Thursday, April 17, 2008

Amending the EFA?

The Herald reports that the Electoral Finance Act looks likely to be amended, with United Future's peter Dunne calling for a cross-party conference on the law. That would be an interesting meeting to watch. The core of the problem is the increasing uncertainty around whether Parliamentary advertising is attributable expenditure. Not only does this prevent MPs from doing their jobs; it also significantly disadvantages incumbents as most if not all of their candidate spending cap will be pre-spent in the course of their everyday work. The natural solution is to clarify the law to say that Parliamentary spending is not attributable, or not attributable until much closer to the election. This runs the danger of legalising abuses such as the pledge card, but there should be same way of preventing that while allowing our MPs to do the jobs we expect of them.

The fly in the ointment is that National spent the entire debate on the Electoral Finance Act tubthumping about Labour's 2005 pledge card, and even proposed amendments in the committee stage to make all Parliamentary expenditure explicitly attributable. Throw in a double helping of bad faith and hypocrisy on the issue (they're actually quite happy with the Parliamentary Services guidelines which allowed the pledge card, but publicly oppose them for political reasons), and the upshot is that we are once again going to see some extremely ugly scenes as National screams opposition to fixing a part of the law it itself claims is broken solely in order to grandstand in election year.

Some might say that I'm taking too dim a view of National here, and that they will adopt a constructive attitude and try in good faith to fix this part of the law. I hope so, I really do. But based on their past performance, I don't really expect it.