The annual AEC third party political expenditure returns were released this morning. Annual reporting was introduced by the Howard government with the pretty express purpose of harassing left-wing third parties such as green groups and GetUp!. However it catches industry groups as well, and as the table below for the third successive year they have outspent left-wing groups.
The law does not require disclosure of which issues were pursued, but the main industry players for 2011-12 were industry groups involved in the carbon tax ($9.3 million) and and pokies regulation ($4.3 million). (Updated noon 1/2 to correct misclassified expenditure).
Political expenditure disclosure laws are very complex, including a requirement for disclosure of spending exceeding $11,900 a year on ‘the public expression of views on an issue in an election’. So third parties operating during 2011-12 were required to forecast which issues would be issues in the 2013 election, which we now know will be on 14 September. As it is very hard to predict what will be an issue that far out (quite possibly, not pokies in the end) there is a basic rule of law problem with this provision.
Under the current system, these complexities are largely restricted to major players which spend $11,900 plus a year. But in bill before the parliament, which the government this week announced it would try to pass by 30 June, the threshold for disclosure would drop to $1,000 in any six month period. This will catch many small political groups run by volunteers, few of whom will have any idea that their trivial political activity could land them in serious legal trouble.