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Electoral finance: the principles II – Democracy is for Voters

datePosted on 06:00, January 27th, 2009 by Anita

One of the right’s many complaints about Owen Glenn’s contribution to Peters’ legal fees was that Glenn’s not resident in New Zealand; he’s not even eligible to vote here. Like Glenn’s donations to Peters fees and the Labour party, the controversial Vela donations were from a source unable to vote: the donations were from companies not people.

Donations from not-voters are common in New Zealand; a quick read of the 2005 donation return shows that far more money was donated by things than by people. That doesn’t include the corporate donations carefully crafted to avoid disclosure (e.g. British American Tobacco’s donation to the Nats).

It begs the question – why, if we let anyone and anything buy influence, don’t we let them vote as well? If Sky City can fund political parties, shouldn’t they get to vote too? And the pharmaceutical companies? And the banks? And the tobacco lobby? While we’re at it, they’re bigger than the average person, shouldn’t they get more votes?

It’s obviously ridiculous, as is allowing anyone or anything which cannot vote in our elections to buy political influence.

Principle II: Democracy is for voters – if you can’t vote, or won’t be able to when you turn 18, you shouldn’t get to buy political influence, end of story.

[edited to clarify the first para – Anita]

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20 Responses to “Electoral finance: the principles II – Democracy is for Voters”

  1. Bryce Edwards on January 27th, 2009 at 08:28

    Anita – are you saying that trade unions shouldn’t be allowed to donate to the Labour Party?

    It sounds like you want to shift the NZ towards the US system where this they stop unions contributing, as well as companies – who find a heap of loopholes to get around this.

    Also, you say that the rightwing’s problem with the Owen Glenn donation was that he was not resident in New Zealand, but I don’t remember this being a big objection at all. Same with the Vela donations. Can you point to some serious evidence to back this up. Otherwise it sounds like your whole argument is built on a ‘straw man’.

  2. Anita on January 27th, 2009 at 08:45

    Bryce Edwards writes,

    Anita – are you saying that trade unions shouldn’t be allowed to donate to the Labour Party?

    Yes.

    It sounds like you want to shift the NZ towards the US system where this they stop unions contributing, as well as companies – who find a heap of loopholes to get around this.

    I think we should do that without the loopholes. The US loopholes exist because the politicians want them to. It would be entirely possible to ban non-people donations in NZ without those kinds of loopholes.

    Also, you say that the rightwing’s problem with the Owen Glenn donation was that he was not resident in New Zealand, but I don’t remember this being a big objection at all.

    It wasn’t their key objection, but it was one of many (e.g. this at Kiwiblog). My vague memory is that part of the reason they pushed this angle was that they’d run the story during the EFA debate that Labour had banned overseas donations then carefully crafted a loophole which let Glenn through.

    Same with the Vela donations.

    I had not meant to imply that National’s complaints about the Vela donations were that they were from a not-person (I had sloppily phrased the similarity). I’ve tidied up the wording, thanks for pointing it out!

    P.S. I’m really enjoying your history of Act I have a half written post in my head about the entanglements between lobbies and parties.

  3. imperial zeppelin on January 27th, 2009 at 08:48

    Maybe this system we have should just come clean and drop the pretence.

    Voting should be reserved for incorporated entities only. ( I believe they are treated as persons under the law at present.)

    With that out of the way, and the parliament being transparent about it’s reason for being there…to facilitate ongoing capitalism, societies could organise and govern themselves in ways far more beneficial and intelligent than occurs at the moment.

    Of course, such systems of governance as may be established would inevitably run up against and clash with the Capitalist model of government.

    Or not, since the Capitalist form of governance relies on vast numbers of us being duped into believing that it exists for our benefit; participating in the charade and extending it legitimacy.

    So the obvious answer would seem to be to simply disengage from the parliamentary/capitalist model of government and get on with building democratic alternatives in our communities and societies.

    Imagine all people engaged in useful and rewarding work instead of being chained to jobs and careers. People providing the necessities and luxuries for their communities and societies without abeyance to any overarching and remote central government. Energies devoted to creating social wealth and good rather than the narrowly defined ‘wealth’ of the market.

    Or instead of imagining….

  4. David Farrar on January 27th, 2009 at 08:51

    Presumably you would include unions in your list of groups that can not make a donation.

    To be consistent you would also need to ban unions from joining political parties to buy influence. Your principle II would suggest that only natural persons should be able to join a political party.

    And would you also ban unions from being able to campaign in an election, as such a third party campaign could be about political influence?

  5. Anita on January 27th, 2009 at 09:03

    David Farrar writes,

    Presumably you would include unions in your list of groups that can not make a donation.

    Absolutely.

    To be consistent you would also need to ban unions from joining political parties to buy influence. Your principle II would suggest that only natural persons should be able to join a political party.

    Yes, that is consistent and makes perfect sense.

    We’d need to be careful not to prevent the formation of something like the Alliance (a party consisting of parties), but otherwise yes. No non-voter should be able to join parties.

    BTW In “voter” I include people who will be able to vote relatively soon. So I have no issue with a 16 year olds (who will be able to vote when they are 18) joining a party or someone who is currently in prison for a term of more than three years maintaining party membership during their imprisonment and so on.

    And would you also ban unions from being able to campaign in an election, as such a third party campaign could be about political influence?

    I am comfortable with groups of people banding together to campaign (providing there are strict financial controls and complete transparency) and arguably unions (and the EMA etc) fit into that category.

  6. Lew on January 27th, 2009 at 10:23

    This conflicts with Principle I – Transparency. To adopt the rhetoric of the NRA, if you outlaw lobby groups, only the outlaws will join lobby groups. Ok, it’s hackneyed, but the point is valid: by making it illegal for non-voting-persons to donate or exert policy influence, all you’d achieve is to drive the existing lobbies underground and make them more secretive.

    L

  7. Anita on January 27th, 2009 at 11:31

    Lew,

    This conflicts with Principle I – Transparency. To adopt the rhetoric of the NRA, if you outlaw lobby groups, only the outlaws will join lobby groups. Ok, it’s hackneyed, but the point is valid: by making it illegal for non-voting-persons to donate or exert policy influence, all you’d achieve is to drive the existing lobbies underground and make them more secretive.

    I’m not suggesting preventing non-voters from lobbying, just from buying influence.

    I reckon that community organisations, companies, unions, business associations and so on should be able to develop ideas, present ideas, campaign for their ideas, and lobby politicians, political parties and public servants. What they shouldn’t be able to do is buy influence by giving money to political parties.

    (Yes I would also want spending limits on their campaigning in the run up to an election to ensure that moneyed lobbyists don’t have more influence than less wealthy groups, but the vast majority of lobbying and bringing about change is nothing to do with electoral campaigns)

  8. Anita on January 27th, 2009 at 11:38

    Not to mention (damn I hate it when I do this :)…

    You’re right, some people/organisations will want to buy political influence no matter what laws we put in place. Part of the solution is good laws, part of constant review, and part is in politicians and their parties refusing to be bought.

    If British American Tobacco had $5million to give to any party that would work to repeal the Smoke Free Environments Act then it’s not enough for it to be illegal for them to do so; we need to be confident they would be caught, and more importantly we need to know that no politician or party would take the money.

  9. Graeme Edgeler on January 27th, 2009 at 11:48

    Owen Glenn was eligible to vote at the last New Zealand election.

    He is a citizen. At some point in his life he lived in one place in New Zealand for at least a month. And he visited New Zealand at all during the last Parliamentary term.

    That’s enough to enrol, and that’s enough to vote.

  10. Anita on January 27th, 2009 at 12:00

    So what was David Farrar (and others) talking about?

    Some sophistry about Glenn being ineligible to vote because he hadn’t enrolled although he was entitled to?

  11. Leopold on January 27th, 2009 at 15:17

    And how do you stop an organisation ‘gifting’ a large sum to an individual who can vote, and who will then donate the money in turn to a political party? Probably plenty of people willing to act as a conduit, especially if a commission is involved

  12. Graeme Edgeler on January 27th, 2009 at 16:34

    At the point it was being claimed, he may have been ineligible. If a citizen you must visit NZ once in each three-year period to stay on (or go onto) the electoral roll. I suspect, with a vist to the Karaka sales, and to open the Auckland University business school, he was eligible to enrol for some time. It was being reported quite a bit, perhaps people were continuing to operate under a once accurate belief that subsequently changed?

  13. Anita on January 27th, 2009 at 16:36

    Leopold writes,

    And how do you stop an organisation ‘gifting’ a large sum to an individual who can vote, and who will then donate the money in turn to a political party? Probably plenty of people willing to act as a conduit, especially if a commission is involved

    You make it illegal.

    We have plenty of existing laws which deal with people attempting to circumvent the law by laundering money.

  14. Matthew Whitehead on January 28th, 2009 at 18:40

    It begs the question – why, if we let anyone and anything buy influence, don’t we let them vote as well?

    Begging the question is a technical term meaning “to assume the proposition you’re arguing for within your argument”. A relevant fact generally raises a question. :)

    I like the idea of banning campaign contributions to parties but loosening things up (ie. perhaps raising the financial cap a bit) for third-party campaigning. That way instead of being party-backed advertising that’s disclosed in obscure records most voters don’t look for, groups would actually have to publicly put their reputations into their political endorsements, making them actually mean something.

    Preventing organisations from laundering their money by distributing it to party supporters to donate would be the hard part. Realistically speaking every party would have to be committed to the law.

  15. Anita on January 28th, 2009 at 18:51

    Matthew Whitehead writes,

    Begging the question is a technical term meaning “to assume the proposition you’re arguing for within your argument”. A relevant fact generally raises a question. :)

    Can you give me an example of which includes “begs the question” so I can see how it should work?

    (This is a serious request – I’m really interested in word things :)

    I like the idea of banning campaign contributions to parties but loosening things up (ie. perhaps raising the financial cap a bit) for third-party campaigning.

    I’m not sure about raising the caps on third parties. If the EMA wants to run a “Vote National!” or the CTU wants to run a “Vote Labour!” campaign that looks a lot like a donation to me.

    I think there does need to be more clarity about the line between issues advertising and electoral campaigning so that organisations can be really confident that they can raise their voices. The CTU should be able to campaign as much as they like for “Privatise everything!” and the EMA equally for “Raise the minimum wage now!” (or vice versa :).

  16. Lew on January 28th, 2009 at 19:22

    Anita: “Global warming isn’t real because the earth is cooling!”

    There are plenty more.

    L

  17. Anita on January 28th, 2009 at 19:24

    Lew,

    Can you put “begs the question” into that sentence? I am now thoroughly confused :)

  18. Pascal's bookie on January 28th, 2009 at 21:55

    Anita,

    The libertarian argument that income tax is immoral because taxation is theft, begs the question that private property rights trump communal ones.

    The argument that God exists because it says so in the bible and God wrote the bible, begs the question that God exists.

    http://begthequestion.info/

    But this one is

    http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/the_nonexpert/begging_the_question.php

  19. Anita on January 28th, 2009 at 22:33

    Pascal’s Bookie,

    I don’t like those sentences :) They say “begs the question” and they are followed by something which isn’t a question, I will stick to “raises the question” in future :)

    I do like the second link tho, thanks!!

  20. Lew on January 28th, 2009 at 23:19

    Anita: PB’s are more formal than mine, though they don’t contain a question mark. Simply: the premise relies upon the conclusion in dispute.

    Leaving aside for a moment the actual complications of climate, the question is “is global warming real?”. The assertion which begs that question is “the earth is cooling!”. If global warming was real, the earth could not be cooling; if the earth was cooling global warming would necessarily be false. The assertion begs the question because it baldly presents as evidence the very matter which is up for debate.

    If you can follow that. Bah. The wikipedia page is pretty decent, but for a better primer on such matters, pick up a copy of (NZ author) Jamie Whyte’s `Crimes Against Logic’ – Unity should have it. You’ll never lose another argument again (except to another person also with a rudimentary background in formal logic, which is fair cop.)

    L

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