Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Electoral Commission decisions

The Electoral Commission has released another bunch of decisions - mostly good, but one really bad one IMHO. We'll start with the good:

  • National's "Our policies so far" document isn't an election advertisement [PDF]. Their reasoning:
    The Electoral Commission does not regard this material as an election advertisement. While statements of policy logically can be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote for the party or candidate concerned, the statutory test requires that statements "reasonably" can be so regarded.

    It is essential to democratic elections that parties can inform the public of the policies which will be implemented if elected. It would not be reasonable to regard statements of policy as election advertisements and subject to the restraints which follow. New Zealand Bill of Rights Act considerations arise.

    They note that this isn't absolute, and that plastering too many party logos and slogans over an ostensible statement of policy may transform it into an advertisement. But so far, so good.
  • Neither are ads inviting people to public meetings with party leaders, though this (as always) is a question of degree and context. There seems to be more latitude given to ads for meetings organised by third parties as part of a series to inform the public [PDF] than to meetings clearly intended to promote a particular candidate [PDF]. But even the latter falls on the safe side of the line.
And now the bad: the Electoral Commission has decided that the Employers and Manufacturers Association's "Stop Mallard" ads are an electoral advertisement, and have referred them to the police [PDF]. I disagree - IMHO, the ad is very clearly an issue ad, aimed at encouraging the public to lobby politicians on a specific policy. While there's a case that it can be reasonably regarded as encouraging people to vote against Labour, this is also an area where the protection of the BORA is likely to be at its strongest. But I guess that's now up to the courts. Given the cost of the Herald ad alone, the EMA has already broken the $12,000 unregistered third party spending limit, and so is potentially facing a $10,000 fine. But they'll get a hell of a lot more than $10,000 of publicity out of this, so even if convicted, they'll probably regard it as money well spent.