(Feb. 18, 2010) On February 16, 2010, the New Zealand government announced plans to introduce new legislation to amend the rules relating to campaign finance and spending on election advertising. (Press Release, Hon. Simon Power, Electoral Finance Reform Package Announced (Feb. 16, 2010), available at http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/electoral+finance+reform+package+anno
The rules have been the subject of considerable controversy in recent years, following a major negative advertising campaign by the Exclusive Brethren church prior to the 2005 general election and a subsequent attempt by the previous government to regulate election spending by parallel campaigners as well as tighten political donation disclosure rules. The resulting legislation – the Electoral Finance Act 2007 – was repealed by the incoming government in early 2009. At that time, the government announced that it would consult the public and other political parties in order to develop new proposals. (Press Release, Hon. Simon Power, Bill Repealing EFA Introduced to Parliament (Feb. 12, 2009), available at http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/bill+repealing+efa+introduced+parliam
The reform package announced by Justice Minister Simon Power includes proposals to:
· Retain the donation disclosure rules contained in the 2007 legislation, and also require disclosure of a party's total income from donations when they reach set amounts.
· Increase the amount of money that parties and candidates can spend on election campaigning at the rate of inflation for each general election. (The current limit is NZ$2.4 million (about US$1.7 million) per party if it has candidates in all constituencies. An individual candidate can spend NZ$20,000 (about US$14,000) on election advertising.)
· Require people who spend more than NZ$12,000 (about US$8,500) on parallel campaigning (campaigning by individuals or groups that are not standing for election themselves) to register with the Electoral Commission.
· Modernize the definition of “election advertising,” so that it covers all forms of communications and has clear exceptions, and require the Electoral Commission to issue guidance and advisory opinions about whether something constitutes an election advertisement.
· Clarify the relationship between the Electoral Act 1993 and Parliamentary Service Act 2000, which allows political parties to spend public money for parliamentary purposes.
· Maintain the regulated campaign period as three months before polling day, in contrast to the start date of January 1 in an election year that was set by the 2007 legislation. (Press Release, Feb. 16, 2010, supra. See also Ministry of Justice, Consensus Reform Package for 2011, http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy-and-consultation/electoral/electoral-f
for-2011 (last visited Feb. 17, 2010).)
The register of parallel campaigners will be publicly available. However, there will not be a cap on how much these groups or individuals can spend on election advertising, unlike the 2007 legislation, which limited spending to NZ$120,000 (about US$85,000). The government also decided not to make changes to the regime that allocates public funding to political parties for the purpose of broadcasting election advertisements on radio and television, and that prohibits parallel campaigners from advertising on these media, because “[f]eedback shows that this area is contentious and there is not the broad-based consensus necessary for reform.” (Id.)
The Labour Party and the Green Party, who supported the 2007 legislation through Parliament, criticized the proposals, arguing that the lack of a spending cap for parallel campaigners “still risks creating the sort of free-for-all that occurs in the United States where campaign spending is out of control.” (Labour Warns of Campaign Free-for-All, TVNZ, Feb. 17, 2010, available at http://tvnz.co.nz/politics-news/labour-warns-campaign-free-all-3368092.)
The government plans to have the new legislation in place for the 2011 general election and stated that a special parliamentary committee comprising representatives from all of the parties in Parliament would be established to consider the bill and public submissions on the subject. “I welcome public debate on these issues to ensure the package will provide an enduring solution to the widespread concerns which led to the initial reform of electoral finance laws following the 2005 election,” Power said. (Id.)