Monday, November 26, 2007

Election funding: disappointed

For the past few months I've been hoping for a miracle on the Electoral Finance Bill. Not that the bugs in the bill would be ironed out and that we'd get a workable piece of legislation that restricted the undue influence of money in the electoral process - that was always going to happen - but that the National Party would stop acting in bad faith and start acting like the responsible party interested in reform it proclaimed itself to be.

Unfortunately, it looks like I'm going to be disappointed.

National has unveiled its proposed amendments to the bill, and top of the list is amending the law to ensure that activities carried out by a candidate "in his or her capacity as a member of Parliament" during the three months leading up to an election are counted against their spending limit. National claims that this is to prevent incumbents being advantaged by being able to spend their parliamentary budgets on promoting themselves, but the blunt fact is that MP's have a job to do, and this job necessarily involves communicating with the public. We expect our MPs to issue press releases, advertise constituency clinics, inform their electorates about what is happening in the House, and solicit feedback from voters - basically, participate in and enable our democratic conversation. Currently, they are able to do this right up until an election is called, when Parliamentary Services cuts off their money. But if National has their way, then MPs will basically be unable to do their jobs for the last three months before an election.

This is the most meritless issue possible, chosen not because it is a serious problem with the bill - it is not - but because it will allow the National Party to whip its supporters up into a frenzy of hate with talk of "public funding by stealth", pledge cards (but It's OK If You're From National), and the government "writing themselves an exemption". Not that they actually want to win - because the bill would cripple them more than anybody else. National's dirty little secret - the thing they never tell you while screaming about how evil it is for MPs to be able to spend public money on telling people how to raise issues with them - is that the biggest beneficiary of such funding is... the National Party. Which adds a whole new layer of hypocrisy to their already appallingly unprincipled behaviour.

National's other proposed amendments - shortening the regulated period and narrowing the definition of "election advertising" to include only explicit solicitations or discouragements to vote for a particular party - are likewise pure wrecking behaviour, and the latter would have the effect of legalising the Brethren's tactics and allowing National's rich mates to once again wage anonymous negative campaigns without any spending limits - the exact problem the bill is aimed at fixing. These amendments will fail, but they show just how hollow National's rhetoric of wanting reform actually is. The National Party is not interested in reform of electoral funding or in limiting the undue influence of money on our democracy. Instead, their goal is the exact opposite: to preserve the ability of their rich mates to buy elections. And that is the very opposite of the democracy they are pretending to cloak themselves in.