John Boscawen’s Supplementary Submission On The Electoral Finance Bill

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

About me

My name is John Boscawen.

I live at 1/6 Paritai Drive, Orakei, Auckland.

My postal address is PO Box 42-267, Orakei, Auckland. I can be contacted on 021 760 630 or

I am a qualified accountant and investment manager. I am also a member of the political party ACT New Zealand and am a former ACT trustee and party treasurer. I have been involved in fundraising for ACT for the last four elections.

I am also a member of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Rotary Club of Downtown Auckland, a trustee of the Auckland Philharmonia Foundation, and more recently an Associate Member of the New Zealand Business Roundtable. Notwithstanding my past involvement with ACT, and in these other organisations my submission is a personal submission and when it was initially lodged on 7 September 2007 was made without the knowledge or involvement of ACT.

ACT Party involvement

I have travelled widely and am proud to be a New Zealander. This country has huge potential but sadly I believe it is far from being realised, a fault I lay at the successive National and Labour administrations over the last fifteen years. However, I acknowledge and applaud the government’s recent introduction of Kiwi Saver. It is still some way from the compulsory superannuation system the ACT Party campaigned for in the 1996 general election but it is the best effort yet of the two major parties.

I joined the ACT Party in 1995 and stood for ACT in the Epsom electorate in the 1996 general election against the incumbent National MP and former cabinet minister, Christine Fletcher. My campaign team of 60 people achieved a total of just under 8,000 party votes or 21%. Sadly, even to this very day, this remains ACT’s most successful party vote campaign.

In 2005, I returned to the Epsom electorate in early August to take over the running of Rodney Hide’s Epsom campaign as Campaign Manager. At the time I joined Rodney’s campaign, his polls showed him to be 30% behind his chief opponent, the National MP, Richard Worth. I believe Rodney’s subsequent victory in Epsom which had previously been held by the National Party for 69 years, to be one of the greatest turnarounds in New Zealand’s political history and was achieved despite ferocious opposition from the two largest political parties in New Zealand. Rodney’s election was a true victory for democracy and I am proud to say that he and I led a team of over 200 volunteers to achieve it, over three times the number I had in 1996.

Donation disclosure

For the record, I advise that I have personally given several thousands of dollars to the ACT Party and its candidates over the last twelve years. Where these donations have been in excess of the maximum limit for disclosure they have been publicly disclosed by ACT as required by law.

Additionally, I can also disclose that I have also given donations to the Maxim Institute, the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Muriel Newman’s New Zealand Centre for Political Research. I am delighted that each of these organisations has made submissions on this bill further confirming to me that my money is being well spent.

Initial submissions

My initial submission was lodged under the name ‘John Boscawen’ on 7 September 2007. A supplementary submission was lodged later that day and due to a misunderstanding appears in the committee’s records under the name ‘Personal’.

The submission

This submission was prepared on 26 September 2007 and is intended to update and replace the two earlier submissions.

I strongly oppose the bill

By proposing limits on third party advocacy, this bill removes one of the most fundamental rights that we have as New Zealanders living in a free and democratic society – the right to freedom of speech.

I do not intend to go into a detailed clause by clause analysis. The committee has many competent submissions criticising the provisions of this bill. By way of example, I strongly endorse the personal submission by Roger Partridge and Jesse Wilson of Bell Gully. There are many other similar submissions.

I totally oppose all restrictions on freedom of speech and I believe this bill should be rejected outright by the committee.

Other submitters

As of Wednesday afternoon on 26 September 2007 there appear to be close to 600 submissions of which I have read close to 250.

I do not envy members of the committee in their task of coming to grips with these submissions.

Of these submissions the vast majority are overwhelmingly opposed to the bill either in its entirety or substantially so. While a number of submissions (both positive and negative) followed a very similar format and raise almost identical arguments, I estimate there would probably be in excess of 400 truly ‘unique’ submissions.

While I think it is very important for the sake of freedom of speech in this country to make this submission and to travel to Wellington to speak before the committee, I find it truly humbling that so many others like me have also chosen to do so. While there are a number of professional submissions from organisations ranging from trade unions, non-profit organisations, environmental groups, to professional/trade associations there are also a number of submissions from just ordinary New Zealanders concerned about democracy and freedom of speech.

However, of the submitters, the saddest I have found to date are those from Rita Coskery, Peter Doig and Malcolm & Sharlene Barnett. Each of these people have lost children either to murder or a car accident. They feel so motivated by the restrictions contained in this bill that will limit their ability to speak out on the issues involved that they have made submissions on this bill, and in some cases will be travelling to Wellington to appear in person.

No doubt there are many more equally persuasive arguments which I have yet to read but I intend to do so.

Electoral Finance

While I believe the principal objective of the bill is to severely restrict New Zealander’s rights to free speech, the bill does however actually cover some aspects of electoral finance. I make the following submissions specifically on this issue.

Campaign expenditure

  • I believe the maximum limits on campaign expenditure should be increased significantly.
  • My recollection is the maximum amount a party may spend on a general election campaign is approximately $2.4 million in the three months immediately prior to an election. In addition its candidates are restricted to a further $20,000 per electorate.
  • These limits were initially set over ten years ago and have not been adjusted for inflation since they were introduced. At the very least a simple inflation adjustment over that period would require that they should be increased by at least 50%.
  • However I believe a much more substantial adjustment is called for and believe they should be at least doubled.
  • I say this because existing MPs have available to them all sorts of additional expenditure not available to non-MP candidates. Existing MPs are able to spend this money freely provided it meets the requirements of Parliamentary Services.
  • This parliamentary money assists MPs in keeping below their $20,000 spending limit. By comparison non-MP candidates do not have this money available to them.
  • For example in the Epsom electorate during the 2005 campaign MPs Rodney Hide, Richard Worth and Keith Locke all had available to them parliamentary money and they used it. By comparison, the Labour candidate, Stuart Nash who was not an existing MP was denied this, as were the other candidates (as it happens in Stuart’s case it may not have mattered because I understand he announced after Election Day that he had voted for Richard Worth).

Restricted expenditure period

  • The current law restricts expenditure to the period three months immediately preceding the election.
  • I believe this gives an unfair advantage to the governing party (and possibly its coalition partners) and is wrong and should be changed.
  • I propose that expenditure only be recorded against a candidate after the election date is set. This makes it fair for all parties.
  • If the governing party wants a longer restricted period i.e. the current three months, I believe it should set the election date earlier.
  • This bill proposes a restricted period from 1 January in each election year and gives a massive unfair advantage to the governing party which is free to spend taxpayers’ money promoting government policies. This is another reason why the Electoral Finance Bill should be rejected in its entirety.

Parliamentary funding of election campaigns

  • I find it truly ironic that there is a call for even greater parliamentary funding of election campaigns.
  • The taxpayer already contributes many millions of dollars to a general election campaign and this funding unduly favours the larger parties.
  • The taxpayer subsidy to the Labour and National Party campaigns is far in excess of anything contributed to minor parties.
  • To provide greater parliamentary funding would only serve to further institutionalise the major advantages the two major parties have.
  • The greatest irony of all for me was the ACT campaign in the 1996 general election. I stood as a candidate for the ACT Party in Epsom alongside ACT colleagues in the remaining 64 electorates. The taxpayer did not provide a single dollar to the ACT Party. I and my colleagues stood against cabinet ministers and MPs who had their travel around the electorate, offices and electorate staff paid for by the taxpayer. In addition, advertising material that met the requirements of Parliamentary Services was also contributed by the taxpayer.
  • It amazes me how the media still rush to comment on the amount of money spent by the ACT Party at the end of every election. I have no doubt that the real cost of the election campaigns run by each of the Labour and National parties is far, far in excess of the cost of any campaign the ACT Party has ever run.

Television and radio advertising

  • I believe the laws governing television and radio advertising by political parties are undemocratic and unfair.
  • At the present time political parties are restricted to using only the broadcasting allowances provided by the taxpayer. It is illegal to purchase additional television and radio broadcasting time. When I meet with potential ACT donors, it never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t realise this is the case.
  • At the last election, the Labour Party was allocated just over $1 million of broadcast time, the National Party just under $1 million and the ACT Party, Green Party, New Zealand First and United, closer to $200,000.
  • I agree that the taxpayer should not have to provide equal broadcast time for every political party no matter what their size; however I believe that a party should be able to purchase ‘top-up’ broadcast time up to the value of the largest single allocation. To continue to provide otherwise is to continue to condone the running of unequal and unfair elections.

Anonymous donations

  • Under the current law, donations to political parties exceeding $10,000 in any one year must be disclosed publicly. This limit has been in existence for over ten years and no allowance has been made for an inflation adjustment in that time. On this basis alone, I believe the amount should be increased to at least $15,000.
  • In my experience fundraising for ACT, by far and away the overwhelming number of donors donated for purely philanthropic reasons. They wanted nothing other than to see ACT succeed and New Zealand prosper. In that regard they were the same as me.
  • As MPs, you will be personally aware that a very small number of commercial organisations give donations to political parties probably with the intention of being able to gain a hearing. I note that SkyCity Entertainment Limited, owner and operator of SkyCity Casino, gave donations of $60,000 each to National and Labour in 2005 and $12,000 to a number of the smaller political parties including ACT. My experience in ACT fundraising was that donations of this sort were the exception rather than the rule.
  • I believe all New Zealanders should be encouraged to be involved in the political process. This can be done a number of ways. People can donate their time, their money or both. By and large the donors that I dealt with cherished their anonymity and as a consequence rarely gave more than $10,000. Increasing the donation limit for disclosure, I believe would encourage even more philanthropic giving and greater participation in our parliamentary democracy. I think this would assist all political parties.