Monday, January 17, 2011


So, it seems that the newly-elected Mayor of Whakatane overspent in the recent local body elections by at least $1,000.

This is absolutely unacceptable. The Local Electoral Act sets strict limits on electoral expenses to ensure a level playing field and prevent rich candidates from buying elections. In Mr Bonne's case, this was $20,000. But he spent $20,928 - and that's not including the use of a specially decorated vehicle loaned to him for the duration of the campaign (which, if not declared as a donation, is an expense).

Bonne's excuse is that he didn't realise that the spending limit included GST. Pull the other one, it calls Don Brash. Bonne has been a District Councillor for 18 years and has previous contested and won the Whakatane mayoralty. A "defence" of ignorance is simply not believable.

The penalty if the spending is round to be deliberate is a $10,000 fine and up to two years in jail. Contrary to the Herald story, that wouldn't cause Bonne to lose his office - he's only disqualified if convicted of an offence punishable by two years or more. So even if the court finds that he deliberately flouted the law in an attempt to buy victory, the people of Whakatane will still have to live with him as Mayor.

That's a serious flaw in the law. The Electoral Act gets around it by using the concept of a "corrupt practice", and disqualifying any MP convicted of one (or found to have behaved corruptly by an electoral petition). Its time that concept was extended to local government.

Correction: I've misinterpreted the Local Government Act; conviction for intentionally violating spending restrictions is enough to see Bonne disqualified. Guss I should check more carefully.