Thursday, February 09, 2006

Labour overspending

Oh dear. It seems that the Labour Party overspent its election budget, and has been referred to police. This is serious: s 214B (3) of the Electoral Act 1993 states that

Every person who directly or indirectly pays or knowingly aids or abets any person in paying for or on account of any election expenses any sum in excess of the maximum amount prescribed by this section is,—

(a)If the act is done with knowledge that the payment is in excess of the maximum amount prescribed by this section, guilty of a corrupt practice; and

(b)In any other case, guilty of an illegal practice unless the person proves that he or she took all reasonable steps to ensure that the election expenses did not exceed the maximum amount prescribed by this section.

(Emphasis added)

The penalty for a corrupt practice is a fine of up to $4000 and a jail term of up to one year. More importantly, you get added to the corrupt practices list (meaning you can't vote or stand for office for three years)- and if you are an MP, your seat is declared vacant (s 55 (1) (d)). So if any Labour MPs had anything to do with the overspending, we could be seeing some new faces in the House.

Needless to say, I am very disappointed in Labour. I'm also surprised to see that the financial penalties are so paltry. Yes, they're individual penalties rather than being applied to the party, but shouldn't they bear more proportion to the amount of overspending? As it stands, they're so low that overspending almost seems worth it...


why is it always " a fine of up to" what this means is that it is not too hard to imagine a situation where it is worth it to break a law for a rich person or for a person who makes enough profit from the event.
Stupid eh?

Posted by Genius : 2/09/2006 06:50:00 PM

Genius: well, too allow some discretion to fit the circumstances. But with upper limits as low as this, it practically sets an incentive for overspending.

BTW, if anybody knows who was on Labour's 2005 campaign committee and could be in the gun for this, please post it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/09/2006 06:59:00 PM

i guess it's just a lack of internal financial plan and control skills.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/09/2006 08:30:00 PM

I don't know if it is a lack of control and planning to be honest - how election campaigns work is that you raise as much as you can and if that amount is under the limit you spend it all. If it's over the limit then you go as close as possible. Campaigns are big money these days, for the major parties, and aren't worked out on the back of an envelope.

I suspect Labour will get off on the ol' "well if we'd known before the election that the pledge cards would be counted..." excuse.

Posted by Span : 2/09/2006 09:53:00 PM


Sorry, that defence becomes a lot less credible when the pledge cards were declared in '99 & '02, and the Chief Electoral Officer ruled that they were declarable campaign cost DESPITE being paid for out of the leader's budget. (An open invitation to corrupt abuse of the public purse I'd like to see gone by breakfast.)

I suspect Labour is get off on the standard 'not in the public interest to embarrass senior Cabinet ministers like Hogson, Maharey et. al.' :)

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 2/09/2006 11:33:00 PM

Oh, and wouldn't Mike Smith be very much "in the gun" given that he signed the declaration as general secretary of the Labour Party?

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 2/09/2006 11:34:00 PM

Span: that would merely reduce it to an illegal practice. But I'm not really sure such a claim would be credible.

They're right that the law lacks clarity and is in need of an update - that much was clear from the ruling in the Peters v Clarkson electoral petition - but its their responsibility to know, and this is just a little too blatant to believe it was an "honest mistake". Bluntly, they'd have to be complete fucking morons to think that the pledge cards wouldn't be counted - and I don't think that anyone on that committee is a moron.

I don't think there's any way to see this other than as a calculated attempt to bush the boundaries. Unfortunately, they've pushed too far, and now they have to pay the price.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/09/2006 11:49:00 PM

I'd expect that if National had done this and won the election, Labour would have said the election had been "bought". If it had been a small party, Labour would have looked to it to be obliterated.

If this all turns out to be true, then United Future and NZ First cannot with any conscience give confidence and supply to Labour. Either a new government is formed of parties that are not guilty, or a new election is called.

Posted by Libertyscott : 2/10/2006 05:23:00 AM

> well, too allow some discretion to fit the circumstances.

I/S I am hapy with discression in fact I dont think there is enough of it. there should, at least, be the potential for the judge to give a punishment that can deter the crime.

Posted by Genius : 2/10/2006 07:22:00 AM

I never said I thought it was credible! It isn't!! It's possibly less credible than Lockwood's recent reinvention of the window escape ;-)

I hate this kind of crap because it detracts from the real politics - it undermines faith in democracy and it reinforces the (wrong) impression that all politicians are corrupt and power-hungry. There are MPs, from all sides of the House, who are actually there because they want to make a difference, and they do have morals, and they wouldn't have supported a decision like that.

BTW I'd say that the Nat Rad coverage of this this morning has really got to kick to death the claims that it is Labour-biased - the headline was "How Labour Used Your Money To Fund Their Campaign."

Posted by Span : 2/10/2006 08:17:00 AM

My position probably won't surprise anyone here, but ... why not deregulate election advertising? Let parties spend their own damn money on it, not taxpayers money.

It'd mean an end to the self-perpetuating two-party system too, where only National and Labour are allowed to purchase significant advertising - all at our expense, of course.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/10/2006 08:39:00 AM

I am afraid that in the school of realpolitik - the school that really matters because in politics second is nowhere - this is just a tit for tat on a skewed playing field with vague rules.

Look at Bob Clarkson and the un-reported scandal in the Napier seat. In both seats, the National candidate was effectively a seigneurial lord who used his power in a semi-feudal provincial economy to ensure they got a "full spectrum dominance" of the campaign, all the time within the "rules."

Hopefully this will force a serious shake up of the rules of electoral funding - oh yes and Duncan Bayne - your simplistic suggestion gets another entry into my "Why people think right wingers are so stupid" file.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/10/2006 08:52:00 AM

Anonymous - I think we're agreed that this is tit for tat - though possibly Labour has bigger a tit than National has a tat, in this case :-)

But to the issue of deregulation of campaign expenditure, care to play the ball rather than the man? Specifically:

- Why should parties be given taxpayers money to spend on advertising? My money is being used by Labour, and yours by the Libz.

- Why should parties not be allowed to spend their own money?

- Why should the ammount of money be restricted?

Seriously, I'd be interested to hear your objections. If, e.g., the Libz had enough money to send every family in N.Z. a copy of "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal", why shouldn't we be able to?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/10/2006 09:02:00 AM


So you think rorting the public puse and million of dollars is donations from Mr. A. Nonymous every electoral cycle is democracy at work?

I'd actually side with Duncan if that came with absolute and prompt public transparency attached. At least the one thing you can say about the American system is that, if you're willing to dig a little, you have a much better idea of where all that big ticket money - and that includes unions and NGOs as well as corporations - is coming from than is often the case in New Zealand.

I don't actually disagree with your second comment, and we've both been down at the flaxroots and know how complex yet (deliberately?) ambiguous campaign finance rules are. Personally, I'm amazed we don't see a flood of successful electoral petitions after every election, even if there's nothing more sinister at work in 99.9% of cases than a cock-up over a conspiracy. It's just that, in this case, we saw a calculated risk that may (but probably won't) come back to bite Labour in the arse.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 2/10/2006 10:15:00 AM


Yes, in the U.S.A. corporates buy political favour - they do so because the Government has power to sell. As P J O'Rourke wrote, "when buying & selling are legislated, the first things to be bought and sold are the legislators".

Further, the political system in America is controlled by the Government; consider that the leaders of the Green and Libertarian parties were arrested last year, while trying to "remedy the exclusion of the Libertarian, and other non-Democrat, non-Republican; party candidates from the presidential debates".

In other words, the fact that they have a monolithic two-party system is due to a combination of corruption, unconstitutional power, and regulation - not the fact that election spending is less regulated than in N.Z.

Consider also that in the last U.S. election, the loser was the party that spent the most money.

If you're going to regulate political campaign spending, I prefer Donald Trump's suggestion to what we have in N.Z.: no limit on spending or donations, but every candidate must publicly declare (I believe Trump suggested a frequently-updated website) who's donating what, and when.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/10/2006 10:22:00 AM

Interesting comment on Nat Rad this morning from Helena Catt (head of the Electoral Commission).

She said that every time the EC fronts up to its Select Committee there is a conversation about how vague and crappy the rules are, and she has little doubt that this conversation will happen again this year. Her tone was one of frustration and resignation (my perception obviously).

So any keen bean able to find out who could changes the rules? The clear inference from Catt's comment was that it lay in the hands of Parliament not the EC...

Private Members' Bill anyone?

Posted by Span : 2/10/2006 11:39:00 AM

Duncan: because not being Libertarians, we don't think the rich should be allowed to buy elections. Sure, the present system is flawed, but it's a hell of a lot better than your alternative.

Span: well, if we hate this kind of crap, there's a simple message we can send to politicians: don't do it.

Anon: I likewise hope that this (and the Clarkson case) will result in a shakeup, both for electoral funding rules and the rules for spending Parliamentary funding. But the cynic in me says that its not really in politician's interests to do it.

Meanwhile, over of DPF, the loons are frothing at the imaginary prospect of a retrospective law letting Labour off the hook. All I can say is "learn to count"...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/10/2006 12:23:00 PM

idiot/savant: What part of my argument (that deregulation when coupled with tight constitutional controls on the powers of Government won't lead to 'buying' elections) are you disputing?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/10/2006 12:49:00 PM

It is interesting and amusing to read the collective hysteria, conspiracy theories and general adolescent slavering on the righr wing blogs over this. I do indeed have a project on "why people think the right in NZ is so stupid" and soon I shall be putting up various exhibits for the prosecution.

The proximity of the right wing reaction to this story to your post about the Centre for Independent Studies setting up an (non)think tank makes for interesting food for thought. The constant sterility of the intellectual contribution right with it tired neo-religious chants and its adolescent inability to see the wood for the trees is alarming. After all, one day they MAY get into power...

The right in this country BADLY needs a lot less of the CIS and a lot more pragmatic and innovative new thinkng.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/10/2006 01:01:00 PM

Duncan: The entire premise. Democracy is "one person, one vote" - not "one dollar, one vote". But Libertarians aren't democrats - they simply want a new feudal aristocracy, with today's rich slotting seamlessly into the places of the people we have worked so hard to tear down and destroy.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/10/2006 01:25:00 PM

idiot/savant: Either deliberately or accidentally, you are arguing against a premise I have never espoused, and indeed one which I strongly oppose.

I am proposing explicitly that one person == one vote, with people allowed to spend what they want, how they want (except in the case of fraud) on advertising to persuade people to vote for them.

How does that equate to one dollar == one vote, exactly?

If you're claiming that people will be swayed by those with the largest election budgets, then:

- your opinion of the average voter must in fact be very low

- care to explain the Republican's victory in the last election?

- care to explain why our current system gives more money to the party with the most support?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/10/2006 02:33:00 PM

If big budgets don't sway voters, then why do parties waste all that money on campaigning? And "swaying" is not the same as having absolute control. Two parties whose budgets are of the same order of magnitude will probably have similar chances of winning, and much more chance of winning than parties with much smaller budgets.

You're saying that rich people (or those whose policies appeal to rich people) should be allowed to do more persuasion than poor people - that's hardly fair, is it?

As for why our current system gives more money to the party with the most support, that's grossly undemocratic and needs to be changed. Personally, I'd like to see all registered parties given the same funding (and not too much of it, either), ban any political advertising in excess of that funding, and require media to give all parties equal coverage.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 2/10/2006 02:52:00 PM

commie mutant traitor: that the world operate fairly, is not a right. That the world leaves you alone to dispose of your property how you see fit, is a right.

Why do you distinguish between political advertising and any other form of expenditure?

What of, for example, medical treatment? Should rich people be prohibited from buying better treatment than poor people? I mean, that's not fair is it?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/10/2006 03:09:00 PM

To clarify: I consider it perfectly fair that rich people buy more stuff than poor people. I just get the feeling that you don't.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/10/2006 03:25:00 PM

anonymous, you make statements and don't back them up. And stop going on about how one right winger talks for all right wingers etc.

Labour have overspent and that's a no-no under the rules. The point that they are trying to make out the pledge cards are not part of the electioneering expenses is ridiculous. It needs to be noted, because I suspect they'll come up with a different story, and this one will be forgotten.

So can you explain to me why the overspending is no big deal?

and the penalties are like a slap with a wet bus ticket.

Posted by ZenTiger : 2/10/2006 09:26:00 PM

commie mutant traitor, I'd like to see how much the unions (and other organisations of any flavour) spent on political advertising, suggesting who to vote for etc)

Are any of these figures collated by any organisation?

Posted by ZenTiger : 2/10/2006 09:29:00 PM

"It is interesting and amusing to read the collective hysteria, conspiracy theories and general adolescent slavering on the righr wing blogs over this."

Yawn. Same old "neo-dogmatic" belief system in looking through the woods to spot the dense underbrush.

So if I suggest, for example, that a few Muslims are absolute nutters that express strong desire to kill infidels, and I put a blog up about it, would you argue that it was not representative of all Muslims?

Then swap Muslim for the right and read your comments with a mirror.

See, I don't argue that ALL muslims are nutters, just that a significant few are, and may gain the capability to make life tough for us.

A couple of right wingers venting steam given the couple of lefties that were up in arms about Clarkson, or incensed with the National GST bungle, or really really pissed off with the Exclisive Brethren spending money to express their opinion (whilst silent on the eviction notices tactics of Labour, and the work place political promotions the Unions got into) is all just part of the political spectrum.

An Embassy will not be burnt down and 100kg of gold will not be offered to anyone killing the people on the spending committees.

See any differences anonymous? Your emotive language implies you see wood and trees where there is only a large exapanse of grass with a few shrubs.

And I'm favouring Duncan on this one, providing absolute transparency. Helen can ring George Soros now, and dump Glenn.

The other option too is for only registered political parties to electioneer. Then the Unions and EB alike would have to make a tracable donations or register to campaign perhaps..

Posted by ZenTiger : 2/10/2006 09:42:00 PM

Duncan: as Icehawk pointed out, this means an arms race between politicians for more and more funding, and consequently politicians beholden to their funders. While transparency means that we will know who people are beholden to, it doesn't solve the ultimate problem of their being beholden in the first place. In a democracy, a politician's job is to serve their constituents - not whoever waves the largest wad of cash at them.

I label your position "one dollar, one vote" because what you are proposing is organised political corruption which will subvert democracy for the ultimate benefit of the rich. Elections will provide a veneer of democratic legitimacy, but decisions will be made on behalf of funders rather than those politicians are supposed to be representing.

Finally, we distinguish between political advertising and other forms of expenditure out of a belief that government should not be for sale. Obviously, Libertarians beg to differ.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/11/2006 02:10:00 AM