Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Parties must now watch spending

The taxpayer wallet is all but closed for political parties to use for their campaigns from today as the regulated election period begins.

Under new electoral laws, Parliamentary funding can only be used for the most basic material such as contact details and electorate clinic meetings in the three-month lead-up to the election.

Parties have to pay for anything that sets out policies and candidates. If any Parliamentary-funded material is used, the MP or party will have to repay a portion of its cost to Parliamentary Services.

MPs have also been put on notice that they could have to pay for 1/12th of the cost of their permanent electorate office and car signage if it stays up for the election. Although plain signs with the MP's name are not considered election advertisements, MPs have been warned a large party logo or added slogans can make it an election advertisement. The change has resulted in a last minute flurry of leaflets from parties delivered to letterboxes or handed out before the cut-off date.

As a result of the change, Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said all candidates and offices had been told to box up any left-over Parliamentary-funded material until after the election. Signs at some Green Party offices had to be taken down or partially covered after Electoral Commission advice that the slogan "Quality of Life" could qualify it as an election ad.

A Parliamentary crest on advertising shows it was funded by the taxpayer.

A spokeswoman for Parliamentary Services said it would also check election expense returns for anything it had paid for and invoice parties and MPs accordingly.

In previous years, parties could still issue taxpayer-funded material setting out their policies and priorities as long as there was no overt plug for votes, donations or new members. While that rule is the same during most of the Parliamentary term, the much tighter definition applies during the campaign period.

The Electoral Commission has already referred four advertisements to the police for alleged breaches of the Electoral Act, mostly the requirement for promoter statements.

Chief Electoral Officer Rob Peden said the commission had so far received 470 requests for advisory opinions on advertising intended for the campaign, some of the requests containing multiple advertisements.

Clear guidance had also been sent to candidates and MPs on the new rules with extensive examples.

Labour's campaign spokesman Grant Robertson said they had sent multiple advertisements in for testing - wary of being caught out by different views of the law.

All candidate material also had to be vetted by a committee and all MPs had been advised not to use Parliamentary Services material.

* The start of the regulated period also marks the start of the spending limit - parties with candidates in every seat can spend up to $2.8 million on their campaign. Spending limits of $300,000 apply to interest groups or people who campaign during the election period. So far eight groups - seven of them unions - have registered as "promoters". Ten groups had registered as promoters for the referendum on MMP.

ELECTION PERIOD

* The regulated election period begins today.
* Under new electoral laws, Parliamentary funding can now only be used for the most basic material.
* Parties have to pay themselves for anything setting out their policies and candidates.
* If Parliamentary-funded material is used, the MP or party will have to repay a portion of its cost to Parliamentary Services.

- NZ Herald

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