Election expenses and returns
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The information in this section from the Electoral Commission is for general guidance and is not a final statement of the relevant law in the Electoral Act 1993, particularly Political parties' election expenses in part 6.  The commission will help with any issues that may arise in respect of party election expenses and the Chief Electoral Office will help with any issues that may arise concerning candidate election expenses.  Parties may also seek their own legal advice.

What is the limit on party election expenses?

If a party contests the party vote then its total party election expenses (including GST) cannot exceed $1 million plus $20,000 for each electorate candidate nominated by the party.

If a registered party does not contest the party vote then its total election expenses cannot exceed $20,000 (including GST) for each electorate candidate of the party.

In both the above cases these party limits are separate from the expense limits applying to any electorate candidates' campaigns.

What is the obligation to provide a return of party election expenses?

After a general election the secretary of every registered party must provide a return to the Electoral Commission of party election expenses incurred in the three months immediately before polling day.  Expenses incurred outside this period may also need to be included. 

The return must be on a form provided by the commission, and be accompanied by an auditor's report.

The deadline to provide the return and auditor's report is 50 working days after the day the Chief Electoral Officer declares the election of list MPs. 

The obligation applies whether or not the party contested the party vote or any electorate seat.

If the party had no election expenses the secretary must make a nil return and get an auditor's report.

The commission will write to registered parties to advise them of the deadline after the declaration of election of list MPs.

No deposit paid with the nomination of a party list can be refunded by the Chief Electoral Office until the return and audit report have been accepted by the commission.

How does the party election expense return relate to returns for electorate candidates?

Every election expense incurred by a party or its electorate candidates must be accounted for in a return.  Expenses may relate to a party (including its list candidates), an electorate candidate, or split between both as discussed below.

Returns of expenses and donations by electorate candidate (Form M30-Cand Exp) must be filed with the Chief Electoral Office no later than 70 working days after polling day. 

Many party secretaries assist electorate candidates to file their returns. Guidance is provided in Return of election expenses & donations in the Candidate guide. The Chief Electoral Office is happy to discuss any problems that arise.

No deposits paid for candidates on a bulk nomination schedule can be refunded by the Chief Electoral Office until all the returns from candidates on the schedule are filed.

What is a party election expense?

Party secretaries and auditors should become familiar with the definitions of election activity and election expense (section 214B).  For an activity to be an election activity these four questions must all be answered "yes":

  1. Is the activity undertaken by the party or with its authority?
  2. Is the activity advertising of any kind, broadcast advertising, or publishing, issuing, distributing, or displaying addresses, notices, posters, pamphlets, handbills, billboards, or cards?  Does the activity encourage or persuade, or appear to encourage or persuade, voters to vote for the party, or against another party, or both?
  3. Does the activity happen within the three months immediately before polling day?

An election expense that must be included in the return is any spending on any election activity, along with spending before or after the three month period that relates to any election activity within that period.  A fair apportionment must be made when the activity happens before and continues during the three month period.  For example, if one third of a pamphlet print run had been distributed before the three month period began then two thirds of the cost would be returned.  But, if the party produced billboards six months before the election and erected them in the month before polling day then the total production costs would be returned.  A party cannot avoid declaring an election expense simply by ensuring the work is done or invoiced before or after the period of the three months immediately before polling day.

Note: the cost of the following things do not count as an election expense: travel, surveys or opinion polling, donated labour, replacement of election materials damaged in circumstances out of the party's control, electorate candidate expenses, or allocations from the commission of time and money for election broadcasting.

What about free or discounted materials and services?

Materials or professional services provided free or at a special discount must be returned at reasonable market value.  (Labour given by an individual does not count, but labour donated or discounted as professional services by a firm does unless its employees provided their individual labour for free).  Consider also whether the discount value also needs to be returned as a party donation.)

What about printing and postage paid for by someone else but relating to an election activity?

These must be counted and returned as an election expense of the party.

The Parliamentary Service rules on use of the parliamentary frank stamp and pre-franked envelopes provide that they are available only for 'parliamentary business' which specifically excludes sending party political, promotional or electioneering material by mail for the purpose of supporting the election of any person.  If, however, the parliamentary frank stamp or pre-franked envelopes are used inappropriately and the cost of that postage later has to be repaid, then this cost must be declared as an election expense of the party, a candidate, or shared between them.

Parties should also be aware that some facilities and services claimed against MPs' budgets within Vote Parliamentary Service may have to be included in a party's return of election expenses if they are used for an election activity on behalf of the party.


How are election expenses apportioned between party and electorate candidate?

Advertising promoting an electorate candidate is an election expense of the candidate.  Advertising promoting the party vote is an election expense of the party.  These rules apply regardless of who pays the expenses.

Sometimes the dividing line is not clear and an apportionment may be necessary. A common example is an advertisement which calls for both the party vote and the election of a constituency candidate. The following example illustrates the principles to be applied, but the electoral agencies are happy to discuss particular circumstances with parties or candidates.



  1. Party X is contesting the party vote. Mrs Y is standing in an electorate as a candidate for Party X.
  2. Party X and Mrs Y agree to arrange advertising to be displayed by billboard in the 3 months prior to the election.
  3. The content of the advertising comprises two parts. The first part asks voters to give their party vote to Party X. The second part asks voters to give their electorate vote to Mrs Y. From a content perspective, the advertisement can be factually judged as relating 40% to the party vote and 60% to the electorate vote.
  4. The total cost of the advertising is $13,000. An analysis of the total cost based on invoices and other evidence reveals the following:

A. Costs relating to the candidate vote

  • Artwork and photography of the candidate $1,000

B. Costs relating to the party vote

  • Artwork and photography of the party leader $2,000

C. Joint costs

  • General design, production, printing, material, assembly, transport $8,000
  • Site rentals paid for 3 months before election $2,000

Total election expenses $13,000

Allocation of costs

  • Some costs clearly relate to the candidate (A in the example). Other costs clearly relate to the party (B in the example). The joint costs (C in the example) require apportionment on a factual basis which in this example means 60% of those joint costs will be allocated to the candidate and 40% allocated to the party.
  • The expenses should therefore be returned as follows:



A. Artwork and photography of the candidate


B. Artwork and photography of the party leader


C. Joint costs

General design, production, printing, material, assembly, transport



C. Joint costs

General design, production, printing, material, assembly, transport



Site rentals for 3 months



Site rentals for 3 months



Candidate's return of expenses


Party's return of expenses


This result is not affected by the payment arrangements (if any) made between the candidate and the party. If each pays the share allocated to them no other issues arise. But if, for example, the party pays the whole $13,000, the candidate would need to disclose in her return a donation of $7,000 from the party.

An apportionment must be made between the party and an electorate candidate's expenses if an advertisement which gives more than 10% of its coverage to the candidate in any capacity as a list candidate or promotor of the party vote is published or broadcast in the electorate concerned, unless the same advertisement is also published or broadcast to a similar extent in 10 other electorates  (section 214A).

Remember, the secretary of the party or his or her delegate must give prior written authorisation before any party advertisement is published.  Parties and electorate candidates are also reminded that there are important differences in the advertising rules between broadcast and other media and how they apply to parties and electorate candidates.  See Election advertising rules - summary and the Broadcasting guide

Can costs be spread over more than one election?


Are there deadlines for billing the party and the party paying its expenses?


  • No claim against a party is recoverable unless sent to the secretary within 20 working days after the day the chief electoral officer makes the declaration of election of list MPs by notice in the New Zealand Gazette.  Parties should ensure that suppliers are aware of this.
  • All election expenses incurred by a party must be paid no later than 40 working days after the date on which the above declaration is made unless payment is ordered after that time by an appropriate jurisdiction in the case of an unpaid or disputed claim, or by leave of the district court in the case of a disputed claim later agreed for settlement or an undisputed claim that was late being made.

What documentation is needed?

Invoices and receipts are required to be produced and kept for claims and payments of election expenses of $100 or more (including GST).

For the purposes of audit and possible investigation, every party secretary is required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that all records, documents, and accounts that are reasonably necessary to enable the return to be verified are retained.

What is the return form for use for the 2005 general election and how should it be completed?

The form, including, instructions for its use is provided below for the use of secretaries of registered political parties.  It is provided as a word document so that secretaries may fill in either a soft or hard copy of the document before signing and returning the form as instructed.

What is the role of the party auditor?

The requirements are set out in s.214E. with which the party secretary and party auditor are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with.  While engaged by the party, the auditor is assessing and reporting as appropriate on whether the party's election expenses and associated record keeping have been within the law, and whether the auditor has received all necessary information to form an opinion.  The law gives auditors powers of access to party records and to require information and explanations from the party secretary.

Party secretaries are reminded that a party auditor cannot be a body corporate or someone closely connected to the running of a party, must be a chartered accountant, and properly appointed and notified to commission.  s.67(3)(f)s.214DCompanies Act 1993 s.199(1).

What information should the party secretary provide for the auditor?

  1. details of all party election expenses
  2. the completed return form
  3. the web address of this guidance

Can the auditor take a sample of expenses rather than look at them all?

The audit must be of the party's entire party election expenses so that the auditor can form an opinion on the matters which are required to be covered in the audit report, such as whether the return is accurate and proper records are being kept.  Any sampling, drawn in accordance with normal professional auditing practice, must be from across the entire party organisation without excluding any area of the party's election expenditure.  The commission does not accept any of the following as 'reasonable excuse' for not providing an audit report on a party's entire party election expenses:

  • cost or time involved in the audit or the servicing of it
  • alleged difficulties arising from the location of relevant documentation
  • alleged autonomy of organisations within the party

What should the auditor do if they are unable to give an unqualified opinion?

If a party secretary does not provide all the information required or fails, in the auditor's opinion, to keep proper records of party election expenses sufficient to earn an unqualified opinion then the auditor may give a qualified opinion, an adverse opinion, a disclaimer of opinion, or an 'except-for opinion' in accordance with the Institute of Chartered Accountants Auditing Standard No.702 "The Audit Report on an Attest Audit".

What happens if an auditor's report does not comply with requirements?

If the audit report does not comply with the requirements of s.214E. it may be rejected by the commission and the secretary would be required to get a new one.

What if an error in, or omission from, a return is discovered later?

The secretary should immediately prepare an amended return, obtain an auditor's report on the amended return, and forward both to the commission with a letter explaining the circumstances.

What if a disputed or unpaid claim is later settled in full or part?

If a disputed or unpaid claim included in the return is paid in full then a new return and auditor's report is not required.  If a party pays a disputed or unpaid claim for an amount different from that shown in the party's return, then the secretary should immediately provide an amended return with a letter explaining the circumstances.  A fresh auditor's report is required only if the amount paid is more than that shown in the original return.

Similarly, if a court decision results in payment of a claim for election expenses which was not included in the party's return of election expenses, the secretary should immediately prepare an amended return of election expenses, obtain a new auditor's report on the return and send in both with a covering letter explaining the circumstances.

What does the commission do with returns and audit reports received?

The commission is responsible for ensuring that political parties comply with their statutory obligations in relation to the preparation, audit and submission of the required return and related documents.  It:

  • Checks to see that the return and audit report are in order.
  • Puts the return and audit report (if in order) on public display within 3 working days of their receipt.
  • Extracts information for summary tables, which are also made available for inspection at its offices, online, and in its annual report to parliament.
  • Raises any outstanding matters with the party secretary or auditor.
  • Considers any response to any matters raised before deciding whether it believes an offence may have been committed, and reporting this to the Police if it does.

What are possible offences?

You need to check the law for precise wording, but essentially they include:

  • spending beyond an expense limit or helping someone do so s.214B(3).
  • not paying a bill for an election activity within 40 days of the declaration of election of list MPs (unless the bill is in dispute) s.214BA(3).
  • a secretary not getting the return and auditor's report in on time without reasonable excuse s.214C(2).
  • a secretary making a false return s.214C(3).
  • failing to keep proper records for audit purposes s.214L(3).

The penalties can be substantial, including fines up to $20,000 in some cases, and up to a year's jail for knowingly exceeding or helping someone exceed an expense limit, or deliberately making a false return.

Relevant resources

Return of Registered Party Election Expenses 2005 - form (.doc 92.5KB)

Author for enquiry: ECtop
Last modified: 30 Aug 2005

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