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Ditch the Broadcast Allocation: A Step Toward a Fairer Democracy

Taxpayer funding for political party advertising distorts the democratic process. The current allocation process unjustifiably advantages large, established parties at the expense of smaller ones, unfairly denying them the ability to promote their policy platforms

With the election looming ever closer and the recent news about the broadcast allocations, now would be a good time to vent about the unfairness in the way Parliamentary parties disproportionately benefit from taxpayer subsidy.

This year, taxpayers will be forced to stump up $4.1 million for the parties’ election broadcast allocation. The Electoral Commission partly decides the level of allocation based on social media following, polling, party membership and votes in the previous election, all of which benefit the already well-established party behemoths. The barriers for newcomers become almost insurmountable. Moreover, existing parliamentary parties get a second helping from the Parliamentary Service coffers, amplifying their reach through taxpayer-funded messages for the duration of the Parliamentary term.

Why should our taxes subsidize an already powerful political party’s quest to cement its position, especially when they already bask in abundant funding and media privileges? This setup makes it nearly impossible for anyone outside the political bubble to break through or for alternative policy proposals to receive adequate airtime – an outcome completely contrary to the intended purpose of MMP or a competitive democratic field.

What is most egregious, however, is that last year alone, National, ACT and Labour raised over $7.5 million between them. Good for them in one sense, as it shows many Kiwis support their respective platforms, some more than others. This is how it should be, parties competing on as level a playing field as possible and receiving support from voters for their positions. However, even if they didn’t raise any money, the current system would still allow them taxpayer cash for their election campaigns. Is this acceptable? It seems that New Zealanders think the answer to this question is “no”.

According to a recent Taxpayers’ Union - Curia poll, 51% of New Zealanders want to end the Electoral Commission’s broadcast allocation to political parties. Even more people are against direct funding of political parties, with a Taxpayers’ Union – Curia poll from October last year showing 61% against compared with just 19% in favour.

Although political parties operate as non-profits, their race for votes is very much a commercial contest. Giving them an unfair edge over other voices vying for public attention is simply unjust.

A system of private funding would be more democratic. It would force political parties to rely on the support of their members and donors, fostering a strong connection between representatives and the people they serve. It would promote fair competition of ideas and ensure that parties prioritize the concerns of their constituents rather than focusing solely on election campaigns. As they do now, parties would have to disclose their major sources of funding, allowing the public to judge any potential conflicts of interest.

One of the concerns often offered by proponents of state funding of political parties is that it stops rich people from ‘buying’ elections, but the evidence just does not support this assertion. Take, for example, TOP, the Internet Mana Party and the Conservative Party, all of them spent vast sums of money on their campaigns with no return in terms of MPs elected. Parties must present ideas that voters appreciate in order to have any chance of success, regardless of the financial support from their backers. Political parties should be sustained by people who believe in them, not through taxes.

It’s time to jettison this imbalanced funding model and champion a transparent, equitable political arena. Let the parties prove themselves worthy of our support through their actions and ideas, not through handouts.

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