Police to look at Brethren, Labour ads

New Zealand Herald/October 26, 2005
By Kevin Taylor

The police will investigate Exclusive Brethren election pamphlets that attacked the Greens, as well as Labour's pledge card and a brochure.

Chief Electoral Officer David Henry has also referred a suspected Brethren advertisement from a Christchurch newspaper attacking Progressive leader Jim Anderton to the police. The MP complained the person who authorised the advertisement used a false address.

The outcome of the police investigations will not affect the election result.

The revelation the secretive religion was behind a $500,000 anti-Greens and anti-Labour pamphlet attack campaign was one of the big stories of the election.

The Greens complained to the Chief Electoral Office after the "Beware" pamphlets attacking the party started circulating and seven Brethren men revealed themselves as being responsible.

The Greens say it broke two sections of the Electoral Act - not having the required party authorisation and attempting to unduly influence voters by circulating "lies and distortions" about the party.

In a letter to the Greens, Mr Henry dismissed the second alleged breach, but on the first he said: "I have concluded that the leaflet does appear to promote the party vote for National".

The pamphlet does not name National but says in blue letters: "Use your party vote to change the Government" beside a picture of a tick.

National's campaign manager, Steven Joyce, said the party had not consented or authorised any Brethren pamphlets. "If it is a breach I understand it would be their breach." National leader Don Brash admitted during the campaign he was told about the pamphlets during a meeting with the Brethren after earlier denying knowing about them.

Greens co-leader Rod Donald said while he was pleased Mr Henry had upheld its complaint and referred the matter to the police, there was no way it would undo the damage done.

"To add insult to injury, even if the full force of the law comes down on the Exclusive Brethren they will only face a maximum $3000 fine."

He said the church's "underhanded behaviour" should be a summary offence which would result in a fine of up to $100,000.

One of the Brethren seven, Greg Mason, refused to comment when contacted by the Herald yesterday.

Mr Henry has also referred National complaints about Labour's pledge card and a fold-out brochure to the police for investigation. Neither the card nor the brochure carried party authorisation.

The advertising was funded out of the leader's budget, a sum the Parliamentary Service gives each party to spend. Mr Henry has referred to the Electoral Commission the question of whether the advertising should be considered an election expense.

Mr Joyce said National suspected Labour had been trying to get the money out of the service rather than paying for the advertising out of party funds.

The law

* Chief Electoral Officer David Henry has referred complaints about Exclusive Brethren and Labour Party election advertising to the police to investigate.

* Section 221 of the Electoral Act prohibits anyone publishing election advertising unless it is authorised in writing by a party secretary or their delegate.

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