Big Business Loophole Undermines Fair MMP Referendum Process

The National Government’s MMP referendum legislation contains a serious loophole that would allow big business anti-MMP lobbyists vastly to outspend everyone else involved in the referendum. All other electoral law places limits on campaign spending — for parties, candidates and citizen-initiated referenda — but a bizarre exception has been made in the Electoral Referendum Bill introduced to Parliament today.

Spokesperson Sandra Grey said that in all other ways the referendum process set out in the bill is fair, and will be supported in submissions, so the group can’t understand why the crucial issue of spending limits have been omitted. “We hope that MPs and the government will listen to reason and correct this bizarre loophole in an otherwise fair process.”

“Since 1895, governments have imposed spending caps on general elections to ensure that the wealthiest candidates cannot just spend their way to power. It’s the same with all citizen-initiated referendums where, for example, all groups and individuals involved on either side of New Zealand’s recent smacking referendum had their spending limited to $50,000 each.”

“So why does the MMP referendum have no spending caps? This is inconsistent and risks exactly the undemocratic influences of big spending lobbies that New Zealand electoral law has been designed to minimise for over a 100 years. We don’t want the absurd situation where political parties campaigning to be government have caps on their spending, but groups lobbying about the MMP referendum (also being held on election day) could outspend their opponents with undeclared millions of dollars.”

“Many New Zealanders will recall the first MMP Referendum, where Peter Shirtcliffe’s pro-First Past the Post lobby swamped the debate with millions of dollars of anonymously-funded advertisements. It is essential that there is a “level playing field” this time around, where some organisations cannot grossly outspend others.”

The Campaign for MMP was established last month to rally wide public support for retaining MMP.

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