Monday, January 14, 2008

Election funding: trolling for prosecution II

So, Tim Shadbolt is intent on getting himself prosecuted so he can challenge the Electoral Finance Act, and is planning on publishing an ad telling people to vote for a particular candidate and party without authorisation from them, and without any disclosure statement setting out his name and address. But before anyone starts considering him a martyr for free speech, it's worth remembering that this was an offence under the old law, which has simply been repeated in the new. Section 221 of the Electoral Act 1993 reads:

1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3) of this section, no person shall publish or cause or permit to be published in any newspaper, periodical, poster, or handbill, or broadcast or cause or permit to be broadcast over any radio or television station, any advertisement which—

(a) Is used or appears to be used to promote or procure the election of a constituency candidate; or

(b) Encourages or persuades or appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote for a party registered under Part 4 of this Act.

(2) A person may publish or cause or permit to be published an advertisement of the kind described in subsection (1)(a) of this section if—

(a) The publication of that advertisement is authorised in writing by the candidate or the candidate's agent or, in the case of an advertisement relating to more than one candidate, the candidates or the party to which they belong; and

(b) The advertisement contains a statement setting out the true name of the person for whom or at whose direction it is published and the address of his or her place of residence or business.

This wasn't a new imposition in 1993 either - it goes back at least to the 1956 Act. As for why we have it, it is necessary to enforce spending limits; without it candidates could easily avoid their cap by using a third party campaign as a front (as National did with the Exclusive Brethren and Fair Tax lobby in 2005).

The upshot is that what Shadbolt is planning has always been illegal, and if he'd published such an advertisement before the 2005, 2002, or indeed the 1960 election, he'd have been prosecuted, just as he will be now.