Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Electoral transparency

I've been kicking around more ideas for Member's Bills, and there's a really obvious one: amending the Electoral Act 1993 to improve the transparency of political party funding. Currently, the law requires every party to publish an annual return listing every donation over $10,000. Despite allowing large amounts of party funding to go unreported, parties still go to great lengths to avoid even this lax scheme - Labour by the use of "anonymous" (yeah, right) donations, and National through a network of special purpose trusts whose purpose can only be described as money laundering. In the long term, I'd like to see both practices banned outright - both are deliberate attempts to frustrate transparency and undermine the integrity of the democratic system. But in the meantime, I'll settle for a simple step to ensure greater transparency: lowering the declaration threshold by a factor of ten, to $1000. This would require amending the definition of "party donation" in s214F. While we're at it, we could also do the same for candidate donations, lowering the $1000 threshold in s210 to, say, $500. The resulting bill would be simple and clear. It would also be popular. According to Raymond Miller's Party Politics in New Zealand, there is substantial support among voters for greater transparency, with support fluctuating between 70% and 95% depending on party affiliation. There is more disagreement among political candidates, with support ranging between 15% for ACT candidates to 90 - 95% for Labour, NZFirst, Green and Progressive candidates. The latter four parties between them have more than enough votes to pass such a bill - all that is required is for some eager MP to take it up.

So, who's game...?


Agreed. And before the next election too. We cant let ourselves slip into the US model of soft donations and deep lobby pockets.

Each donation, or rather, each source of funding has to be reported and has to be traceable. Even if the public doesn't know, there should have to be a way for every cent to be traceable by auditors. Each party should be required to have its acounts audited by (either public or private sector) accountant against a set of rules.

Whatever the declaration limits are, the spending limit has to increase as well. Not by a huge amount, but with both National and Labour pulling funding close to that limit in election years it'll become much more tempting from here on in.

If the law can't change with the cost of running campaigns, we will end up with more overspending scandals & less transparancy in the system (more Bretheren), which will only lead to buying of elections.

Posted by James : 5/09/2006 07:24:00 AM

Anonymous donations serve a very important democratic purpose, if the political parties/candidates who receive such donations do not know from whom they come then they can't be influenced by donors in making Parliamentary or Governmental decisions.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 5/09/2006 02:01:00 PM

Graeme: So I've heard DPF claiming many times. But the public simply has no way of knowing that the politicians are as ignorant as they claim, or whether they are just lying to us.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Make it all transparent, and let the public judge for themselves through the electoral system what constitutes an undue influence.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/09/2006 02:57:00 PM

Surely any donation is a non-democratic way of influencing an election result, whether or not it is anonymous.

However you couldn't really abolish them altogether, otherwise fledgeling/minor parties couldn't muster support for getting started.

I can think of two other ideas that aim to correct the problem, neither of which I particularly like, but maybe they will inspire other good ideas.

1. Vet donations and divvy them up based on the listed number of donators/supporters. The parties that could get the most $1 listed financial members would then get the biggest payouts.

2. retrospectively adjust the allocation of seats in parliament; for instance if party A spent 50% of the total campaign spend but only got 40% of the vote, the allocated seats in parliament get adjusted based on the 10% discrepancy.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/09/2006 05:42:00 PM

Sam: It costs money to run a party, and they have to pay for themselves somehow. Likewise, it costs money for parties to propagate their views and fight elections. The chief concern of the public in this is making sure that any provision of money isn't repaid by political favours in office - and I think the first part of any solution is transparency.

As for retrospectively adjusting the allocation of seats in parliament based on funding, I'm not sure what you're getting at. Spending money on an election campaign does not entitle a party to seats any more than it disqualifies them; the only basis for determining seat allocations is and should be popular support as measured by the number of votes.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/10/2006 12:10:00 AM

Transparancy is all well and good, but it falls well short of full public funding and accompanying regulatory requirements for proportional (and may as well be free) airtime and paper space leading up to elections. Democracy should never come down to who has the most money.

Getting rid of the nonsense of giving most of it to the big two wouldn't hurt either, but I can't see Lab and Nat voting for that. Proportional to the last vote, not ancient history.

Oh, and get rid of the 5% threshold already; should be mentioned every time elections are.

Posted by tussock : 5/10/2006 01:09:00 PM