The Electoral Commission figures show that the Greens had even more to spend on the campaign than even Act, National or Labour. After Russel Norman, Act’s John Boscawen spent $33,232, Labour’s successful David Shearer spent $30,607, and National’s Melissa Lee spent $23,507. In terms of expenditure per vote by these major candidates, Russel Norman’s very high $15 per vote was only surpassed by John Boscawen, whose 968 votes cost $33 each. National’s votes cost nearly $7, and Labour’s votes were only $2.33 each. The candidate returns for the Mt Albert by-election can be downloaded here (in PDF of Excel format).
Russel Norman’s huge spend up is worth commenting further on, as it mirrors changes in Green Party political finance elsewhere, indicates some important lessons for the regulation of political finance, and raises further questions about his declaration of taxpayer parliamentary resources.
As I commented in March in a post entitled Greens spent $1.7m in 2008 election campaign, the Green Party is now one of the rich parties in Parliament. The party spent a record $1,706,633 fighting the 2008 election, which amounted to $10.83 per vote. This showed that a party that was once a humble grassroots, resource-poor party is now heavily professionalized and is the third highest spending party – once again outspending the Act Party.
The Greens are clearly now very well-resourced with access to private money that rivals the other mainstream parties, and increasingly they are making use of that money. But even back in last year’s election campaign, the average Green candidate only spent $1,020, and although by-election spending is always more than that for electorates in general election, it’s still interesting that the Green’s 2009 expenditure was nearly 40 times greater than that average. In fact all Green Party candidates as a whole only spent a total of $40,816 between January and November 2008.
Of course the fact that in Mt Albert Norman only got 2567 votes for his $39,071 points to the lesson that greater campaign expenditures don’t simply lead to greater votes, as the proponents of political finance reform so often mistakenly assume. As I’ve pointed out before with the Greens – and other parties – there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between how much they spend on flashy billboards on media advertising, and the votes they obtain. Yet Norman and others have a mantra that ‘money buys elections’ and then design highly restrictive electoral law based on that myth.
But perhaps the Greens’ expenditure disclosure for the Mt Albert by-election is more complicated than it seems at first glance. Could the party really have spent that much private money on what was seen as a fairly lackluster campaign?
It could instead be that the Greens have actually included in their expenditure return the money spent from their parliamentary budgets. To a tiny degree, they did this with their 2008 general election return. Perhaps in this new era of demand for transparency and accountability of taxpayer funds they’ve taken a highly-cautious approach of including the money that Russel Norman used from his MP expenses etc.
After all, as I wrote in the blog post during the by-election, Norman was the only non-Auckland MP running in the electorate – see: MP expenses and corruption in Mt Albert? I asked: ‘Is the Green candidate, and Wellington-based MP, Russel Norman really paying his own way to Auckland and finding his own accommodation during his campaigning?’ Although there was no satisfactory answer to that question, I also concluded that ‘Norman should declare whether he has used any taxpayer funds on his campaign, including travel expenses and accommodation claims for his many, many trips to Mt Albert since Helen Clark announced her departure from Parliament’. I also said that ‘Arguably Russel Norman should really be declaring the receipt of donations from the Parliamentary Service too – if in fact he is using Parliamentary Service resources to be in Auckland’. So maybe he’s merely following this advice.
For more on this, see: A critique of the Greens’ political finance disclosure