Police could raid political offices in election spending plan

By Audrey Young

Labour wants to allow police to raid political party offices to gather evidence of breaches of its planned election spending laws.

If the Government's plans for a tougher enforcement of the Electoral Act become law, police are more likely to prosecute than they did at the last election. They then refused to lay charges over any of the 16 complaints referred to them including:

* Complaints that there was insufficient information about who authorised pamphlets that turned out to have been published by members of the Exclusive Brethren.

* National's failure to include GST in its broadcast funding calculations which resulted in $112,000 worth of unlawful broadcasting time.

* The production by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Heather Simpson, of Labour's pledge card, which was regarded as electioneering material and needed statutory authorisation.

A special search warrant would have allowed the police to raid offices to find evidence for any of these.

One proposal to beef up enforcement of the Electoral Act includes increasing penalties for "illegal practices" from $3000 to $10,000 for individuals and from $20,000 to $40,000 for party secretaries.

Illegal practices relate to breaches of rules on publishing and authorising election advertisements.

The police recommended the increase in penalties. But they also told the Government that without being able to execute a search warrant they had to accept what people told them. Warrants are normally executed when the suspected offence carries a prison term - which "illegal practices" don't.

The Government has agreed to keep illegal practices punishable by a fine only but create a special search warrant which the police can execute against a candidate or party.

Other measures include extending the time in which a prosecution can be taken from within six months from the date of the offence to within three months of there being sufficient evidence, with a limit of three years from the time of the offence.

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