Electoral Finance Act

On behalf of: The Alliance Party

Submitted by: Kay Murray

Address: 45 Norman Street
Tainui
DUNEDIN

Phone: 03 487 8940 (work)
03 454 2057 (home)

Email: kaysimmondsmurray@alliance.org.nz

We do not wish to appear in person before the select committee

Alliance Party Responses to Selected Discussion Questions in the Issues Paper:

Q1.1
The Alliance Party agrees with the six guiding principles of:

1.Equity – the electoral contest should be fair
2.Freedom of expression – freedom of expression should not unduly be restricted
3.Participation – public participation in democracy and elections should be encouraged
4.Transparency – open processes in the electoral system ensure the interests and roles of those involved are clear
5.Accountability – participants in the election must be responsible for their actions
6.Legitimacy – the electoral system must be perceived to be legitimate to be effective

Q1.2
We think particular emphasis needs to be place on the principle of equity – that constituency candidates and political parties should campaign on a level playing field and have the opportunity to explain their policies to the general public and influence the choice that voters make.

Even with the reforms contained in the electoral finance act, this principle has been lacking in elections in New Zealand. Equity has only existed between the two major parties. We believe this is totally unacceptable in a MMP environment. Parties outside of Parliament have been particularly disadvantaged in terms of having the opportunity to explain their policies to the general public and influence the choice that voters make.

Aside from the totally inequitable allocation of broadcasting allowances and television time for opening and closing addresses, parties outside of Parliament have not had access to the free travel, paid time for candidates who are existing MPs to campaign, and access to ancillary staff that parties inside Parliament routinely use during election campaigns.

Q1.3
We believe a statement of these principles should be included in the new legislation and should be able to be legally tested if necessary to ensure that the principles are applied during each election campaign.

Q 2 Private Funding
Private funding conflicts with the principles of equity and public participation since it allows individuals and parties with access to significant private funding to promote their views much more widely than those with limited access to private funding. In doing so it discriminates in favour of parties whose policies benefit mainly wealthy or corporate interests and against parties whose policies benefit mainly those on limited incomes

If there is to be private funding it is essential that it is transparent and parties and individual candidates disclose the funding they receive.

The threshold levels for anonymous donations and disclosure of donors identities contained in the present electoral finance act should be retained

Q 2.13 – 18 Public Funding
The Alliance believes that every party or candidate contesting an electorate seat as an independent, should be entitled to have a publicly funded and produced summary of their policies distributed to all eligible voters . This will satisfy the equity principle and also ensure that all voters have the opportunity to find out exactly what policies each party espouses, and are able to make an informed choice, rather than be reliant on the vague, feel good ‘spin’ put out by parties themselves using private funding.

Any public funding should be distributed equitably across all parties and individuals contesting the election regardless of size or previous voting history.

Q 2.19 -30 Broadcast funding

The Alliance believes that public funding should be made available for broadcasting otherwise it will become the domain of very wealthy parties only and democracy will not be served.

However, the Alliance believes that the current allocation of public broadcasting funding is also inequitable and undemocratic. Allocated on party size and voting history, it simply promotes the existing major parties and thus ensures that the status quo is maintained.

Television and radio should provide free to air broadcasting of exactly the same time and quality across all parties contesting the election. However tighter controls may be necessary to ensure that publicly funded broadcasts are policy based and aimed at informing voters rather than ‘brand’ advertisements for parties.

Q 3.1 – 3.3 Campaign Spending
We believe there should be spending limits and that existing spending limits should be retained, even though they are of limited relevance to all but the major parties.

Q 3.4 Regulated Period
We believe the calendar year in which the election is held is the appropriate period for the regulation of election spending

Q 4.1 – 4.3Advertising
If election spending is to be monitored, election advertising needs to be defined and for simplicity should include any advertisement containing the name of a political party, its logo, or the name of a candidate that is commissioned and paid for by any party, person or group closely associated with a constituency candidate or political party.

Q 5.1 – 5.10 Parallel Campaigners
We believe there should be no parallel campaigning. Parallel campaigning being the placing of paid advertisements or paying for distribution of literature mentioning any political party, or candidate or showing the logo of any political party. This should not preclude the media and organizations engaged in bona fide election coverage from printing their own press releases critiquing parties policies, candidate biographies and interviews in an equitable and balanced way e.g. in magazines and newsletters to members.

We are concerned that the political polling taking place up to the election come very close to parallel campaigning in some instances. Information on methodology used and sampling techniques is not readily available which makes it difficult to ascertain that polls are not being rigged by skewed sampling or leading questions. It is also highly probable that polls taken very close to election day have an undue influence on the election result, with voters more likely to change their voting pattern in the light of poll results. We would recommend that all polls be stopped as soon as the election is officially called. We would also recommend that pollsters be required to refer to all parties contesting the election by name when asking voter preferences not just name major parties and have an ‘other’ category for the rest.

Parallel campaigning is the major vehicle by which a democratic election can by hijacked by sectarian or corporate interests, violating the principles of equity and transparency and calling the integrity of the election process into question.

Q 6.1 Monitoring and compliance
We believe that accountability and transparency would be best served by the electoral office appointing its own auditors to audit returns from candidates and parties. This would ensure that all returns are subject to the same level of scrutiny and that the conditions of the electoral finance act interpreted uniformly for all parties.

Because of the complexity of the electoral finance act it is difficult for smaller parties to find qualified auditors willing to undertake auditing of their returns. The time taken by auditors to familiarize themselves with the requirements of the act cannot be recouped in the fees for auditing a small set of financial records.

Final Statement

We believe that, in all areas of electoral finance, simplicity is of the essence. Systems must be designed that, as well as being as fair as possible, can be easily understood by everyone involved from voters themselves to small parties and special interest groups with no paid administration staff as well as larger parties and lobby groups.