Thursday, 1 October 2009

NOT PJ: Electoral Finance React

This week Bernard Darnton says something political, and doesn’t even tell the Electoral Commission what time he’ll be home.

_BernardDarnton The Electoral Finance Act is back from the grave. It turns out that incumbency protection is far more appealing when you’re the incumbent.

The Labour press release on the topic is not so much eye-opening as gob-opening. David Parker complains that “the Government is happy to consult only on aspects of electoral reform that suits it.” Yiddish lexicographer (amongst other things) Leo Rosten described chutzpah as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

There’s no need to actually read the press release. We know what Labour’s preferred system would look like. Phil Goff may have apologised for scolding us about what shape lightbulbs we use and how many litres flow through our shower heads but you can be sure that Labour still knows exactly how many spots a leopard should have and won’t tolerate any alternative.

At the time the original Bill was being debated, National’s freedom-loving cohort – and it’s genuine, if inconsistent – was in the fore. A few cynics suggested that they were just in it for their own venal reasons but I was just happy to be fighting for something popular for a change.

However, like any large political party, National is also home to the pompous and the power-hungry. Their objection to the Electoral Finance Act wasn’t its contents but the fact they weren’t doing politics, they were having politics done to them.

Beside them were the thin-skinned – the ones who were upset because they weren’t asked nicely (or at all) about what should be in the new law. These people should get another job. If politics was about asking nicely for things I wouldn’t have so much to complain about each week.

So back comes the tinkered-with version. There will still be restrictions on who you can give money to, and how much. There will still be restrictions on what you’re allowed to say during an election campaign and in which media you’re allowed to say it. There will still be requirements to register with the Electoral Commission if you’d like permission to speak and to put your address on flyers so that nutters can stick knives in your lawn.

Advocates for election-period gagging rules, like Green co-leader Metiria Turei, are constantly in a flap about money: “It is vital that New Zealand’s democracy cannot be bought by big business.” Here’s the thing: it can’t anyway. The correlation between money spent on an election campaign and number of votes gained is very weak. As the New Zealand record holder for dollars spent per vote, I should know.

The Exclusive Brethren, another of Turei’s bogeys, know too. They’re always used as an example of what was wrong with the old system – big money from mysterious groups piling in to swing an election. The trouble is the plan was a complete failure. It didn’t work. It didn’t come close to working. If it was a dog you’d shoot it. If it was a person you’d insulate its house and pay it to breed.

Justice Minister Simon Power’s proposal document asks for more advice on “how the scheme could uphold freedom of expression, be simple and easy to comply with.”

Lindsay Perigo responds to Power’s challenge in the only way it’s possible to respond to wordy regulatory blather – by stating the bleeding obvious: “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.”

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *


  1. Sean Fitzpatrick1 Oct 2009, 12:03:00

    "If it was a person you’d insulate its house and pay it to breed."


  2. Exactly what I thought, too, Sean!

  3. All a pretty good plan - except for one thing.

    If unions etc and the labour movement have not been disestablished before this bill passes then the bill must include explicit spending provisions banning their contributions to any political cause whatsoever

  4. Why not repair to what Perigo recommends? I mean, it's so bleeding obvious. Just let people say what they want and distribute their ideas by whatever means they like. Hardly difficult. Really easy to oversee (of course, that's it! You don't have to expend ANY effort or resource overseeing ANYTHING!). And that's likely the point.

    There is no need to oversee or regulate anything here. None.

    No need for a commisar of electoral finance.

    No need for a second secretariat of electoral broadcast suitability.

    No need for any of these stacks of shit. None necessary.




    PS. Sinner, don't worry about the unions. Let them spend whatever they like saying whatever they like. All that is necessary is that that freedom of association is upheld. Beyond that they can sing arias from helicopters. It simply isn't anyone's business to oversee them, just as it isn't anyone's business to oversee another peron's opinions/speech either.

  5. Sinner, don't worry about the unions. Let them spend whatever they like saying whatever they like. All that is necessary is that that freedom of association is upheld.

    Well I mostly agree with this - but only if you remove all the special protections unions have in our current laws. In other words, as Perigo might put it: remove all union and employment legislation and repair to racketeering and criminal conspiracy legislation.

    When there are civil and criminal penalties for witholding labour (breach of employment contracts); for conspiring to damage employer's businesses; for conspiring to increase the price of labour, etc then I agree: we don't need special union laws or exemptions in the EFA and elsewhere.

    Of course - in such a legal framework unions as we know it could not exist so it is rather a moot point.

  6. Well Bernie, you could've been a tad more transparent about what happened to the Darnton vs Clark cash once the court case fell through.

    Pharisaical libz.


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