Thursday 17 September 2009

Campaign finance and chilling effects

In tutorial today in my public choice class, I talked about chilling effects on third party speech caused by the prior Labour government's campaign finance legislation. And Bryce Edwards now posts an exceedingly helpful essay detailing the effects. He concludes
It is beyond the scope of this chapter to ascertain the EFA’s effectiveness in achieving its stated objectives, but it is worth nothing that part of the EFA’s stated purpose was to ‘ensure that the controls on the conduct of election campaigns: (i) are effective; and (ii) are clear; and (iii) can be efficiently administered, complied with, and enforced’ (EFA 2007, s 3). Yet the experience of many participants showed that these goals were not achieved. A second major stated purpose of the EFA was to encourage participation in elections, but as this paper has shown, there is evidence to suggest that the opposite occurred in terms of the participation of third parties.

It is notable that after its election loss, the Labour Party not only voted with National in Parliament to abolish the EFA, but also later made a submission to the Ministry of Justice on electoral law that advocated that third parties should be subjected to much looser regulation during elections. In an indication of how unpopular the regulation of third parties was in 2008, Labour revised its stance to advocate that there should be no limits on third party expenditure, and that the threshold for requiring registration should be considerably higher than in 2008, with a figure of $100,000 suggested.

There is no doubt that the EFA created a much more comprehensively state-regulated campaigning environment, which consequently reduced the freedom of some individuals and organisations to participate in political discourse. Proponents of this increased regulation argued that the provision of such civil freedoms and rights needs to be balanced against other goals for the political system. The desirability of promoting political equality for voters and for preventing political corruption, for example, meant that the restrictions inherent in the EFA, such as the reduction of political freedom, were warranted. But the experience of many third parties would suggest otherwise.
Go read the whole thing - lots of details on third party campaigns.

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