Third Party handbook for the 2020 General Election


This section explains the rules you must follow when advertising and campaigning, including promoter statements and when you need to get written authorisation.

What are election and referendum advertisements?

An election advertisement is an advertisement that may reasonably be regarded as  encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not vote for a:

  • candidate
  • party
  • type of candidate or party the advertisement describes by referencing views they do or don’t hold.

Election advertisements about electorate candidates are called candidate advertisements, and election advertisements about parties are called party advertisements. 

A referendum advertisement is an advertisement that may reasonably be regarded as  encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not vote in a particular way in a referendum.

Whether an advertisement encourages or persuades voters depends on its effect as a whole

An advertisement doesn’t have to include a candidate or party’s name to be an election advertisement. Similarly, it doesn’t have to include the referendum question to be a referendum advertisement.

An advertisement’s encouragement or persuasion can be direct or indirect. Whether an advertisement encourages or persuades voters depends on its:

  • content
  • style
  • apparent purpose
  • factual context
  • effect as a whole.

We must assess whether something is an election advertisement from the perspective of a reasonable observer, recognising the importance and value of political speech in a democracy (The Electoral Commission v Watson & Anor 2016).

Election and referendum advertisements can be in any medium

Election and referendum advertisements can be in any medium, such as:

  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • posters
  • billboards
  • leaflets
  • TV and radio broadcasting
  • online advertising.

Unpaid advertising can still be an election or referendum advertisement.

There are exceptions to election and referendum advertisement rules

The following don’t count as election or referendum advertisements:

  • editorial content
  • personal political views online
  • an MP’s contact details.

Editorial content is any part of a publication except advertising or advertorials 

Editorial content in periodicals, radio or TV programmes, and on news media websites are not election or referendum advertisements. 

Editorial content includes any part of the publication except advertising, advertorials or sponsored content. It can include opinion and editorial pieces that others write, and contributions from readers the editor has chosen to publish. 

A periodical is a newspaper, magazine or journal that

  • was established for reasons unrelated to the election
  • is published regularly
  • is available to the public.

A periodical can be digital or printed.

Personal political views online aren’t advertising if they’re unpaid

An individual publishing their personal political views on the internet or other electronic medium doesn’t count as election or referendum advertising. This exemption covers people posting on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

This exemption doesn’t cover:

  • any paid content
  • anyone expressing the political views on behalf of a group, organisation or political party.

Election and referendum rules apply to advertisements published in New Zealand or overseas

The rules apply to referendum advertisements or election advertisements published either:

  • in New Zealand, even if the promoter is outside New Zealand
  • outside New Zealand, only if the promoter is in New Zealand.

Publish means to bring to a person’s attention in any way, except for talking to the person face to face.

Linking to a website can make an advertisement election or referendum advertising

If your publication refers to a website, the content of the website may help decide whether the publication is:

  • an election or referendum advertisement
  • a party advertisement, a candidate advertisement or both.

Listing a website is fine, but if you use words or graphics that encourage readers to visit a website, consider the content of both the advertisement and the website.

For example, if your print advertisement encourages readers to visit a website, and the website encourages them to vote for a party, the print advertisement is an election advertisement.

You can get an advisory opinion on whether your advertisement is an election advertisement, a referendum advertisement or both

You can ask us for our opinion on whether your advertisement counts as an election advertisement, a referendum advertisement or both. We don’t charge a fee for this.

Our advisory opinions are not legal advice

Our opinions are our interpretation of the Electoral Act and Referendums Framework Act. They're not legally binding or legal advice, and a court of law may reach a different opinion. You may want to get your own legal advice before you publish an advertisement.

Send us your request by email

To request an advisory opinion, please send us a copy of your advertisement and tell us:

  • how you'll publish it
  • when you'll publish it
  • how widely you’ll publish it.

Send us your request by email:


We'll send you an advisory opinion as soon as we can

Once we get your request, we'll respond with an advisory opinion as soon as we can. We'll aim to respond within 5 working days.

We’ll keep your request confidential until the election is over

We'll treat your request and our advice as confidential until after 12 November 2020. After that, we'll make our opinions available if someone asks for them, subject to the Official Information Act.

You can publicly release the advice we give you at any time, if you want to.

You must declare who is promoting your advertisements

All election and referendum advertisements must include a promoter statement. This applies at all times, not just during the regulated period. A promoter statement shows the name and address of the person promoting the advertisement.

We recommend you word your promoter statements like this:

Promoted or authorised by [your name], [your full street address].

If you’re registered, you need to include the name and address that is in the register of promoters.

If you’re unregistered and a group, your promoter statements must also include the name of a member of the group who has the authority to represent it. For example:

Promoted or authorised by [representative’s full name], [group’s name], [group’s full street address].

If you’re an individual, you can use the full street address of either:

  • The place where you usually live
  • any other place where usually someone can contact you between 9am and 5pm on any working day.

You can’t use a post office box or website address.

Your promoter statements must be easy to see or hear

You must clearly display your promoter statement in your advertisements. 

In our view, this doesn’t mean someone should be able to read the promoter statement from where you mean them to see the advertisement. 

For example, people don’t need to be able to read the promoter statement on a billboard while they’re driving past it. However, a person should be able to read the promoter statement if they stop to examine the billboard.

Whether an advertisement clearly displays a promoter statement depends on the advertisement and the context it’s in.

Advertisements related to an election or referendum also need a promoter statement

You need a promoter statement in some types of advertisements about an election or referendum, even if they don’t encourage or persuade voters to vote or not vote for a party or candidate or referendum option and won’t count as an election or referendum expense.

For example, if you put up posters encouraging people to enrol to vote in the election, you need to include a promoter statement because the posters are related to an election.

This now applies to advertisements in all mediums including:

  • newspapers
  • billboards
  • leaflets
  • posters
  • TV and radio broadcasts
  • online advertisements.

You could be fined if you don’t include a promoter statement 

Not including a promoter statement is an offence. If you don’t use a promoter statement when you’re meant to, you could be fined up to $10,000 if you’re unregistered, or $40,000 if you’re registered.

You need written authority to promote a candidate or party

You must get written authorisation from a party secretary or candidate before you can promote that party or candidate in your advertising.

If your advertisement promotes more than one party or candidate, you need written authorisation from each party secretary or candidate.

There are limits to how much you can spend on advertising

There are limits to how much you can spend on election advertising and referendum advertising during the regulated period.

The regulated period is from 18 August - 16 October.

During this period, any advertising you run to promote a candidate, party or referendum option count towards your expense limits. 

If you’re unregistered, your expense limit is $13,600 (including GST) for the general election and $13,600 (including GST) for each of the referendums. If you spend any more, you must register. For example, if you want to spend $10,000 on advertising for the cannabis referendum and $10,000 on separate advertising for the end of life choice referendum, you don’t need to register. If you are going to spend $20,000 on joint advertising about the election and one or more referendum, you need to register as a promoter.  

If you’re registered, your expense limit is $338,000 (including GST) for the general election and $338,000 (including GST) for each of the referendums.

Advertising you run during the regulated period counts towards your expense limits

Election and referendum advertisement expenses count towards your limits if you publish the advertisement, or continue to publish it, during the regulated period.

Expenses you paid or incurred outside the regulated period still count towards your limits if they were for advertisements you published during the regulated period. 

Expenses include the cost of creation and the value of materials

Election and referendum expenses that count towards your limits include:

  • the cost of preparing, designing, composing, printing, posting and publishing the advertisement
  • the reasonable market value of any materials you use for the advertisement. This includes materials you get for free or below reasonable market value.

Election expenses don’t include the cost of food or hiring halls.

Election and referendum expenses don’t include the cost of:

  • surveys or opinion polls
  • free labour
  • replacing materials destroyed through no fault of your own
  • framework that holds up your advertisements (except for commercial frames)
  • running any vehicle you use to display advertisements.

Keep a record of what you spend on advertising

Keep a record of what you spend on advertising as you spend it. Whether you’re registered or not, you must keep invoices and receipts for all your election expenses of $50 or more for 3 years after election day.

You must report your advertising expenses if you spent over $100,000

If you spend over $100,000 on election advertising expenses during the regulated period, you’ll need to report those expenses to us after the election. You’ll also need to report your referendum advertising expenses if you spend over $100,000 during the regulated period with respect to either referendum.

Expenses for advertisements that continue into the regulated period count towards your limits

If you publish an advertisement before the regulated period, the costs of continuing to publish it during the regulated period will go towards your expense limits.

You must split the expenses so you assign a fair proportion to the regulated period.

Contact us if you have any questions about splitting your expenses.

You can’t split expenses with candidates or parties

If your election advertisement promotes a candidate or registered party, the full cost of that advertisement counts towards both your expense limit and that candidate or party’s expense limit. 

Joint advertisements count towards both your limits

You must count the full costs of any joint advertisement towards each expense threshold or limit, as appropriate. You can’t split the cost of the advertisement.

A joint advertisement can be any of the following:

  • a referendum advertisement that also meets the definition of an election advertisement
  • a single referendum advertisement covering both referendums
  • a single advertisement covering both referendums and the election
  • an advertisement promoted by two or more referendum promoters.

For example, if your advertisement costs $20,000, covers the cannabis referendum and encourages a vote for a particular party, it’s a referendum and election advertisement. You must count the $20,000 as both a referendum expense and an election expense.  

If you join with one or more other referendum promoters to promote a referendum advertisement, you must each count the full costs towards your individual spending thresholds and limits.

If someone else pays an expense for you, it still counts towards your limits

If someone gives you or pays for something that would otherwise be an expense, it counts towards your expense limits. The expense is the reasonable market value for the good or service you got.

Reusing items from previous elections counts towards your expense limit

If you reuse something, such as a banner, from a previous election, its reasonable market value goes towards your expense limit. You can’t split an expense over multiple elections.

We suggest you record the price you originally paid for the item. If you don’t know the original price, record what the item would cost now, based on two quotes.

Pay all advertising bills by 25 January  

Make sure you get all the invoices for your election and referendum expenses within 20 working days of us declaring the official election result (by Monday 4 December).

You must pay all these invoices by 25 January, within 40 working days of us declaring the official result. It’s an offence to not pay your invoices on time.

If you’re disputing a bill, you can follow the procedure in sections 206Z and 206ZA of the Electoral Act or sections 69 and 70 of the Referendums Framework Act.

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