Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Trying to game the system?

ACT has refused to disclose its membership numbers to the electoral commission, even in confidence, out of fear that the numbers "will be leaked to opponents". While they're not legally obliged to disclose the figure, party membership is one of the criteria on which broadcasting allocations must be judged - and failing to disclose it may result in a lower allocation. But it may also result in a higher allocation, as the Commission may not want to risk underestimating - and given the contempt ACT has previously shown for election registration (they have previously outright refused to disclose funding or file post-election returns), I'm more than a little suspicious that they're trying to game the system in this way.

In the absence of proper disclosure, I'd suggest that the Commission go on the sole membership figure it has available: ACT's declaration that it has at least 500 financial members, required in order for it to contest the list. And if ACT is unhappy with that, they know exactly what they can do about it.


In an earlier post, you point out that the Electoral Commission is bound by the Broadcasting Act s75(2). Sure, indications of public support may include membership numbers. But public support is a minor part of it, compared to the RealFacts of election data and current parliamentary proportionality.

Other indicators of public support might be turnout for public meetings or annual conferences. It could be the amount of media coverage or column-inches in mainstream media. It might the the number of bloggers with acknowledged party biases that might count as evidence of public opinion.

Act, unlike Labour's union muscle, cannot vouch for a captive membership. It hasn't been around for decades, building up organisational and logistical experience.

MMP brought about minor parties which are at a disadvantage against the fat incumbents. No wonder the membership numbers which have been released are embarrassingly small.

Even the Greens have complained that the Commission is stacked with Labour and Nat Reps, another example of the bastardised MMP/Westminster system we've got to deal with.

However, last year's primary race convinced a lot of former Act members to sign up and make a difference. The bold and corageous primary shows Act members can make more difference than any stuck in Labour's labyrinthine Constitution.

Which may justify some secrecy in other areas which are at their discretion. The thing about transparency is that any enemy will take advantage of it. The Act Board seem to be managing a balance of disclosure and cards up the sleeve.

Posted by Will de Cleene : 3/23/2005 09:37:00 AM

I thought ecomomic liberals believed in transparency and disclosure. Obviously not in this case.

I assume that wouldn't want to keep their membership secret if they had 10,000 members - so the number is probably nearer to 500!

The Herald also reports that: "Act told the commission every registered party should get the same or there should be just two funding categories - parties able to seriously suggest enough support to get into Parliament and all the others"

I guess Act falls into "all the others" and they don't want any money?

Posted by Rich : 3/23/2005 10:10:00 AM

Economic liberals do support disclosure and transparency. Telling a board solely composed of Labour and National people something you don't want to tell them does not quite fit the mould.

If the playing field looked less Westminster-ish and more MMP-ish, you might be right.

Posted by Will de Cleene : 3/23/2005 11:54:00 AM

Will: what exactly is to be gained by hiding membership figures if they tell the story you suggest? Really, the only reason to do so is to hide the fact that they are embarassingly low (compared with both past figures and those of competing parties). Which puts ACT in the position of using doub to inflate their purported popularity. Isn't that just a little dishonest? Or fraudulent?

ACT's present number of MPs is certainly a factor which should count against a low membership figure. But at best this puts them on a par with United Future rather than with the Greens and NZFirst.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/23/2005 11:59:00 AM

Neither of us are privy to the precise reasons why Act are choosing not to release the numbers. They have the option of not disclosing them, and they have chosen not to. Obeying the law is neither dishonest nor fraudulent.

Act has been in Parliament for nine years with a consisent number of MPs. Until last election's dose of the worm, United Future has been either a solo or a duo.

By that reckoning, Act have much more in common with NZ First and the Greens than United Future.

Posted by Will de Cleene : 3/23/2005 05:16:00 PM

According to the Dom Post this morning, ACT have approx 3000 members.

Posted by Asher : 3/23/2005 08:33:00 PM

I read that Judd wanted to submit the Act membership numbers based not on financial members but on members PLUS registered supporters PLUS those signed up to their email loops. Frankly I used to be signed up to several of their email loops (know your enemy and all that) but I would NEVER vote for Act and would be pissed as to find out that I was somehow counted as a "member"

Posted by Span : 3/23/2005 08:49:00 PM

I'd like you to produce some proof for this outrageous and incorrect comment:

"and given the contempt ACT has previously shown for election registration (they have previously outright refused to disclose funding or file post-election returns),"

If you check you'll find all ACT's returns have always been filed.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/23/2005 09:06:00 PM

I wrote ACT's submission to the Commission in 2002. ACT has never disclosed membership numbers to the Commission, simply because we don't want the National and Labour Party reps on there to know. Personally, given that this is a pretty small country and you can find out this sort of information if you ask the right people, I find the secrecy a bit redundant, but that is in fact the reason.

Posted by Blair : 3/24/2005 10:48:00 AM

Trying to claim that your membership includes financial members, registered supporters AND anyone who receives party e-mails is truly pathetic and desperate stuff.
Presumably the business largesse which sustained ACT is now heading National's way - why would they waste it on a party that is beset by chronic infighting and clearly doomed?

If the self-delusion that ACT MPs, party officials and supporters (not a big group of people really) display is any guide, Judd will probably next argue that all taxpayers are in fact ACT supporters. The false-consciousness induced by Helengrad's evil PC social engineering means that they just don't know it yet.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/26/2005 11:17:00 PM