Sunday, August 26, 2007

Election funding: the biggest blunder

Writing in the Dominion-Post this morning, Tracy Watkins asks how Labour got the Electoral Finance Bill so wrong. DPF provides her with an answer: their "killer blow" was that they failed to crack down on anonymous funding and laundered donations. This not only exposed a yawning gap between what Labour promised and what they delivered (something Helen Clark has traditionally been very careful to avoid); it also meant that those who would normally support the bill found few reasons to do so.

IMHO this has been Labour's biggest blunder with the bill. As Raymond Miller pointed out in Party Politics in New Zealand, there is enormous opposition to anonymous donations from across the political spectrum. The 2002 New Zealand Election Study (Table WSOURFI F3) found that 78.3% of all voters agreed that political parties should be forced to fully disclose the sources of their income, with support ranging from 70% (for ACT voters) to almost 90% (for Progressive Coalition voters). Delivering on their promise to force full disclosure would have ensured widespread popular support for the bill while forcing National to choose between its shadowy, ultrarich backers and the voters. Instead, Labour put its narrow financial interests first, surrendering both political advantage and more importantly a golden opportunity to fix our electoral finance system once and for all.

But in addition to being a tremendous blunder for Labour, this is also an enormous opportunity for National. The bill already includes language limiting anonymous donations and laundering, in relation to third parties. It would be a simple matter to modify this language to apply to political parties and put up a Supplementary Order Paper to do what the government has refused to. The Greens are likely to support such a move, as are NZ First, so there's a majority there; all National has to do is take it.