Additional reforms to safeguard electoral system integrity

Julie Haggie

Julie Haggie

Wellington, July 7, 2022

         

                                                                  A large number of donations are over $15,000 (Image Source: Reserve Bank of New Zealand)
 

Alleged manipulation of funding rules and lack of transparency by several political parties in the 2017 elections have sparked the government to respond with changes to the electoral law, recently announced by Justice Minister Kiri Allan.

Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) has raised these issues many times in the past, including in our National integrity Systems Assessment and through subsequent advocacy.

Desirable outcomes

The principle of one-person, one-vote underpins democracy. We need to protect the integrity of that essential democratic process. Political financing through donations, anonymous or not, should not be able to purchase influence.

As we head towards the 2023 national election, we are optimistic that the changes will reduce some of the anonymity and bulking up or transferring to obfuscate donor identities.

We should see (a) Public reporting of anyone donating more than $5000 to politicians or political parties (b) Parties disclosing the number and value of political party donations of less than $1500 which were not anonymous (c) Parties disclosing in-kind donations (d) Disclosing by candidates of loans from unregistered lenders and (e) Political parties publishing their financial statements.

Our participation in the public consultation included submission of TINZ, namely, Political Party Donations Consultation.

The proposed political donation regulations are positive and TINZ welcomes them.

We are less sure about how donors and parties will respond in terms of transparent behaviour when the regulations are in place. We would like to see openness because that is the right thing to do. It should not all be about the stick.

Additional reforms recommended

Additional reforms are required to maintain a publicly trusted high integrity electoral system. They include (1) Banning political financing of candidates or parties by companies or organisations currently contracting with a government agency or who are progressing through a public procurement process (2) Restricting partly and fully owned public entities from involvement in political financing (3) Explicitly banning the use of state resources for donating or campaigning in favour of, or against, a political party (4) Banning pre-election agreements between parties and organisations or corporations, based on voting strength. Votes can be as persuasive as money and (5) Rules fostering transparency and integrity in lobbying – another area where New Zealand’s lenient arrangements are increasingly out of step with those of other jurisdictions.

We need to maintain vigilance on the potential for cryptocurrencies to allow foreign contributions and anonymous donations to enter politics unnoticed. Cryptocurrencies, and separately, enforceable offers or promises of future money, goods or services should be treated as money donations.

It is important to analyse any changes to ensure that the result will not exclude or discriminate against others seeking political representation.

Funding for online political advertising needs to be considered as part of a  broader electoral review.  See our October 2020 research paper Online Political Campaigning in New Zealand. 

Julie Haggie is Chief Executive of Transparency International New Zealand based in Wellington. The above article appeared in the July 2022 edition of ‘Transparency Times.’

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