Election complaints highlight need for law review
The Electoral Commission says no action is indicated or possible over complaints about the National and Labour parties' campaign financing and 2005 electioneering, but it wants to see public debate and a review of electoral law following a string of controversies.
Commission chief executive Dr Helena Catt says the activities drawn to its attention as a result of the book, Hollow Men, and Investigate Magazine (“Union City Blues”, September 2006) late last year all appear to have been within the law.
“The Electoral Commission reached its conclusions after receiving a Crown Law opinion concerning ‘anonymous donations’ in respect of the National Party and making preliminary inquiries of the Labour Party about union donations and campaigning.
“In any case,” Dr Catt says, “the six month period in which prosecutions could begin after any possible offence had long expired before publication.”
Meanwhile, Dr Catt says no parliamentary party has chosen to submit a revised election expense return as invited by the Commission following the Auditor-General’s October 2006 report which found nearly $1.2m of parliamentary funding had been spent on electioneering.
“The string of complaints and controversies surrounding the 2005 election campaign highlight the need for a public debate and possible review of electoral law, particularly concerning campaign financing, electioneering definitions and spending limits, and campaigning by non-political parties,” she concludes. The Commission was releasing the Crown Law opinion on the donations issue as a contribution to the public discussion.
In its [255 submission] to a select committee inquiry into the 2005 general election the Commission said that to meet international standards for democratic frameworks New Zealand’s electoral laws and practice needed to ensure:
- minimal barriers for those wishing to contest the election including equal access to means of communicating with voters and ease of compliance
- public information on the source of campaign funding and how it is used
- prevention of the subordination of parties to special interests
- minimal restrictions on rights of freedom of expression and access to information
- rules which are clear and coherent to those who must follow or enforce them
- public confidence that those contesting the election comply with the rules and will be caught and sanctioned if they break them.