11 January 2017

Campaign Finance Reform: shifting attention #nlpoli

Until 1996,  there were no campaign finance laws in Newfoundland and Labrador at all.

In 2003,  the Conservatives promised to make dramatic changes to the laws governing how parties financed election campaigns.

They delivered none of it.

In 2015,  the Liberals promised changes to campaign finance laws and one year into their new mandate, the Liberals are looking at appointing some experts to make recommendations on changes to elections laws.

In the weekend Telegram,  James McLeod described this lack of action one year into a new mandate as "massive delays" on democratic reform but starts out his story by talking about something else entirely.

That's your first clue something is out of focus.

McLeod starts out by talking about unnecessary delays in the provincial chief electoral office with producing reports under the existing campaign finance laws.  That's another issue entirely and one that wouldn't take an expert panel and years of consultations to fix.  The always-annoying labradore has annoyed the heck out of government officials for years documenting the lousy state of the elections office.  You could fix the problem of two year delays in publishing information with a combination measures.

The electoral office could just change its own rules it uses to administer the existing election law, not only for finance but just for reporting results.  There are plenty of things the electoral office can do within the existing rules to speed up reports and to make more information available online.

A lot of the problem in the electoral office is that the politicians have chronically under-funded the office for years.  Again, that doesn't need change to the law.  it just means the politicians have to look for simple, practical solutions of the kind they are already talking about to save time and money in the long run.

For some of the details, like say the amount of time to submit reports,  the politicians might have to introduce some modest amendments to the existing law to put teeth in it. Changing some of the dates by which things have to be filed could improve the situation. And if the bureaucrats are afraid of doing things no specifically allowed in the law,  then add a sentence that tells them its okay to ignore shitty advice from lawyers that frustrates the public's right to know.  That's no guarantee of success -   apparently, even supreme court justices can't read and understand plain English  - but it might help.

You could make changes to campaign finances and reporting just by shifting focus a bit.

The single biggest obstacle to election reform, though, isn't about politicians who want to hide political contributions.  It is because the vast majority of people in the province - the politicians included in some cases - have no attachment to responsible government in the first place.  

They gave it up easily in 1934 and they'd do the same thing today, without shedding a tear.  

As long as they thought the gravy train of public spending would keep flowing uninterrupted, of course, just like their grandparents and great-grandparents did.