Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Herald on the EFA

In their editorial this morning, the Herald urges the government to start a slow, careful process to repeal the Electoral Finance Act. It's desired process? Halt the existing independent review (which it describes as a group of "publicly funded academics") and instead give the job to the Law Commission. The planned citizen's jury would instead be replaced by "public consultation [as] the place for political parties to advance their views".

There are two points to be made here. The first is that there seems to be no reason to prefer the law Commission to the expert panel, except that the Herald thinks the former is more likely to agree with them. The second is that there seems to be no reason to do away with the citizen's jury other than that it was "an idea from the Greens" and a sniffy distaste for the views of ordinary people. The concept that electoral finance is not just of interest to political parties, but to the people as a whole, and that it is us, rather than them, who should decide how much financial corruption and monetary subversion we want in our democracy seems completely lost on them.

But no matter what the process, any "reform" of the Act is still going to have to address the major issues seen in the 2005 campaign: donor secrecy, the role of money, and the ability of parties to collude with third-parties to outsource their campaigning and circumvent spending limits. After one election, it is clear that the EFA is an imperfect solution to these problems. But it is imperfect because it is, if anything, too weak on transparency. The other components seem to have operated well in ensuring a level playing field where parties cannot use wealth or rich friends to gain an unfair advantage. The fact that the Herald wants to do away with that speaks volumes about their commitment to democracy.