Tony Ryall has, once again, taken the moral low road and is refusing to ban cigarette displays in shops despite evidence that cigarette displays increase teenage smoking. This in a week that a similar ban was announced in Northern Ireland, joining bans in Ireland, Canada, England, Wales, much of Australiaâ€¦ oh shall I just call it “most of the developed world”?
Why does this matter? (Other than caring about the lives and health of New Zealanders)
- National is, once again, picking the tobacco industry over people’s lives and health
- National is, once again, choosing the moral wrong for the employers and owners’ benefit
- National is, once again, showing the signs of a party financially entangled with the tobacco industry.
In case you don’t have a copy of The Hollow Men to hand, I offer you some highlights:
- Matthew Hooton, long time National mouthpiece, ex-National staffer and National lobbyist has done private pro-tobacco PR work and lobbying. His work was used by Rodney Hide to attempt to stall anti-tobacco legislation.
- British American Tobacco’s chief lobbyist is a significant National Party donor and has been invited to caucus parties.
- Key’s political advisors, Crosby|Textor, name British American Tobacco as a client of Mark Textor.
Sweet eh, politicians and industry working hand-in-hand â€“ that must be the “pragmatism” John Key talks about.
This week we look certain to see National repeal most of the Electoral Finance Act under urgency. While Simon Power is publicly stating they’re going to keep the disclosure rules, which sounds good but â€¦ as National well knows the disclosure rules have loopholes.
Like the old rules they allow organisations and individuals to wash large donations by cutting them into smaller donations which fit below the “anonymous” donations threshold. This is the same practice that was enabled by a similar loophole under the old electoral finance rules.
If National was committed to transparency it would be closing that loophole now, and publicly shaming any party that refused to support the action. In reality, of course, National is committed to the appearance of clean hands while maintaining funding routes for its large donors.
Why would someone give $100,000 to a political party? Because they know that money makes a difference in politics, even if they don’t want a personal pay back, they believe that the money will help the party advance its agenda.Â
One of the principles of democracy is described as “one person one vote”, which is to say each voter should have equal influence. If money can help buy a party influence, then the amount of money each person can given to political parties should be equal. This requires capping political donations to a level everyone can afford, which is going to be pretty low.
The usual counter argument is that I’m suggesting restricting free speech, but I’m not. Everyone can speak as often as an loud and as enthusiastically as before, what they can’t do is buy political influence:Â that’s not free speech.
Principle III: equal money for equal influence â€“ individual’s donations to political parties should be capped at a level every voter can afford.
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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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]
In the run up to the election there was massive hypocrisy in the right complaining about the Electoral Finance Act while simultaneously amping up the fuss around New Zealand First finances; complaining about the exploitation of loopholes that the EFA they so hate was supposed to close. So I thought I’d use this as a an opportunity to look at the principles that should underpin our electoral finance rule one by one.
One of the most serious issue raised by Jones, Glenn, the Velas, and the Spencer Trust (not to mention National’s Waitemata Trust, Ruahine Trust, and so on) is transparency. People voted for NZF (and National and Labour) without knowing who was paying their bills, without being able to assess what the funders might be expecting in return.
Would the same people have voted for NZ First in 2005 if they’d known it was being funded by Bob Jones and the racing lobby? Perhaps, but they didn’t in 2008 once they knew. National if they’d known about funding from the tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance industries? Perhaps.
But perhaps they would have looked closer at the policies and made a decision about whose financial interests they were voting for.
What would NZ First do for the racing lobby? We have an answer.
What will National do for tobacco and pharmaceutical companies now they have the cabinet benches? We’ve already got a pretty clear idea about what they’re offering the insurance industry: profit from a privatised workplace accident compensation model, and the Herceptin decision is positioning for politicians making decisions on drug funding.
Perhaps knowing who’s bought influence would help us weigh up what to do with our votes, and it sure would help us keep the bastards honest!Â
Principle I: Transparency â€“ it is vital for democracy that we, the voters, know who is behind the candidates, who is paying their bills, who is pulling their strings.