Over the weekend an 8-page taxpayer-funded advertisement for the National party arrived in our letterbox (I've tweeted a picture). Page after page laid out in National's party colours and font, bursting with photos of the PM, and of MPs Hekia Parata and Chris Finlayson. Also someone called 'Paul Foster-Bell' is prominently pictured in it, but goodness only knows who he is.
Headlines claim "We're on the right track", "Keeping Kiwis safer...", "Health targets are delivering better results", and other imaginary facts that don't pass scrutiny.
There's even a big blue box informing me about "National's priorities." Not the government's priorities: National's. At the bottom of each page it carries the slogan National is "Working for Wellington." (This slogan is presumably ironic? At least there is humour).
The newsletter is an election ad. No question about it. It is a blue taxpayer-funded ad designed and distributed for the purpose of encouraging constituents to vote National in three months.
I'm pretty relaxed about the principle of parliamentary parties using their budgets to tell voters what they believe and what they have been up to. I think it's important for MPs to send newsletters like this to constituents. But most people are less impressed. And National in particular has made a song and dance about use of taxpayers' money to fund messages like this in election season.
"[t]his parade of taxpayer-funded material puts any challenger who is not in Parliament at a distinct disadvantage because they are allowed to spend only $20,000 for the entire year."
He was talking about a booklet sent to voters by Labour MPs in 2008 that informed over-60s about public services available. The booklet contained not one word of advocacy. Nothing telling voters 'we did this', or 'we will do that.' Nothing saying "Labour is working for New Zealand." Just 50 pages of facts about services. Good constituent MPs were providing the information as a service to their electorates. The party printed and sent out about 60,000 of them at around a dollar each. Even Gerry Brownlee admitted it didn't solicit votes, stating,
"It's the sheer volume of material this close to an election that will have the public scratching their heads."
At budget time back then, the Herald went big on "Labour ... dipping into taxpayers' money to produce leaflets on the May Budget."
In 2011 National-aligned blogger David Farrar attacked Labour for using taxpayer funding in election year:
"The advertisements are legal under parliamentary rules, but as usual with Labour they push the rules to the absolute boundary. They have combined parliamentary and party ads and sites so they have the same look, slogans and feel. It is as close as you can come to have the taxpayer actually fund advertisements saying “Vote for Labour”. They’re doing it in an slightly indirect way. All parties fund material from their parliamentary budget which is “political”. You can’t easily draw a line between political and parliamentary. But this current campaign is around 1% parliamentary and 99% political campaigning."
"More taxpayer-funded election advertisements from Labour. They’re spending up large on the taxpayer before the three month ‘election period’ starts."
So, here is National doing the same thing a hundred days before the election. Sauce for the goose.