Thursday, January 03, 2008

Election funding: trolling for prosecution

So some dumbarse has set up a website inviting prosecution under the Electoral Finance Act. This has caused the usual reaction amongst the mouth-breathers in the sewer, but lost in all the outraged squealing is the fact that the site doesn't actually violate the law, or at least not the part of the law they think it does.

The site is unquestionably an "election advertisement" under s5 (1) (i), in that it attempts to persuade people not to vote for a particular party and does not fall under any of the exemptions. But the blunt fact is that as an amateur website, it is highly unlikely to meet the $12,000 spending threshold required for registration. Contrary to all the fear, uncertainty and doubt and all the outraged foaming at the mouth from the right, the law doesn't actually affect ordinary voters wanting to speak their mind. It does affect those who want to spend big money in an effort to influence an election - and so it bloody well should.

Where the site does violate the law is in not carrying a statement setting out the name and address of its promoter (s53 (1) (a) EFA). But that would have been true under the old law as well. Section 221A (1) of the Electoral Act required advertisements relating to an election to carry such a statement, not just within the regulated period as at present, but at all stages of the electoral cycle. This provision exists for very good reason: to ensure that we will know why is trying to buy our democracy, and to prevent (or at least uncover, for the shameless) exactly the sort of secretive, anonymous hate campaign the Brethren waged in 2005.

But I forget: the right thinks that that style of politics is perfectly acceptable.

Correction: OK, so disclosure might not have been required under the old law - that only regulated physical advertisements. But I hardly think its any great imposition for the law to keep pace with technology. Political discussion and advertising have moved online - witness the host of sites the parties set up last election to push their messages. The law should follow. Unlike DPF, I do not think that the web should be a lawless zone, where rich individuals and secretive cults are free to spend unlimited amounts of dirty money in an effort to undermine our democracy and buy a particular electoral outcome. An advertisement is an advertisement, and it should be regulated identically whether it is published on paper on online.