Friday, March 17, 2006

Escaping prosecution

Labour may escape prosecution for election overspending, as Police and Crown Law haven't got their act together enough to lay charges within the six month time limit specified in the Electoral Act. This hardly gives reason for confidence in the system. While such limitation clauses usually exist for good reason, in this case it is clearly too short and in need of extension. Unfortunately, any such extension will be too late to hold Labour to account for what seems to be a blatant violation of the law.

The important thing now is to push for a comprehensive reform of election spending rules, so that parties can't get away with similar overspending in the future. We must keep up the pressure on politicians of all parties to ensure that the law is actually reformed, rather than left open for exploitation next time.


This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. Posted by Craig Ranapia : 3/17/2006 11:06:00 AM

Prehaps I'm a little cynical, but why do I think that if Labour (and everyone else) escapes prosecution this time the chances of passing any meaningful reform - as opposed to closing one loophole and opening another two when nobody is looking - are as likely as the proverbial turkey farm voting for Christmas.

The best "pressure", IMO, would have been a string of high profile (and politically highly embarrasing)trials, ending with convictions and judges handing how the maximum penalties possible.

Let's wait and see, though. If Labour was that confident, I don't think Mike Williams would be out there spinning by himself.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 3/17/2006 11:17:00 AM

I don't really believe that the police service are the appropriate body to investigate and prosecute this sort of thing.

I can't think of any way of changing the system that would be effective *and* still allow free speech. The problem is that everything is political in some way, and any person or organisation is entitled to express their views - it's hard to impossible to draw a line between general political expression and promoting a specific party. This is especially true in an MMP situation where a group can advocate voting for a right-wing party without specifying which one.

Posted by Rich : 3/17/2006 11:44:00 AM

I've posted my comments on why I believe there is still time to prosecute Labour in the thread on Farrarblog. There's debate about when the six months starts and I say it's when the last bill was paid (which will have been after the election).

Prosecution for the pledge card itself (because Labour didn't consider it electioneering at the time and thus didn't include the required authorisation) is time-barred (and so are prosecutions against ACT?, NZF, UF and the Greens for the improperly authorised newspaper ads they allegedly had published using their leader's budgets) but prosecution for the overspending to which it ultimately led is not.

Similarly, prosecution over National's overspending of it's broadcasting allocation is time-barred (but under s 14 of the Summary Proceedings Act, rather than the electoral act).

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/17/2006 03:06:00 PM

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. Posted by Craig Ranapia : 3/17/2006 05:24:00 PM

Oh well, everyone's off scott-free. Why not just print the Electoral Act on novelty toilet paper? The Police have basically issued on open invitation to political parties to keep wiping their collective arse on it...

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 3/17/2006 05:31:00 PM

Logix - you moan about this isn't a victory for overspending on other bolgs but argue it's the right result.

WTF you dumb bunny.

National can now overspend at the next election and then claim Labour did it as well.

US style government here we come where the Democrats are to the right of a National government in NZ.

I am laughing so hard I can't stop.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/17/2006 06:56:00 PM

> Why not just print the Electoral Act on novelty toilet paper?

Haha craig that was good.

OH well.. hopefully the other parties will keep kicking up a fuss about it.

I think you ahve fallen into the trap of thinking labour found a loophole that needs to be pluged - I sugest in this case instead they were guilty and we failed to procecute.
It doesnt matter what the law says as long as we never enforce it.

Labour could say "we didnt understand the law" but can you imagine me punching you and then standing up in court and sying "i didnt know I wasnt allowed to punch rich I thought the law said he was an exception". I dont think it would work....

Everone with an IQ over 60 knew that a pledge card was part of election expenditure. and those with a lower IQ dont even know what an expenditure is.

Posted by Genius : 3/18/2006 10:13:00 AM

The removal of all public funds from political parties should now happen.

There is no need for a Leader's fund and it's open to abuse. All money that has been abused and used for election spending should be paid back to the taxpayer.

An independent body should be set up that no one political party has control over it to control and mointor election spending.

For example, a 50/50 split between the government and opposition parties, headed by an independent commissioner (that's the hard part I guess - I'm thinking a retired judge) that has a deciding vote.

Anybody else have any ideas?

Posted by Anonymous : 3/19/2006 04:21:00 PM

Anon: its generally considered legitimate for the government to fund constituency work, that being part and parcel of an MPs job. And part of this is informing your constituents of what is being done on their behalf. Either this needs to be paid for transparently through parliamentary Services (where it can at least be subjected to some guidelines and controls to try and prevent abuse), or we will have to boost MPs and particularly party leaders' salaries to to allow them to do it themselves (which of course would leave them with the option of simply pocketing the cash...)

All things considered, I'd rather do things by the former method. The problem is in preventing such funds from being abused. And one obvious way of doing this would be to declare all advertising spending from these funds within three months of an election to be an election expense. That at least patches over the current problem.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/19/2006 07:01:00 PM

So if you actually spend the money the day before the three months then is that fine - I wouldn't have considered so.

The Leader's fund is a slush fund - they either getting funding from there supporters or not at all.

This can be a limited amount - i.e. $1m per year.

If the National Front got into government and used the money to promote racist and homophobic attitudes using that money I suspect you would call for an immediate end to the Leader's fund.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/20/2006 12:27:00 PM

Anon: any deadline can of course be gamed in that fashion - but three months is the current period laid out in electoral law in which electoral spending is counted. In practice, most elections aren't known about three months in advance (last year was quite unusual in that respect), and any such designation is likely to be retrospective.

(I should also point out that spending which has a continuing effect within that period - renting billboards, say - is counted proportionately, so the prospects for gaming are slightly narrower than expected).

The leader's funds are not "slush funds". They exist to allow parties to inform the public about their policies and what is happening in Parliament. This is a perfectly legitimate public function in a democracy, and its entirely appropriate that it be funded by the state. Quite apart from that, forcing parties to fund everything themselves raises the spectre of US-style political corruption; the need for funding there forces representatives to spend most of their time grubbing for cash, with the end result that their votes are effectively up for sale. That's not what we stand for in this country, and stopping it is another good reason for some public funding.

As for the National Front, there are already parties in Parliament using their funding to spew racism and other material I object to - National being a prime example. But while I object to their message, I don't object to either their right to say it or the fact that I am in part paying for it; it's part and parcel of our democratic system. And exactly the same would apply to the National Front.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/20/2006 04:53:00 PM

> and its entirely appropriate that it be funded by the state.

you could give actual control of it to a beurocrat as opposed to the government.
The Government provides him with information and he decides how to promote it without breaching any laws.

Posted by Genius : 4/01/2006 09:01:00 AM