Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Election funding: Put your money where your mouth is

Labour rightly attacks National's proposed electoral finance "reforms", arguing for greater transparency and accusing the government of refusing to consult on lower disclosure thresholds. They have a good point - but along the way they also say this:

Transparency is absolutely essential to achieving integrity in the electoral process, and the correct balance between the principles of equity and freedom of speech,” David Parker said.

“Unfortunately, the current regime on donations doesn’t promote transparency. Labour included the regime in good faith in the Electoral Finance Act 2007, but it failed to achieve its purpose.

“This was shown by the low rates of disclosure by both major parties. National disclosed the source of just $130,000 in donations and Labour just $420,000, though both spent more than $2 million each. This is clearly not transparent.”

(Emphasis added)

It strikes me that Labour can do something about this right now: it could put its money where its mouth is and disclose donations down to its preferred threshold (which seems to be $1,000). Its not as if they can't - the present law (which restates the provisions of the Electoral Finance Act) effectively requires them to identify all donors giving more than $1,000, and in order to comply with the disclosure limits on aggregated donations, they should have procedures in place to track smaller amounts. The only thing stopping Labour from doing this is itself.

To paraphrase Napoleon, if you want to claim the moral high ground, claim the moral high ground. Issuing press releases while doing nothing just invites cynicism. If they really care about this issue, they should disclose their donations, and let the public decide whether we prefer a clean party or a dirty one.

(The same naturally applies to the Greens. You want to push the argument on electoral finance reform? Then put your money where your mouth is)