Seven senior members of the Exclusive Brethren church are considering waging another campaign against the Government at the next election.
The group, dubbed “the secret seven” for their initially covert pamphlet campaign against Labour and the Greens in 2005, have spoken out in recent days about the Government’s plans to reform electoral laws.
It is understood that under the proposed changes the cost of “third-party” campaigns would be capped at $60,000 — far below the $1.2 million believed to have been spent by the Brethren.
One of the seven men, Neville Simmons, today said the group were considering another campaign against the Government next year and wanted to preserve the right of third parties to have their voices heard.
“We are very anxious to preserve the ability to be able to comment in the coming election. That’s why we are very anxious about these proposals for law reform,” he said today on Radio New Zealand.
“We think they are really bullying the critics into silence and so you can’t even spend your own money to have a voice. That’s what we are concerned about.”
The group had no problem with controls on third party campaigns as long as free speech was not muzzled.
Mr Simmons said whether the group mounted another campaign depended on the will of the seven individuals.
“It’s under consideration, so watch this space,” he said.
“Obviously we’ve learned a lot of things from last time around and we think it was a very interesting experience and we believe we’ve got a lot of positive things to offer going forward.”
On Wednesday the group issued a statement criticising the Government’s proposals, saying it was trying to rewrite electoral laws to suit itself.
The group took particular issue with an apparent exemption for unions that would allow them to advertise to a greater extent than other third parties, in order to communicate with their members.
“It is outrageous that the Clark Government is proposing to limit the electoral involvement of groups or associations who choose not to belong to political parties,” the men said.
“It is doubly outrageous that the union movement would be exempt; clearly because of their alliance with the Government.”
They also accused Labour of hypocrisy for vilifying others by talking about rorting and secrecy when “they have been caught with their hands in cookie jar”.
National has said the proposed changes on third-party campaigns appear designed to favour Labour.
It is also opposed to a proposal that could see state funding of political parties.
But Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday said state funding was common overseas.
Supporters say it would be necessary to compensate for an expected drop in donations as a result of plans to limit anonymous donations — another of the reform proposals.
Miss Clark said she found it “extraordinary” the Brethren members were again embroiling themselves in politics.
She said the Government was consulting with minor parties to see if it had the support it needed to implement the changes.
The final shape of the bill would depend on that consultation, she said.