Key Points:

Just a day after the controversial Electoral Finance Act was passed into law, its opponents are lining up to push its boundaries including a billboard campaign featuring dictators congratulating political leaders for supporting an "anti-democratic" law.

Yesterday, the Free Speech Coalition began a $15,000 month-long billboard campaign protesting against the political parties that voted for the law despite public opposition to it.

The group yesterday put up a billboard in Auckland which featured a photo of Fiji's military coup leader Frank Bainimarama and the words "I salute Helen Clark's anti-democracy plotters. The Electoral Finance Act is a real coup."

Two others will be put up in Tauranga and Wellington later this week. One features North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il applauding Winston Peters for beating "the scourge of free speech".

Another has Mao Tse-Tung praising Peter Dunne for "ignoring the Human Rights Commission".

The group's spokesman and right-wing blogger David Farrar said the billboards illustrated that the handling of the act was "a step in the direction of authoritarianism".

A spokesman for Prime Minister Helen Clark dismissed the billboard as "the same old people with the same old message". However, it drew a sharp reaction from Labour president Mike Williams, who said it was "a monumental beat-up" driven by "the rip-off rich who fund the National Party". "People who try to compare our Helen to Robert Mugabe must come from another planet. The rest of the world certainly doesn't think that way."

Another billboard target - United Future leader Peter Dunne - had withdrawn his support for the bill at the last minute and voted against it.

Mr Dunne said he changed his vote because of the high level of public concern about the bill.

"There is a delicious irony in this - the plea over the past few weeks was to heed the public call, but when we do we get criticised for it."

The Free Speech Coalition has funding from a range of donors listed on its website, including small amounts from former National Party leader Don Brash and Business Round Table member Roger Kerr.

Mr Farrar said the group hoped to raise enough to continue the campaign. While it was not setting out to breach the law, it did want to illustrate how confusing it was.

It had already contacted the Electoral Commission to ask to be listed as a third party after January 1 to ensure it was within the law for spending over $12,000.


Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt plans to begin a campaign to "bring down the Government" and attack Labour's tertiary education policy because of funding cuts to the Southland Institute of Technology.

He claims his actions are justified by the law - he is acting under the Local Government Act which obliges mayors to "take action" to protect the community's interests.

Mr Shadbolt said he did not plan to register as a third party for his campaign but intended to go over the $12,000 limit required.

His campaign will be funded by local business interests which supported the polytechnic.

Some new political candidates have been rushing to get introductory advertising out before the limits come into effect.

Under the new law, they are restricted to spending a maximum of $20,000 between January 1 and the election as against the previous law in which they could spend $20,000 in three months.

Non-MP candidates are hard hit because current MPs can still communicate with their constituents "in their capacity as MP" without including it in election expenses.

Some new candidates, including Labour's candidate from Wellington Central, Grant Robertson, Rimutaka candidate Chris Hipkins and, Steven Franks, have rushed to make the introductory contact with their constituents before January 1.

Mr Robertson has sent out pamphlets in his electorate while Mr Hipkins and Mr Franks have advertisements in local newspapers.

Mr Franks' newspaper advertisements say it would cost him his maximum of $20,000 to send one postcard to every voter in his electorate and a second postcard to half of them.