Citz Assembly

One of the ways we tried to find a way out of the logjam around the Electoral Finance Act last year was to support a Citizens Assembly on campaign finance. It seemed to us that it should be the people that take the lead on electoral finance rather than the parties. And a citizens assembly properly resourced could do this. We got $4.3m in the budget for an expert panel and a citz assembly.

The idea was that the expert panel would be independent and widely respected individuals. They would lead the process and the assembly – but the members of the assembly would be randomly chosen from each electorate (randomly choose a small group, invite them to a meeting, tell them what’s invovled, give them a chance to pull out, randomly choose one person from those left).

The negotiations over the terms of reference for the citz assembly are still underway unfortunately. I would very much like the process to be underway already. Labour aren’t necessarily big fans of the idea but are in negotiations with us about it, and National have expressed their suspicion of such a process, in the Herald today, but I hope that they change their mind. If they seriously want to take the partisan politics out of electoral finance reform then surely this is the way to do it.

David Farrar says some silly National Party things about the citz assembly but he also makes some good points over at Kiwiblog. He says the political party buyin should be as broad as possible – I agree with that but don’t know how to acheive it give the politicisation of the issue.

He also says that the terms of reference should be broad. I agree that they should be broader than simply ‘state funding of parties’ but after talking to Jonathan Rose (an expert on citz assemblies) I’m not sure the ToR should be too broad. He says that if they’re too broad the assembly lacks focus. maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere.

Anyway, hopefully it will be resolved soon.

19 Comments Posted

  1. Looked into the EFA today. There s nothing preventing any person from stating their own views on any issue. What you can’t do it tell people who to vote for or not to vote for. So if you had the money, you could put ads on the TV day and night expressing YOUR views in any issue. As long as you don’t refer to any candidate or party or THEIR policies, you’re totally in the clear and the EFA simply isn’t even relevant.

    You want a law requiring everyone to paint their left leg blue? Get on down to TVNZ and book your ad time. All you need to do is state your position and provide your name and address. Done. Talk yourself silly. It’s your view. State it.

    I spoke to the Electoral Commission today and they confirmed this is correct.

    If people don’t understand the implications of this, they lack imagination.

  2. Strings, love your idea of such a level playing field. If the Greens suggested this, they’d get called worse than communists!

  3. Strings: On the EFA and freedom of speech. Any person can spend up to a certain amount without worrying about the EFA. So if citizens decide to target their street or their clubs or their extended families…..the can happily pay for speech without incurring any problems. Toner for a printr is $150 for 6000 sheets. Paper is $7 / reem of 500 sheets. So a person cold print off a LOAD of their own materials for their own neighbourhood and still remain well below the cap….and the EFA isn’t relevant other than the cap. My family has 4 people in it. That gives is 4 times that cap per individual. It adds up pretty quickly. Some imagination would be useful in this matter (not referrig to you – just generally. The EFA is framed so as to limit the scope of the few with deep pockets to drown the rest of us out.

    The EFA – if I read it right – says anyone can spend up to $1000 in one electorate or up to $12,000 in more than one electorate (two?) without having to register as a Third Party. Provided you meet the regs as to content, that’s a LOT of free speech for any single person. Who is going to spend more than $12,000, for example, in Auckland, Wellington or where ever? Did you plan to? I certainly don’t….and not would 99.9% of the voters.

  4. Outinfront
    >>Not voting Green because of the EFA? Like it’s THE top priority? I don’t understand thinking so unconnected to what really matters

    It seems to me that you have a problem with free speech. (Or should I say Paid For speech? – Yeah, that’s probably more appropriate).
    I have a problem with that position, but what the heck, I can deal with it quite simply! Here’s the proposition.

    Every party registered with the Electoral Commission gets 8 minutes of air-time on TVNZ, paid for by Parliament, to run consecutively on the night before the election at peak viewing time.
    Every party registered with the Electoral Commission gets to put up one representative for a five hour debate broadcast by National Radio on the Sunday prior to the election.
    All other campaigning must be done door-to-door, or on-the-street, with each registered candidate allowed to spend NO MORE than $500 on collatteral for distribution to voters.
    No advertising in newspapers will be allowed, nor will the errection of signs or posters, nor will the taking of polls form the day the ballot is called until voting day. (exit polls will be allowed)
    New media, of all kinds including blogs, will be able to report on happenings on any day, provided that ON THAT DAY (or in that edition or post) ALL PARTIES registered with the Electoral Commission are given the same extent of coverage (column inches, words, broadcast time, etc., as appropriate to the media).

    How does that appeal?

    Using this approach, we have total equity of opportunity, which is not affected by money availability nor spectacular spin.

  5. Well, you can gainsay me on the first point all you want davec, but you are wrong.

    I just gave you examples of how it limits the rich – go read the previous post.

    Electoral finance law is about maximising free speech while not allowing undue influence of particular groups. Just like not being able to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, there are restrictions that are justified. Spending unlimited sums so that your message is the only one that can be heard destroys democracy, so it is reasonable to put restrictions on such spending.

    Whether or not the current act is the best it could be (I agree it is far from that), the idea that regulation is needed is not new. New Zealand already had spending restrictions and an excluded period. A main complaint of the current law is that the period was extended from 3 months to the beginning of the election year. We are now more in line with Canada and the UK in this regard and I haven’t heard that their democracies have fallen over due to it.

    You are essentially arguing that there should be no regulation of election spending whatsoever. Fortunately that is a very minority view as it would have a devastating effect on freedom of expression.

    Finally, as for the Greens consulting its members, it does so more than any other party and did on this occasion too. If that is to be the standard of support, then Jeanette will be the next PM for sure.

  6. >>we tried to find a way out of the logjam

    You guys inflicted the EFA on us, and now you’re trying to take the moral high ground?

    You didn’t try very hard at all!

    Drafted (unspeakably badly) behind closed doors. You then supported it, and you then voted for it.

    We objected to it. We didn’t vote for it. That wasn’t hard to do.

    And now the suggestion is that we will have a committee of “independent” and “widely respected” “experts” who will – surprise surprise – support the status quo with a few minor tweaks to give the illusion the process has been productive?

    Scrap it. Get cross party support on electoral financing and put it to referendum.

  7. also regarding voting green. If a party wants to take the lead on electoral finance, it could have consulted its members then. It appears the Greens only consult its members when it suits and ignores the rest of the voting public’s views. As it has every right to. But its very selective involvement for a party that claims to be democratic, and for someone who was considering voting green its not a good look because at the end of the day the Greens not only limit the right of all people to equally have their say it agrees to limits on freedom of expression – particularly the way people can have their say – being sanctioned by law.

  8. davec, the Greens wanted much more public involvement, but couldn’t get others to agree.
    I very much doubt that, if that was the case it could have tried a lot harder. There were aspects of the EFA that they could have scuttled but chose not to, not because they didn’t want more public involvement, rather they were happy not to have any public involvement – including consultation of party membership.

    So, how does it limit the ability of the rich to influence election results – apart from restricting the EPMU? Democracy is about the right of people to have their say. the EFA is about limiting that right – and you call limiting freedom of expression democractic? I dont.

  9. davec, the Greens wanted much more public involvement, but couldn’t get others to agree. But as the bill does limit the unfair ability of the rich to influence election results, the conclusion was that it was worth supporting. Given the many other problems that have occurred since, I don’t know what the Greens would do if they could do it over again, but two points. First, the current problems are mainly for the political parties in Parliament. Things are much more straight forward for party organisations outside Parliament and for the public. And second, notice that we haven’t seen a big Nat spend up during election year like last time. It is very doubtful we’ll see them run another secret parallel campaign with the likes of the breatheren either. These are both very good outcomes for Kiwi democracy.

  10. The parties could simply propose a range of party funding options to go to a referendum, why could this not be done quickly for 2008?

    Is eveyone convinced the “experts” will favour their programme, or that the public need to be kept out of the decision making process?

  11. It seemed to us that it should be the people that take the lead on electoral finance rather than the parties.
    Agree. So why then didn’t it “seem to you” that the people should take the lead on bills regarding Electoral Finance, which the Greens supported and the reason why I am not voting Green this time.

  12. bb the straw man, you are so reliable. The Greens have six MPs before Russel comes in and six after, so no additional money being spent. And their MPs are funded the same way as all other MPs – we all pay for all of them. We get to choose from which party every three years. That’s the way we do it.

  13. we are raising our own money to campaign with, and you can help too at:

    You raise a straw man about the 95% business; taxpayer funding of political parties is based on the % vote, so National get much more than the Greens who get more than ACT.

    What you are arguing for is no taxpayer funding of any party so why don’t you just say that?

  14. Russ

    Go and raise your own money to campaign with, it is bad enough that you cynically manipulating the system so I have to pay for you to campaign this time around.

    Why on earth should the 95% of Kiwi’s in New Zealand who did NOT vote for you pay for your electioneering?

  15. independent and widely respected individuals

    Widely respected by who?

    randomly choose a small group, invite them to a meeting, tell them what’s invovled, give them a chance to pull out

    Pull out because they have a job and a family and no time, right?

  16. Clearly you don’t know what you’re talking about as the Greens wanted a citizen’s assembly from the very beginning, but the other parties scuttled it out of the legislation. They are the ones that are afraid to step aside for even a moment and let a group of citizens form a considered opinion on the matter of electoral finance. Calling the Greens elitist in this regard is a joke, when what they’re trying to do is ensure the money from the real elites doesn’t corrupt New Zealand like it has in the US and Oz.

  17. The Greens’ advocacy of a citizen assembly to resolve problems of electoral finance is particularly disingenuous . It was actually the Greens that played a strong role in and supported the backroom deal that was the EFA abomination. So for that party to attempt to take a high moral stand by saying ‘it should be the people that take the lead on electoral finance rather than the parties’ is nearly too laughable for words!

    The Greens’ leadership have shown a particular anti-democratic and elitist approach to political finance. By advocating a citizen assembly is now just attempt to cover up their appalling role in arrogantly ramming through a very poor but major re-write of electoral laws last year against public disquiet.


  18. I know Jonathon Rose, having worked on the Vote for MMP campaign in Ontario last year. What the Ontario government did with the output from the Citizens’ Assembly was worth noting: They buried it.

    When the referendum was held on MMP, Elections Ontario was legally not ALLOWED to tell people the substance of the CA recommendation of MMP.

    The report of the CA was effectively suppressed, being withdrawn from print just as the public began to show interest.

    Instead of having the FULL report delivered to every home, as the CA report in the British Columbia had been, the Ontario Government made it web-only and did nothing to actively inform voters about the CA recommendation.

    The CA process was sound. What happened AFTER was simply a disgusting abuse of power by incumbents.

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