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Group pressing for strong new election finance law

News release 2 April 2007

Lloyd Geering, Anton Oliver, Patricia Grace and Paul Harris back group pressing for strong new election finance laws

The reactivated Coalition for Open Government was launched today, across the road from Parliament, to press for strong new election finance laws. Spokesperson Steven Price said New Zealand's current election finance rules are some of the worst in the developed world and urgently need to be strengthened to provide New Zealand with a world-class, incorruptible electoral system.

The Coalition for Open Government was originally formed in 1979 and played a leading role in achieving New Zealand's 1982 freedom of information law. Twenty five years on, the group has been re-formed to work for a strong new election finance law. The group has the blessing of the original group and includes one member from it.

The group has re-formed in response to Government plans to rewrite the election finance laws. A Government bill is due to be introduced to Parliament any day. The Coalition for Open Government plans to evaluate the Government proposals, monitor the legislation process and mobilise public support for the strongest possible new law.

The group's patrons are Emeritus Professor Lloyd Geering ONZ, author Patricia Grace QSO, All Black Anton Oliver and former Electoral Commission head Paul Harris. The Coalition plans to involve many other New Zealanders in the issue in the coming months.

The Coalition for Open Government’s key proposals for change are presented in the attached document. Each of the five key proposals will be developed in later publications.

“Many of the strongest ideas for reform come straight from existing Canadian and British legislation,” Steven Price said. “There is no excuse for New Zealand to settle for less.”

“One bottom line is that if the Government intends to increase state funding of political parties, it should only be in exchange for dramatically strengthened election finance laws that provide openness and reduce the influence of large private donors.”

“The Coalition is determined that this year's rewriting of the election laws does not just produce weak versions of overseas laws. Recent controversies over Exclusive Brethren pamphlets, the pledge card, anonymous donors and election spending demand that New Zealand clean up the system properly.”


Coalition for Open Government key points

1. Ban anonymous donations

Parties should have to record who is giving them money. There should be no anonymous donations above $20.

Parties should have to disclose the identities and donations of anyone (or any organisation) who gives more than $200 in a year. It should be an offence to donate money via another person or a trust.

Parties should have to disclose their donations leading up to the election, so voters know who is giving money when they vote.

2. Limit the size of large donations

No person or organisation should be allowed to give more than $5000 a year in political donations (including a maximum of $1000 for any one candidate).

3. Control third-party election campaigning

People and organisations wanting to spend money to influence the election publicly should disclose their identities and, like parties, have their spending limited to a reasonable cap. This is a difficult area to develop effective laws; we will be developing more detailed policy.

The law should stop people colluding to circumvent the spending limits.

4. Enforce the laws effectively

Political parties should be liable for breaches of electoral laws.

The fines and jail terms for corrupt and illegal practices should be increased significantly: for example, the maximum penalty for corrupt practices should be $1 million for parties and 7 years' jail for individuals.

Parties should have to declare more of their election-related expenses – including money spent on issue advertisements, polling, and political strategists. And those expenses should be included in the parties’ spending caps.

There should be one independent Crown agency to oversee, monitor and enforce all election laws.

5. Make all public funding of elections fairer and more transparent

Any increase in public funding should only follow much tighter donation and disclosure limits.

Public funding should be linked to a party's level of popular support and be designed to encourage greater democratic engagement.

The unfair election broadcasting rules should be abolished.

Any increase to current levels of public funding of political parties and electioneering should be transparent. Parliamentary spending should be rigorously checked to ensure it is not being used for electioneering.


Background to the Coalition for Open Government

What is the connection between this Coalition for Open Government and the original Coalition for Open Government?

The original Coalition for Open Government was established in 1979 to oppose the National Development Bill, and was a major force in the campaign that secured the Official Information Act. The original Coalition for Open Government core group has supported the formation of a new Coalition for Open Government focussed on the goal of securing the best possible election finance reform. One member of the original core group – Kevin Hackwell – is part of the new group.

Who is the new Coalition for Open Government?

The group is made up of people with a shared interest in election finance reform. The group is non-partisan. Its Patrons are Emeritus Professor Lloyd Geering ONZ, author Patricia Grace QSO, All Black Anton Oliver and former Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission Paul Harris.

Why is the group needed?

We believe that election finance laws should not be designed and decided by the politicians and parties that they are intended to control. The laws should be the result of wide debate and public input. They need to be trusted by the public. We see a role for a group like the Coalition for Open Government to develop independent proposals, scrutinise the Government's proposals and help inform and encourage members of the public to play a part in the decision-making process.

What is the group's attitude to the Government's election finance plans?

We will support good policies and work to change policies with which we disagree. We intend to work with politicians from all parties to achieve the best possible election finance laws.

What countries have policies that New Zealand can use as a model?

Canada has strict new rules requiring all donors giving above $20 to be recorded by the party and all donations over $200 to be declared. The Coalition has adopted this model in its initial Key Proposals. Britain has much stricter rules than New Zealand on what election-related spending must be declared by parties and the time period before an election covered by spending caps. We believe this is a useful model for New Zealand as well. Also, Canada introduced a cap on private donations to political parties in January this year. This approach has also been adopted. Most countries have greater transparency of political donations than New Zealand.


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