Roy on State Funding of Political Parties

ACT MP Heather Roy sums up the state funding of political parties debate.

From Heather Roy’s Diary

Talk back radio has been running red hot on the subject of state funding for political parties this week. Hosts have asked to see the mandate from the people and lambasted politicians (all lumped in together) for wanting to misuse the public purse – and in my view quite rightly. The proposed $10 million every three years would buy a lot of hip replacements.

ACT vigorously opposes any move by Labour to introduce state funding for political parties. Many people already think that political parties receive public money but this is not the case.

The reality is that political parties have been self-funding throughout New Zealand’s history. At one point Members of Parliament did not even draw salaries although this was changed at Labours instigation as it was felt that a lack of salary confined the job to the landed gentry.

In today’s parliament MPs are not only paid by the taxpayer but also hire staff courtesy of the state. Constituency MPs are entitled to two electorate agents (working outside Parliament) and one secretary and list MPs have one of each. There is also a “Leaders budget” which covers such things as research staff and press secretaries. There has traditionally been a tight restraint on what the staff in parliament are allowed to do.

Taxpayers’ money is not allowed to fund ventures to secure votes or to raise party funds. In other words an MP should be able to communicate with constituents and deal with injustices. However, taxpayers’ money is not supposed to be used to advance the career of the MP or the interests of the party.

The latest Auditor-General’s report drew a much tighter line as to what taxpayers’ money could be used for. Few escaped criticism but the most outrageous breach of the rules was the use of the Prime Minister’s Leader’s budget to pay for the “Pledge Cards”. The pledge cards were naked electioneering and Helen Clark wrongly spent over $800,000. The Prime Minister promised to repay the money but seven months later the debt remains outstanding. It is entirely possible that the Labour Party doesn’t have the money. This week, after weeks of swirling rumours and speculation, it has come up with the scheme that political parties should be taxpayer funded.

Details of Labour’s opportunistic swindle have been leaked to the press and include financing political parties to the tune of $2 per vote, up to 20 percent of the vote at the previous election, thereafter $1 per vote to a cap of 30 percent and funding would be indexed to the Consumer Price Index. Using the 2005 election as a base National and Labour would receive around $1.1 million each a year, NZ First $260,000, the Greens $240,000 and ACT $69,000.

Other changes would include:-

Cutting anonymous donations to parties from $10,000 to $5,000.
Cutting anonymous donations to individuals from $1,000 to $500.
Ban donations by foreigners.
Cap third party spending at $60,000 nationally and $2,000 in an electorate but Unions and companies would be exempt when communicating with members or shareholders.
Extend the start date for official campaigning (currently 3 months before an election) to January 1 of election year.
Create a special search warrant for suspected illegal practices.
Require any candidate who spends more than 75 percent of the spending limit to have the expenses audited.

In the interests of fairness, accountability and transparency New Zealanders deserve a referendum on this one Labour isn’t listening to the people – they seem to have learnt nothing from the 85 percent kiwi opposition to the anti-smacking bill. This week the people are saying no and calls of “Wheres the mandate?” are entirely appropriate.


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