Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Electoral funding

Today's big topic seems to be the Electoral Commission's allocation of broadcasting funding to the parties. The general consensus is that NZ First got ripped off, and I agree. At half the size of National, they should be a tier above the other minor parties when it comes to funding but instead they're left to languish on the same funding as the Greens. I guess this was the National rep on the commission's quid pro quo for his party getting less money than Labour - stomping on the fingers of its closest competitor.

But there is an unfortunate contradiction at the heart of our electoral broadcasting laws: we think money can buy elections, so we ban parties from using their own money for TV advertising and instead fund it out of a common pool. But then we rig the funding levels so as to favour those parties currently established - effectively perpetuating the status quo. And it doesn't help that the allocations are in part set by representatives of the two major parties, who share an interest in preventing anybody else from challenging them. It's a deeply unsatisfactory system, and one which cries out for reform - though not in the direction desired by the free marketeers. The outright corruption seen in the US (driven by politicians' and parties' need to raise ever larger war-chests to meet the costs of the advertising arms race) is not something I want to see here. Instead, it would be better to retain state funding, but divide the funds and time equally between parties so as to create a level playing field. Or at worst, use a two-tier system, differentiating between those who make it into Parliament or have a certain number of audited members or poll close to the threshold, and those who don't. It should be the voters who decide how well each party does - not the handicappers at the Electoral Commission...


There is no good answer.

A two-tier system is just another was to favour insiders, but with a digital switch from off to on instead of a gradual increase. Outsiders would find it very hard to break in.

You'd achieve a step in the same direction if you capped funding instead: eg, say that no party may receive more than 20% of the funding. But such a move is far from politically neutral: it would be a strong and definite political push towards pluralism, and both the two big parties would hate it.

Posted by Icehawk : 4/19/2005 11:26:00 AM

I think the system's fair enough really.

A 'flat' allocation would be a bias towards the smaller parties - if you looked at funding per "supporter" a Labour supporter would get a lot less funds than a McGillicuddy Serious supporter.

"Votes at the last election" would be the simplest and most constitutionally sound criteria - this would however discriminate against new parties and those whose support has increased, so I guess bringing opinion polls and membership in helps.

I suspect that ACT's failure to declare membership has led to this being regarded less as a criteria - rather than starting a fight over this. (really, I think that refusal to declare a membership should lead to a party being regarded as having zero members for funding purposes).

An alternative to this whole process would be to remove public funding but limit the total money a party could raise from any supporter to a figure affordable by an average voter (perhaps 2% of the average wage). This would stop small, rich parties from buying the election.

Posted by Rich : 4/19/2005 12:42:00 PM

Any system that gave the National Front the same amount of cash as Labour would seem to be a little weird, but the thing that strikes me about the current system is that there is no system really. Just about any formula at all, provided it were made public, would be preferable to a bunch of people sitting around a smoke filled room and coming out with an answer based on their negotiations.

Posted by Ranald : 4/19/2005 07:58:00 PM

Why should you look at funding per supporter? The relevant factors are the number of people the party is trying to reach (which is everyone in the country for most parties), and whether the party deserves to be heard at all (being registered should usually be sufficient to qualify). All legitimate parties should be given the same funding, and the voters left to decide which they prefer on polling day. The National Front isn't a legitimate party.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 4/20/2005 10:39:00 AM

Haha on that basis I might well start a party...

You would get lots of choice but it would be hugely expensive and confusing. When someone wanted to know "should I vote for Labour or National" they would instead just see hundreds of adds for me and you and any of a hundred other candidates.

Having said that i would make a brillient president / despotic leader.

Posted by Genius : 4/21/2005 07:31:00 PM

Want to start a party? Go for it. If you can get 500 people to pay to join your party, and a bunch of other people willing to join you as candidates, great, but that isn't a trivial task. If your party didn't stand other candidates, you'd only get funding for one electorate. I don't think a big surge in the number of parties would be likely.

If someone wants to know if they should vote for Labour or National, the answer is "no".

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 4/22/2005 09:06:00 AM

Icehawk: yes - but OTOH it doesn't discriminate between insiders. OTOH, the lower the switch is set, the easier it is for people to break in. And certainly if the threshold was lowered, I'd expect funding criteria to be as well.

CMT: I don't like the National Front or what they stand for, but they have as much right to compete to have their views heard as anybody else, and we shouldn't be stacking the deck against them. They're despicable, but every bit as legitimate as National or Labour.

Genius: democracy is a messy business. get used to it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/22/2005 09:14:00 PM