Scoop IV: Brownlee On Labour's Election Spending
Scoop IV: Brownlee Explains
National's Anger Over Labour's Election
Last week, in a surprise twist to the ongoing saga of Election 2005, the Electoral Commission referred the New Zealand Labour Party to the police as it believes the party has overspent its election expense limit and committed an offence under the Electoral Act. (See sections 214B and 224.)
National's Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee has been spearheading the opposition attacks regarding Labour's alleged overspending. In a press statement released yesterday Mr Brownlee considered Labour was digging itself into an even deeper hole regarding their electoral spending.
In the New Zealand Herald, Labour President Mike Williams confirmed the pledge card had been funded through the Leader's budget before. 'The Office of the Leader has done that now for three elections, maybe four,' he is quoted as saying.
"If the pledge card was funded through the Leader's budget at the last election, why did it feature an authorisation from Mike Smith, as required for election campaign material?
"And if, as Labour argues, it wasn't about soliciting votes in 2002, why was the Labour Party secretary signing off on a taxpayer-funded Leader's information campaign?"
Scoop caught up with Mr Brownlee yesterday afternoon to see if he had received any answers to these questions and was given the benefit of his righteous indignation at what he sees as either, an arrogant, or ill-funded Labour Party dead set on bending the electoral rules to suit itself.
Scoop: Did Labour do what they had done in the 2002 election? Was their use of the Leader's fund exactly the same?
Gerry Brownlee: Yes it was, it was the same format.
Scoop: Was it signed by Mike Smith in 2002 as well?
Gerry Brownlee: I believe in 2002 it was, yes.
Scoop: Why wasn't it pulled up in 2002 if it was a big deal, did no-one notice?
Gerry Brownlee: Well in 2002 [National] assumed because Mike Smith had signed it that it had been paid for by the Labour Party to fund their election campaign - which would have been perfectly legitimate. The new information that has come to light over the weekend is that [the pledge card] had been paid for from the Leader's Office. In which case the question has to be asked, 'if this was a government information campaign then why is the secretary of the Labour Party signing it off'?
Scoop: What do you think drove Labour to do such a thing?
Gerry Brownlee: I think just the confidence that they can do whatever they liked and also probably they were short of funds.
Scoop: A couple of years ago there were billboards paid for out of the [Opposition] Leader's fund weren't there?
Gerry Brownlee: Those billboards were simply stating party positions such as 'the beaches are for all' and hi-lighting an issue. The pledge card was used in 1999 as the main campaign tool. It was used again in 2002 and was passed off as being part of the election campaign.
If it was paid for by the Leaders office, the single issue here is if it was paid for from the leaders office what on earth was the labour party campaign secretary doing signing off on the thing. They were trying to pass off what was clearly an electoral expense as a leader's office expense.
Scoop: So National didn't use its Leaders Office budget during the election, it was all private donations, is that correct?
Gerry Brownlee: This recent election?
Gerry Brownlee: The Leader's Office would have been used leading up to the election perhaps some direct mail outs but that is part of the course of politics.
The salient point is that if your asking people to vote for your party by putting a party slogan on there then you contravene the rules. Their credit card has carried the slogan 'you're better off with Labour' since its inception. And I think that is where the breach is.
Now, Labour will try and say this is all murky and fuzzy it doesn't matter. I don't think that is the case. Political parties get funding in order to be able to take positions and present information. They don't get funded to electioneer. It's pretty clear. I think there is a pretty significant breach here.
We accepted in 1999 that the pledge card was a legitimate way to campaign. To find out now that in 2002 and 2005 it was funded out of the Leader's information campaign puts it into an entirely different light. I think Labour has some obligation to pay those funds back.