Thursday, July 24, 2008

Election funding: trying to prove the right right

When the government passed the Electoral Finance Act with its strict rules on third party advertising, the right screamed that this was a deliberate attempt to suppress free speech, and that groups seeking to highlight issues and set the political agenda in election year would be silenced or curtailed. It's bullshit - but sadly, the folks at The Standard are doing their level best to prove them right, attacking an EMA campaign against the government's KiwiSaver amendments as a breach of the EFA.

The problem is, it's not. In order to be considered an "election advertisement", material must "reasonably be regarded as" encouraging people to vote either for or against a candidate or party. The candidate or party need not be specified, but may be identified implicitly "by reference to views, positions, or policies that are or are not held". But while the ads take a strong position against Labour's policy, like the CAFCA postcards earlier in the month, they are very clearly aimed not at encouraging votes, but at encouraging people to lobby politicians on a specific issue. The Standard are of course free to join the National Party in arguing that that ought to be illegal. But I doubt any reasonable person (let alone the Electoral Commission or the courts, both of which will interpret the law through the lens of the BORA and the clear Parliamentary intent that this sort of advertising be excluded) would agree with them.