Green Party Goes Public with Election Expenses - RePress

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Thursday, March 5

Green Party Goes Public with Election Expenses

The Green Party published its electoral expense return today in an effort to promote healthy politics. 

The audited return shows the Greens spent $1,457,744 during last year’s election campaign. The figure represents 66% of their $2,220,000 election expenditure limit.  

The Electoral Commission is due to release all parties’ expense returns later today, but the Green Party wanted its information to go out early and directly to the public, said Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.   

The Party went further than required by electoral law to identify the amount of Parliamentary Services money used in support of normal parliamentary work that might also be considered campaign expenses under the law.
  
 

“We want to lead by example,” Ms Fitzsimons said.  “All political parties should be completely honest and as transparent as possible about their electoral expenses. It’s vital to a healthy democracy.

 “We have erred on the side of caution in our return and submitted a number of expenses that are probably not required by law.  We hope other parties will take the same approach.  We have also identified where and how our Parliamentary office and MPs used taxpayers’ money in election year and again hope other parties will be equally up-front  especially where they paid for consultants who helped their election campaign as this type of expense is easily hidden should parties choose to do so.”

The Green Party’s expenses included approximately $187,000 of money provided by Parliamentary Services, money spent to promote constituent engagement in political issues.  An advertisement encouraging public submissions on New Zealand’s free trade deal with China was an example of money spent for parliamentary purposes, said Ms Fitzsimons.   All such expenses were independently approved by Parliamentary Services. 

In an effort to draw a line between regular MP work and electioneering, the Green Party did not spend any Parliamentary Services money on advertising after the House rose last year, Ms Fitzsimons said. “Once Parliament adjourned on September 23 last year, it seemed to us that regular political work was clearly suspended and all parties were wholly in campaign mode.” 

The Green Party had tried to be comprehensive in its return, noted Ms Fitzsimons, in some instances even recording the fuel costs for setting up and then dismantling advertising billboards ($234.74). The single biggest line item for the Greens was newspaper advertising ($71,419.42) while the smallest was a $2.00 charge for photocopying.    

Party expenses ranged from conventional electioneering expenses such as sign-writing and newspaper advertisements to more creative initiatives such as viral email campaigns and costume hire.  One Green Party candidate hired a polar bear costume to highlight the dangers of climate change, Ms Fitzsimons said, noting that Party money paid for the rental. 

The Green Party’s expense return increased from 2005 as both the definition of election expenses and the time period covered by the return expanded for the 2008 election.   

The Green Party also acknowledged that due to a processing delay the technical statutory deadline of 16 February was missed for two invoices totalling $764.33. 
The rules around electoral expenses were complex, said Ms Fitzsimons, but the intent was clear. 

“We all want a political system that is run by the voters, not by secretive special interests.  The Green Party has done everything it reasonably can to maintain the spirit as well as the letter of the law. 

“Practically, we have not been able to account for every nail used to hang every sign, but we have made every reasonable effort to capture all substantive costs. 

“Accounting for advertising costs is a good example of where the law challenges political parties. We’ve included all the production costs for our advertisements, not just the cost of running the ad in a newspaper.  It will be interesting to see how other parties approach this issue.”

Ms Fitzsimons also noted that an overlap between MPs’ regular work and campaigning was inevitable. 

 “There is an element of electioneering in almost every part of a politician’s work.  When I host a community meeting about the Emissions Trading Scheme, for example, it is part of my normal work.  If that meeting is in an election year then advertising the meeting becomes a part of our election expense return even though it is normal Parliamentary business.” 

While the early release of the expense return is largely a symbolic gesture, the Green Party’s commitment to healthy politics and honest government also saw it vote against repeal of the Electoral Finance Act last month.   

“It is a demanding piece of legislation to work with,” acknowledged Ms Fitzsimons, “but the principles behind it are exceptionally important.  There was no need to repeal the EFA before a better piece of legislation was ready to replace it. We hope that replacement will be available soon.” 
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