Remember the protests over Labour’s Electoral Finance Act? Remember the wriggling by Greens and Labour supporters attempting to justify this outrageous assault on free speech? Remember the campaigns against it by the Free Speech Coalition and John Boscawen? Remember all the heroes? Remember the subsequent abolition of the Act by National and the apology by Phil Goff – and the promise that National would eventually dream up something better with which to replace it?
The National-led Government's draft proposals for legislation to replace the vicious Electoral Finance Act make one wonder why National bothered keeping its much-vaunted promise to repeal that Act, since what is proposed by Justice Minister Simon Power is in many instances indistinguishable from what was, says SOLO Principal Lindsay Perigo.
For instance, on state funds for election broadcasting:
The Government is consulting on three options for reform of the broadcasting allocation as follows:
1. Status quo - retain the current broadcasting allocation regime.
2. Moderate reform - allowing broadcasting funds to be spent in any media, and not just radio and television.
3. Significant reform - allowing broadcasting funds to be spent for any purpose, and not just election advertising.
Retain the regime governing donations to constituency candidates and political parties that was developed as part of the Electoral Finance Act 2007, and now forms part of the Electoral Act 1993.
On campaign spending limits:
Increase expenditure limits for constituency candidates and political parties (last increased in 1995), and periodically adjust limits for inflation.
On political ads:
Require promoter’s name and full street address and suburb which is either a residential address, or is where the promoter can usually be contacted during the day (cannot be a PO Box).
On campaigning by third parties:
The Government is consulting on two options for regulation of parallel campaigners:
1. Proportionate regulation - this option will establish campaign expenditure limits and thresholds over which the parallel campaigner must register with the Electoral Commission - unlike the Electoral Finance Act 2007, however, the scheme is weighted in favour of freedom of expression, and is simple and easy to comply with.
The Government is therefore requesting further submissions on how the scheme could uphold freedom of expression, be simple and easy to comply with.
2. Status quo - this option could be subject to possible modification, such as restriction of parallel campaigning to New Zealand individuals and groups.
On radio and television advertising by third parties:
The Government is consulting on two options:
1. Allow parallel campaigners to advertise on radio and television, provided that they are subject to a system of proportionate regulation (the first option proposed for the overall regulation of parallel campaigners).
2. Retain the current prohibition.
On whether you'll be fined $100,000 for exercising your right to free speech:
The new stand-alone electoral agency will be tasked with publishing guidance on electoral finance rules and providing advisory opinions on whether publications amount to an election advertisement.
Penalties for electoral finance offences were increased significantly by the Electoral Finance Act 2007, as were the time limits for prosecution of serious electoral finance offences.
[The Government would] retain the offences and penalties regime and time limits that were developed as part of the Electoral Finance Act 2007 and now forms part of the Electoral Act 1993.
"This is all contemptible," says Perigo. "Sell-out Simon asks how the scheme could better uphold freedom of expression, be simple and easy to comply with. Well, here’s something simple, Simon. Just repair to Section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act, which upholds 'the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.'
"No restrictions on who may fund whom (publicly or privately), who may campaign for whom, who may advertise for whom and with whom—and no taxpayer money to anyone. That's freedom of expression, Simon, and it's darned simple and easy to comply with.
"For precisely that reason, one fears, the National Socialists will do the opposite and proceed with this reprehensible resuscitation of the very Act they so recently dumped. This would be sufficient reason to dump them," Perigo concludes.
UPDATE: By way of contrast, David Farrar – a chief promoter of the Kill the Bill campaign- says of Simon’s EFA-Lite, “Overall it is a good document. . . .” Apparently it’s only bad when Labour promotes such things.
Meanwhile, Marty G. at The Standard is at least more principled. He was for Labour’s assault on free speech, and he’s for this one as well. Says Mart “At first blush, Power appears to have done a reasonable job and he’s done it by largely keeping the EFA intact.” Our evaluation of the latter is the same – it’s the former on which we disagree.