Title: Opinion: Democratic Accountability and Brethrengate Credit: Craig Young Comment Friday 13th April 2007 - 12:00pm1176422400 Article: 1668 Rights
The Coalition for Open Government has been established to insure that abuse of campaign finance and campaign donations never sinks to the level that it did during the last New Zealand general election. As the Exclusive Brethren were amongst the culprits, we must support its reform proposals. COG was founded just a week ago. It is a nonpartisan lobby group, intended to press for greater accountability and transparency within New Zealand general election campaigns. Based on Nicky Hager's Hollow Men recommendations from last year, COG has five principal proposals to enhance democratic accountability during general elections. These include: (i) banning large donations, whether from single individuals or organisations; (ii) banning large donations from anonymous third parties, and rendering the identity of any such donors open and transparent to the general public, so the Exclusive Brethren and friends cannot repeat their antics of two years past; (iii) donor contributions will also be capped at a specific amount, and any such legislation should be broadly worded as to include donations from "unaligned individuals" (who turn out to be on the executives of far from disinterested organisations) and conduit or front organisations; (iv) as well as that, these laws should be effectively enforced, ideally through an independent Crown agency like the Commissioner of Elections Canada. There should also be (v) penalties of one million dollars for recalcitrant political parties, and up to seven years imprisonment for individuals who try to tamper with the electoral process. As the Hollow Men also recommends, COG argues that political parties should also be obliged to detail their proposed election spending, including issue-based advertisements, polling and imported political strategists, all included within the limits of the spending cap. Under proposed legislation, public funding of political parties should only be increased when the above remedial steps have been taken. COG reserves particular praise for Canada's stringent election finance and donor regulation laws. These compel parties to record any donations above twenty dollars, and provide the identities and contact details of any individual or organisation who donates any sum up to two hundred dollars, as well as a spending cap. Britain might also be a useful model for comparison, given that its electoral laws require detailed prior notification of party electoral spending plans for the whole duration of an election campaign. Why is this neccessary? The Brethrengate debacle happened becauseour current Electoral Act 1993 was not resilient enough to provide mandatory citation of the identity and address of so-called 'anonymous' donor sources, their front organisations or conduit trusts. As we saw with the Exclusive Brethren, National Party and the Civil Union Act during our last general election, this lack of democratic accountability and transparency is a direct threat to the hard-won human rights of vulnerable minorities, like ourselves. Therefore, New Zealand's LGBT communities should support COG's important work, and hold our nation''s political parties accountable for donor input and buying influence over policy. Highly Recommended: Coalition for Open Government Also Recommended: Nicky Hager: The Hollow Men: Nelson: Craig Potton: 2006. Andrew Geddis: Electoral Law in New Zealand: Policy and Practice: Wellington: Lexis/Nexis: 2007. Craig Young - 13th April 2007    
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