New Zealand Law Society - Law professor says unlikely political party is breaking law

Law professor says unlikely political party is breaking law

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A law professor says a philanthropist politician’s million dollar stunt to increase the profile of his political party is unlikely to be breaking any electoral laws.

The Opportunities Party's leader, Gareth Morgan, is offering about $1 million dollars of his own money to various charities if they log on to the party website and vote for the charity they would like to see receive the money.

He will then pledge $3 dollars to that chosen charity.

Some politicians have accused Mr Morgan of buying votes through the campaign, but the party sees it more as an opportunity to raise their profile, something they would do less effectively with the about $40,000 they’re entitled to use for advertising as determined by the Electoral Commission.

The Party says it would rather donate to New Zealand charities than spend money on political advertising.

However users do have to supply their personal contact information when they pick one of the charities which includes; Women’s Refuge, KidsCan, Lifeline and Conservation Volunteers New Zealand.

Is TOP breaching any legal norms?

The University of Otago Law Professor Andrew Geddis says the main issue is whether it falls afoul of the bribery offence provision in section 216 of the Electoral Act 1993.

“I think it probably doesn't and I don't think any promised charity payment can be said to be made 'in order to induce any voter to vote or refrain from voting' (as per section 216(2)(a) - it's an inducement for people to view Opportunities Party website and give their email for future targeted messaging, which may then lead to people voting TOP, but there's a gap between the two,” he says.

As stated on TOP’s website, people can unsubscribe after they’re registered if they do not want to receive any further correspondence.

Mr Geddis goes on to say the payment by TOP isn’t made in order to induce that person to procure, or endeavour to procure the return of any person or candidates at an election.

“Or the vote of any voter (as per section 216(2)(c) - unless the charities then go out and tell people) you should vote for TOP because they've been so generous to us" or the like.

“There is also some old Victorian era case law on whether generous charity gifts by a candidate on the eve of an election can constitute bribery ... mostly the answer was 'no', unless the 'charity giving' was closely targeted at specific electors/groups of electors,” he says.