Electoral Finance legislation: What it all means

NZ Herald December 19, 2007
THIRD PARTIES
Any group or person wishing to campaign for or against a particular candidate or political party, or policies held by a party, will fall under the third-parties regime. The following rules apply:
From January 1 next year, anyone spending more than $12,000 must register with the Electoral Commission and abide by certain rules including appointing a financial agent to authorise all advertising and keep track of donations and spending, filing a return at the end of the election as well as an audit if they spend more than $30,000.
The upper spending limit is $120,000 overall and up to $4000 on any one candidate.
Groups or people with similar goals cannot collude on campaigns in the hopes of pooling their spending limits.
Anyone directly campaigning for a party or candidate must have written authorisation from that party or candidate. The third party spending is included in the election spending caps of the party/candidate as well.
All advertising published, including DVDs, on the internet or in the media, pamphlets, banners and billboards, must have the name and contact address of the person authorising it.
The last date to register is three weeks before the election. Anyone who decides to begin a campaign after this point will be restricted to spending less than $12,000.

DONATIONS
No restrictions on openly made donations but identities of donors of more than $10,000 to a party, $1000 to a candidate or $5000 to a third party must be disclosed in returns.
Donations include money, and the market value of any free or cut-price goods and services they get.
Anonymous donations can be made directly to a party of up to $1000 at any time.
“Transmitters” of funds – such as trusts which take donations to pass on to a party – must reveal donors of more than $1000.
Anonymous donations of more than $1000 must be made as “protected disclosure donations” – they go to the Electoral Commission to pass on to the party or candidate. The commission takes the donor’s details but must not disclose it to anyone. The donor must not reveal that they have made the donation.
The maximum amount one donor can give to a party this way is $36,000. Parties can collect a total of $240,000 in any three-year electoral cycle. Third parties can get up to $1800 from any one donor and take up to $12,000 overall.
Overseas entities and people can give only up to $1000 unless they are New Zealand citizens.
The new rules affect only donations to third parties for use in election campaigning. Donations given for general purposes are not covered.

PARTIES
From January 1 next year, parties can spend only up to $2.4 million on electioneering – a total of $1 million for each party and $20,000 for each electoral district they stand candidates in.
The cap does not include taxpayer-funded spending by MPs as part of their normal work as MPs. There is some debate about what exactly this covers.
The expenses include the market value of donated goods or services provided to the party, such as advertising space.
The limits do not include the cost of travel, polling, volunteer workers, or replacing damaged advertisements.
If a party starts an advertising project – such as issuing a DVD – before January 1 but continues to publish or distribute it after that date a proportionate part of the costs must be included as election expenses.
After the election, parties’ financial agents must provide returns of election expenses and donations, as well as have election expenses audited.

PENALTIES FOR BREAKING THE LAW

Financial agents can be liable for fines of up to $100,000 or up to two years in jail for a corrupt practice under the act, or a $40,000 fine for an “illegal practice”.
Any other people face fines of $40,000 for corrupt practice or $10,000 for an illegal practice.