Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Election funding: "Reform" that isn't

The government has also released its proposals for electoral finance reform, and decided to do nothing much. There will be some minor tweaks - a clearer definition of election advertising, inflation indexing of spending limits, clarifying the use of Parliamentary Services funds - but they are dodging on the core issues of disclosure, parallel campaigning, and public funding. Justice Minister Simon Power claims this is due to a lack of public support - but as The Standard points out, tighter disclosure, spending limits on parallel campaigns, and public funding were all strongly supported by submitters. But I guess when Power says "public", he really means "the National Party".

And so we get "reform" that isn't. Parallel campaigners will be required to register with the Electoral Commission if they spend over $20,000 $12,000 - but won't have to tell us how much they are spending to try and buy our democracy. Parties will still be able to keep the identities of major donors secret. TV advertising will still be a self-fulfilling prophecy, where small parties are denied access to the airwaves. And parties will still be beholden to large donors, who will exact policy concessions from them in exchange for their support. There is one good thing: parties will now have to disclose their total donations in bands (something I suggested in my submission). But that's very small beer. Overall, the government's reform process has been a miserable failure and a complete waste of money.

The Cabinet paper for this farce can be read here [PDF].

Correction: Fixed third-party disclosure threshold.