too? Or can the Greens supply some proper arguments for clamping down on political liberties? And what does the party propose to deal with the much bigger problem of the misuse of parliamentary and ministerial resources (eg Labour’s electioneering credit card propaganda)? Or have the Greens got too much to lose to take up this significant electoral problem?

  43. We decided to support the bill because even tho it didn’t get rid of the anonymous donations regime, it did make some other positive changes to restrict the influence of money on elections. It’s the nature of parliamentary politics – with six votes in 121 we can’t dictate – so Labour’s bill made some progress so we vote for it while pointing out its limitations.

    We support the restrictions on “third party” actors. There are restrictions on how much parties can spend which is good – otherwise would become a war of money like in the US. But if there is no restriction on how much the Brethren or the business organisations or the unions can spend then they will get around the cap by directing money to their non-party allies. Common overseas. Non party organisations can still campaign but they have to be transparent and there are limits. Otherwise it becomes a race to see who can spend the most and democracy is undermined by money.

    The bill does not silence voices. That’s just rhetoric.

    You can legislate to significantly tighten up the rules on anonymous donations. they do overseas and even the section in the bill for “third parties” shows how you could do it for parties too. Any donation over $500 to “third parties” that is anonymous has to be handed over to the Chief Electoral Officer. And the section on “transmitters” basically says its illegal to pretend that a donation is from a trust when you know that it is really from someone else laundering it through a trust. Not a complete slam dunk on anon donors buy a good start particularly when combined with the section that says that if a party official knows the true source of a donation they must declare it to the party’s financial agent.

    There is no extention of public funding of political parties in the bill.

  44. Gerrit

    Read this post from David Farrar on kiwiblog.

    “But the Greens were not wrong. The Coalition for Open Government says the same thing, and having reread the bill, I concur with them. This is just quite frankly bizarre. No Right Turn labels the bill disappointing and a betrayal.”

  45. Gerrit says:
    ‘The socialist will be for the legislation’
    Actually – no genuine socialist would support such a clamp down on political activity. A true socialist would see the Electoral Finance Bill as a sham that’s likely to reduce opportunities for socialist participation in politics. Traditionally the left has been opposed to this sort of state heavy-handedness in democracy – and throughout the work its generally been the left that’s ended up being the victims of it. However, I can understand Gerrit having this view, as there seem to be a lot of liberals (or maybe even leftists) in NZ who have a mania for party finance ‘reform’. But such activity is really only chasing shadows. They simplistically think that if we try to keep large amounts of money out of politics then there will be a level playing field and hence ‘true democracy’. But any genuine socialist will realise that the real influence of money in politics is not through individual business donations, but through the structural position of economy. All parties that seek to manage the economy in NZ – including the Greens – ultimately have to make themselves compatible with the needs of capital. Hence parties like the Greens steadily move to the right (as they’ve been doing) and towards ‘respectability’. This has very little to do with financial contributions to the party.

  46. I guess the Greens are hoping that as a coalition partner in the government it can ride on the shirt-tails of the massively distorted preference given to cart blanche pro-government advertising in the 11 months prior to an election versus oppostion and third parties who are totally constrained by spending limits.

    I suggest that the Greens parliamentary leadership have a seriously good long hard look at this and kick the bill into touch.

    There may be a short term gain while Labour is the government, but long term as government are elected and unelected the day may well come when the Greens wont be able to get their message out to the voters.

    This proposed legislation will silence any anti-government discussion into a whimper during the 11 months before an election.

    If there was one piece of legislation that all environmentalist should rally against it is this one. Your voice may be silenced on issues like GE and Carbon Emmisions if the government of the day decrees it “electioneering”

    This will also set up an interesting differing of opinion between the socialist and environmentalist in the Greens.

    The socialist will be for the legislation while the environmentalist will be against (or should be if they want to be able to offer a voice against government policy).

  47. This is a disgusting piece of legislation, it is a naked attempt by the left to silence those who wish to criticise the govt while giving the parasites of the union movement the freedom to attack any policy they do not like by the opposition, I note that under this piece of legislation the pledge card would be legal!
    It also goes against the basic human right to give your money to who ever you wish.

    Make no mistake this is the beginning of full tax payer funding of political parties, the only saving grace that I can see is that the people of NZ will not stand for this, I believe that this may well be the final nail in the coffin of the Labour left wing coalition.

  48. if this bill dosen’t do the job..

    which it clearly dosen’t..

    why have you/the greens pledged to support it through to law..?

    why don’t you stand up and argue for the political funding/donation reform that we all expected..?

    basically nothing has changed..

    except you are helping labour stop national from doing another billboard campaign next year..

    and as far as those anonymous donations are concerned..?

    this bill you are supporting..just makes them easier..(!)

    because whereas before there was meant to be chinese walls preventing party officials from knowing who those doners are..

    ..this bill/legislation you are supporting..does away with those chinese walls..

    so the pollies can now know who is buying them..

    so..business as usual..

    all in all..it smells like labour have just put another over on you..



  49. The Green Party has been centrally involved with the negotiations on what would and wouldn’t be in the bill (to the exclusion of other parliamentary parties), so perhaps they can shed some light on this strange omission? There is plenty of discussion on this over at Kiwiblog
    It’s been suggested that this issue was omitted because official couldn’t actually come up with a viable solution to deal with the problem. After all, whenever the state clamps down heavily on political activity there are almost always many worse consequences as well as an ability to actually solve the ‘original problem’. And so the proposed bill seems mostly concerned with shutting down dissent – and for that reason it’d be rather sad if the Greens go along with it.

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