The Taxpayers Union have come to the potential aid of the National Party and ACT with a perfectly legal way to increase the parties’ political campaign spending limits.
They are sending personalized letters to every homeowner in New Zealand whose property is worth more than a million dollars claiming the Greens are proposing to tax them.
Spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke told POLITIK last night that they would be sending out “tens of thousands” of the letters.
The letters argue that the Greens proposal for a one per cent wealth tax on assets over $1 million could apply to the letter recipients because their homes are worth over $1 million.
The letters are very specific and addressed to householders by name with references through them to the address of the property.
Obviously, the campaign will benefit the National and Act parties who have opposed the tax even though Finance Minister Grant Robertson says a Labour government would not implement it.
Robertson says the only tax policy any Labour-led government would implement would be Labour’s tax policy.
In other words, Labour is making its tax policy a bottom line.
That policy says: “No new taxes, or further increases to income tax next term.”
The Taxpayers Union has acknowledged that it is a political campaign by registering it with the Electoral Commission which means it can spend up to $338,000 on it.
The Taxpayers’ Union certainly has links with the National Party. The party’s pollster, David Farrar, is on its board.
But National’s campaign chair Gerry Brownlee, told POLITIK last night that he knew nothing about it; in fact, the first he knew about it was when POLITIK called.
However, the Taxpayers’ Union is also closely aligned with ACT.
Houlbrooke was previously press secretary to ACT leader, David Seymour and on Monday the Union ran a half-hour interview about tax with ACT leader David Seymour, on its website.
And because ACT is standing in only 49 electorates, it would stand to benefit disproportionately from this campaign.
Under electoral finance legislation it gets a $1,169,000 party allowance plus $27,500 for electorate candidate it stands.
However, it is not standing in every electorate so it will not be allowed to spend the full electorate allowance of $1,925,000 which it would if it stood in all 70 electorates.
Instead, it is restricted to $1,347, 500 electorate allowance because it is standing in only 49.
That leaves a gap of $557,500 which the additional allowance for a third party promoter of $338,000 goes a long towards filling.
The coordinator of the campaign, Islay Atchison, acknowledged to POLITIK that the campaign was an unusual activity for the Union.
“It’s unusual for us to pick out a particular political party,” she said.
“But this is so close to the heart of our organization.
“So the Green Party does want to implement wealth tax.
“No other political parties in New Zealand seem to be that interested in doing it.
“So we’ve just put that information in front of potential voters.”
But that statement acknowledges that it only the Greens who want the tax and Labour has specifically ruled it out.
That is not enough for the Union, however.
“It’s interesting that Jacinda Ardern hasn’t stood up and made a big commitment like she did with the capital gains tax,” said Houlbrooke.
“That’s really what we’d like to see in order to have confidence that it wouldn’t happen.”
That isn’t quite what the letter says.
“Even if other parties try to rule out the tax, anything can happen in coalition negotiations,” it says.
“The Green Party could insist on a tax on your home and savings behind closed doors.
“Co-leader, James Shaw, has described the tax as a top priority.”
The letter calls on recipients to “make a smart choice this election.”
“If you are concerned about the Green Party’s plan to tax your home, retirement savings and lifestyle make a sound choice on election day to reject the tax.”
There are sure to be questions about the cost of this campaign.
One senior MP closely involved with one of the party campaigns said direct mail like this was extremely expensive, which is why the main parties tended not to use it.
The other question is where the Taxpayers’ Union is getting the money from.
In April it acknowledged it was having to accept wage subsidy money from the Government.
“The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is one of the many employers that have accepted the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy,” it said in a statement.
“This decision was made on the basis of our ethical obligations to staff during the government-mandated economic shutdown.”
It did not explain how the shutdown would impact on what is essentially a think tank.
“For this particular campaign a few hundred different people donated to us,” said Houlbrooke.
“Who knows, we might go and see if they will fork out a bit more.
“It’s purely about how much we can fundraise in terms of how far the campaign can reach.”
This year there are a large number of organisations that have registered as third party promotors for the campaign largely because of the two referendums.
Otherwise, most of the mainstream organisations registered are unions (presumably supporting Labour) but also Forest and Bird, the Save Animals from Exploitation organisation and the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners. The anti-Treaty organsiaiton, Hobson’s Pledge is also registered.
The Taxpayers’ Union will have to report their expenses once the campaign is over. The other political parties will be keen to see how they will have been able to undertake this campaign on what appears to be a low budget for the scale of campaign they are talking about.