Friday, June 18, 2010


Below is my submisison on the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill. It was a rush job, and it shows, but I'd rather put in something than stay silent on a very important bill which will shape our elections (and potentially their outcomes) for years to come:

  1. I support the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill in part, and oppose it in part. I ask that it be passed with amendments.
  2. I support the move to allow greater access to advance voting. This will make it easier and more convenient to vote, in the process enhancing our democracy.

    Regulated period

  3. I oppose the change to the regulated period. Until the passage of the Electoral Finance Act 2007, the regulated period was usually retrospective. This potentially caused problems, but in practice parties seem to have had no difficulty coping with them.
  4. The move to end retrospectivity by having the regulated period start on the day the election is called has an unfortunate side effect: as election campaigns traditionally last between 6 and 8 weeks, it effectively increases the amount of money that can be spent by 50 – 100%, in that the spending cap which used to have to last three months will now apply for a shorter period of time.
  5. The shift will also mean that the governing party will be free to program large amounts of electoral spending outside the cap. The opposition cannot do this as it runs the risk of being caught within the cap if an election is suddenly called. This both increases the government’s advantage, and increases the role of money in politics. It will create further pressure for an arms race between parties for donations, and consequent increase in the already disproportionate influence of large donors. This is undemocratic. Democracy is about “one person, one vote”, not “one dollar, one vote”.

    Third parties

  6. I oppose the lack of restrictions on third parties and parallel campaigns. While parallel campaigns spending in excess of $12,000 will be required to register, they will not be subject to any spending cap, or even required to disclose how much they have spent.
  7. This threatens our democracy. Spending caps are essential to ensure the fairness of electoral outcomes. They are designed to ensure a rough “equality of arms” between contestants. Without them, elections run the risk of being a contest of money, not votes. New Zealand recognizes this, and imposes spending limits and tough disclosure laws on parties contesting the vote at elections. But as the Royal Commission on the Electoral System noted, spending limits on political parties necessitate spending limits on third parties as well. Without them, parties will circumvent their spending cap and attempt to gain an unfair advantage by establishing front groups or colluding with existing groups – as graphically illustrated by National and the Exclusive Brethren during the 2005 election campaign.
  8. I therefore ask that the bill be amended to impose a spending cap on third parties. The Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993 imposes a spending cap of $50,000, and this seems to be an appropriate level.
  9. The lack of disclosure is also disturbing. Parties are required to disclose their campaign spending; third parties should be too. If someone is attempting to buy our democracy, at the very least we should be able to find out how much they are spending to do so.
  10. I therefore ask that the bill be amended to require registered third parties as well as political parties to submit a return of their election expenses.


  11. Section 21 of the bill inserts new section 210(6A) into the Act, requiring parties to report their aggregated donations in three bands of (up to $1,000, split by anonymous, overseas, and other; $1,000 - $5,000; and %5,000 - $10,000). This is a welcome improvement in the disclosure regime which will provide greater scrutiny of parties, however it does not go far enough. I ask that the bill be amended to require reporting the number of donations as well as the amounts. I also ask that reporting be done in bands of $1,000, so that the public can see for example whether there is a spike of donations just below the $10,000 disclosure limit. As parties are already required to track donations in order to comply with aggregation rules (and are likely to track them for their own fundraising purposes), this is unlikely to impose any significant compliance costs on them. Assuming they use database software, then it is simply a matter of adding an extra report, a small, one-off cost.
  12. I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Select Committee.