Electoral Finance law reform announced

Justice Minister Simon Power has announced the government’s reform package for electoral finance law.

He said:

 “The package comes after extended consultation with all parliamentary parties and the public.

“As a result, Cabinet has decided to progress reforms only where there is broad public and political support.

“If we are to have a system which is fair, workable, enduring, and in place before the 2011 election, broad consensus is essential.”

Proposal in the package include: 

  • Require disclosure of the total amount of donations that parties receive in bands.
  • Increase the amount of money that parties and candidates can spend on election campaigning at the rate of inflation for each general election.
  • Require people who spend more than $12,000 on parallel campaigning to register with the Electoral Commission. The register will be publicly available to ensure openness and transparency concerning the identities of parallel campaigners.
  • Bring more certainty to what counts as ‘election advertising’ by modernising the definition and requiring the Electoral Commission to issue guidance and advisory opinions about election advertisements.
  • Clarify the relationship between the Electoral Act 1993 and Parliamentary Service legislation.
  • Maintain the regulated campaign period to be three months before polling day.

The acknowledgement that broad consensus is necessary is a very good start. One of the many problems with the mess Labour made of electoral finance changes was bulldozing them through without wide support.

Increasing the amount which parties and candidates can spend with inflation is sensible.

So is bringing more certainty to what counts as election advertising and requiring the Electoral Commission to issue guidance and advisory opinions. Confusion about what was permitted and what wasn’t and fear of getting it wrong restrained free expression before the last election.

Returning the regulated period to three months before polling day rather than from January 1 of an election year is also a good move. Although I’d add, or from the announcement of the election if that is less than three months from polling day.

Related to that is clarifying the relationship between the Electoral Act and parliamentary Service legislation – we must not have a repeat of the pledge card and other rorts where parties and MPs campaigned with public money.

More information ont he review is available at the Justice Ministry.

UPDATE: Kiwiblog says consensus is the right way to approach the issue reform but it kills most meaningful electoral finance reform.

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