A new poll has shown voters have a low appetite for the prospect of taxpayer funding of political parties and their election campaigns as an alternative to donations, despite recent controversies around donations and party fundraising.
An independent review of electoral rules is considering the issue of funding of political parties, and public funding has been promoted as an alternative to parties' relying on private donations – an argument that was reignited after a stream of court cases relating to political donations.
However, a Taxpayers Union Curia poll provided to the NZ Herald shows the public is not so keen to foot the bill.
In the poll of 1000 eligible voters, 61 per cent said they opposed taxpayer funding of political parties while only 19 per cent supported it.
The poll was taken from October 2 to October 11 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 per cent.
Curia Market Research also polls for the National Party. National and Act are strongly opposed to any wide-scale funding of political parties, while the Green Party supports it.
In the poll, only 25 per cent of Labour voters supported it while 51 per cent were opposed. Only 10 per cent of National Party voters liked it – while 73 per cent were opposed.
Green Party voters were evenly split: 30 per cent supported it, 34 per cent opposed it and 36 per cent were unsure. Twenty-four per cent of Act voters supported it and 66 were opposed.
Justice Minister Kiri Allan said the donations system was important and a means for public participation in democracy, but she was aware some were keen on measures such as Canada, where only small donations are allowed and parties can claim back a portion of their election spending from the state.
People would have mixed views on public funding of political parties and she would see what the Independent Electoral Review recommended when it reported back in late 2023.
"It would be a split-side to the coin there as to whether or not the public would believe there would be greater transparency and a fairer, more equitable ground for parties to put their cases versus whether political parties should just stump up with their own funds to fund our campaigns, as we do currently," Allan said.
The Taxpayers' Union campaign manager Callum Purves said the poll made it clear voters rejected the prospect of their taxes forking out for political parties' campaigns – even more Green voters opposed it than supported it.
"Trust in our political parties may be low and rules to increase transparency over party donations are necessary and welcome, but making taxpayers stump up to pay for them is not the solution."
National and Act have historically managed to raise far more in donations than Labour and Greens – over the last year both parties got a head-start on their election war chests by shoulder tapping rich-listers and wealthy business backers for large donations. Both raked in about $2 million in donations of more than $30,000 – that does not include donations of less than $30,000 which will not be known until the annual returns early next year.
Green Party electoral reform spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said either limiting donations or public funding for political parties were both ways to restrict the power of "big money" on elections.
She said jurisdictions such as Canada and many European countries had limits on donations or public funding for parties. "Something clearly needs to change to prevent an American style of politics in New Zealand where people talk but money shouts."
National's Justice spokesman Paul Goldsmith said National's "strong preference" was for voluntary funding of parties through fundraising rather than state funding – saying such a move would make it more difficult for new parties to set up.
"No way of funding political parties is perfect, but shifting further to public funding ultimately benefits incumbent parties over new ones and challengers. That's not good for our democracy."
Political parties already get some public funding through the broadcasting allocation, which allocates money and time allowances for parties' election advertisements on television and radio in a campaign. That totalled $4.1 million in 2020 and is split based on a party's size and popularity. National and Labour got about $2.6 million between them. Parties cannot buy extra broadcasting advertisements from their own funds.
Act and National are also opposed to Labour's move to change donation laws ahead of the next election, arguing dropping the level at which donors must be named from $15,000 to $5,000 will mean medium-sized donations dwindle and make it harder for parties to fund campaigns.
Allan pointed to those measures as important in improving transparency and public confidence in the donations regime.
The Independent Electoral Review Panel is currently seeking public submissions in its review of many aspects of the electoral system, including whether any changes should be made to how political parties are funded. Submissions for that will close on November 14 and it will report back after the next election.
A flurry of Serious Fraud Office prosecutions of the handling of donations by political parties has put a spotlight on donations in the past two years.
In court cases involving donations to National and Labour the court convicted some donors for splitting donations in a bid to avoid the disclosure rules.
In a separate court case involving donations to the NZ First Foundation, the court acquitted the defendants and ruled donations taken in by the Foundation were not considered to be party donations because they were never technically transmitted to the party by the Foundation.
The SFO is appealing against that judgment and Allan has since introduced a law change to close the apparent loophole.