Ever since Don Brash lied about knowing of the involvement of the Exclusive Brethren in National's campaign in 2005, I have had no regard for the man's honesty or integrity. Dr Brash has a growing penchant for cheap stunts in his ever-more-forlorn attempts to paint himself as a relevant political figure.
The plank-walking photo-op recently was a good example.
Now we have the bizarre stuff going on with Brash's accusations of the Labour-led government being THE most corrupt in New Zealand history.
Coming from this man it's remarkable. The Labour Party used leaders office funds to pay for a policy announcement, through a pledge card, as it did in 2002 and 1999. Parliamentary Service signs off such spending; approval is routinely sought before things are published, otherwise PS might not pay the bill.
Now the AG is trying to come up with the idea that this case, in 2005, may have been against the rules. If that is the case, then the AG's fight is going to be with the agency that approved the pledge card... you guessed it, Parliamentary Service.
Every single party has used the funds for the same purpose. ACT's yellow bus (the only policy was a slogan, from memory). Green Party newsletters. NZ First advertising. United Future advertising. National Party billboards in 2002. In other words, we are talking about a common practice. Each party does it because each party has believed it to be inside the rules, and Parliamentary Service again and again has said that that was the case.
To turn that into an accusation of corruption, and then to go up into the hyperbole to say that it implies that the government is the most corrupt in New Zealand history, is simply breath-taking.
It makes Brash look stupid. It's like saying that because Brash talked to the Brethren, he actually wanted to turn New Zealand into a theocracy with the EB as the Supreme Overlords of the Nation.
That sounds stupid, doesn't it? Yes, it does. As stupid as using the term 'corruption' for something every party, including his own, has done, does now, and will do in the future.
In any case, if Brash wants to talk about corruption, we could ask about the over-spend on advertising made through a GST "error".
We could ask why National (Brash himself), which liaised closely with the Exclusive Brethren in their campaign to support National's election prospects, denied doing so.
We could ask why National "forgot" to attribute the Brethren spending, when Labour did include the unions' campaigns in its attributable total (thus hitting the limit, when the pledge card was forced to be included).
We could ask why National hides its major sources of funding (apart from the Exclusive Brethren, that is) behind blind trusts.
The odd thing of course is that those aren't corruption. Nobody in their right mind would think that they were. Just like Labour's pledge card isn't corruption. Nobody in their right mind could possibly think that it was. In all cases the rules were being followed - arguable in the case of not attributing the Brethren spend, but let's go with that for now.
As I've said a couple of times what the massive confusion here - not least in Don Brash's mind - proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the law around party campaigning and public funding needs to be reformed. If there is confusion about what PS is allowed to fund (and there is, from all parties, based on what is floating around) then it should be made clear.
I would like to see a package that lead to:
- Clear rules about any PS funding (e.g. no spending after Writ Day - thanks Graeme E for this useful date).
- Public funding of parties for campaigns, so that democracy is based on a fair and even fight, not on whose supporters have the biggest pocket.
- Clear rules on disclosure for non-party campaigners in the run-up to an election (no more Multi-Million dollar campaigns like the Exclusive Brethren's one for National in 2005).
- Clear limits on donations to political parties, so they cannot be anonymous, cannot be hidden behind trusts etc, and cannot be enormous.
If the National Party is serious, it will stop calling following the rules "corruption" and it will back a plan like this. Until it does, it is simply proving every second of every day that it is simply interested in political gain, not in dealing with the issues to hand.
Oh, and a final note - if you ever needed evidence that Brash is stuffed, you've got it. He has posted on Kiwiblog to say that the current govt is "the most corrupt in 100 years." Any party leader who has time to go trawling around the blogs is, frankly, impossible to take seriously. Even Bill English doing that boxing match is more credible than this...