Tuesday 22 March 2011

Illegal advertising or unlimited advertising?

Hey boys and girls, how would you like to go for a walk through the tundra of obscure government regulations? Watch out for the loop holes...

Last post, where I discussed a fascinating little ad that I got in the mail from the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, I wondered if this was legal and all. My concern was that partisan material was being sent as something resembling an official government communication, and was almost certainly being paid for with tax dollars.

A commenter, Paul St.D, suggested that using the legislative return address might be a violation of section 54 of the Election Finances Act. I had a look at section 54 and didn't see it. I saw something else that looked like a possible violation though:

54.2 tells us that advertising by a registered political party must be authorized by the party's chief financial officer, and that this authorization must be printed on the advertisement.

This is clearly advertising by a political party (see 54.1(6) for descriptions), but there is no authorization to be found anywhere in the ad, unless it's written in microscopic type using carbon nanotubes. Is that not a violation? Looks like one to me.

... and then I read the very short, one scentence, sub section 54.1(5) a little more carefully. It says:
If an allowance is paid under The Legislative Assembly Act respecting an expense incurred by a member of the Assembly or by the caucus of a political party, that expense is not an advertising expense under this section.
Now I'm not a loophole-ologist, but that looks like a loop hole to me. The way I read that is: if you bill the tax payers for your ad, then it isn't an ad. The rules of ads, like spending limits and authorizations, and so on don't apply to you. That one sentence apparently renders the entire section of the act null and void -- but only for the party in power of course. Good luck to any opposition party getting allowances for your ads.

Surely there must be some limit to this? I scanned the The Legislative Assembly Act and was unable to find anything relevant. Maybe you have sharper eyes. My impression is that this loophole creates a no-limits advertising free-for-all for the ruling party.

This loophole, by the way, was part of the ammendments that Gary Doer enacted his first year in office. Just thought you might like to know.

I am sure I am interpreting this incorrectly. I am not a lawyer. I am not familiar with navigating the dull and cold terrain of government acts. Still, something doesn't pass the sniff test here. Maybe I should just keep my nose out of this stuff and concentrate on more useful things like perfecting my mojito recipe before summer arrives. I like the smell of mint.


Anonymous said...

You were looking at the wrong law...you were looking at the conflict act....check 52.22 of the following:


-- Steve Lambert

cherenkov said...

Damn it. I have to read another act?

Thanks for the tip...

52.22 appears to apply to communications by members. This mailing was from the N.D.P. caucus.

52.23 pertains to the caucus. Subsection 3.1 specifically forbids using this money on communications like the one I received, but only within the election period.

Of course all of this seems to be subject to yet another act: The Legislative Assembly Management Commission Act. Yay. I have to go to bed now.

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