The NSW Greens will lodging a complaint today to the NSW Electoral Funding Authority about a Labor social media campaign donated to Marrickville member Carmel Tebbutt, claiming it broke the legal limit on political donations.
The Keep_Carmel twitter campaign was donated by One Small Planet, an unregistered business founded by ex One.Tel director Brad Keeling.
The NSW electoral laws limit in-kind donations for advertising to $1000. The donation was first revealed by New Matilda earlier this month.
A spokesperson for NSW Labor told the Sydney Morning Herald this week that it would be declared as a donation of $1000.
When New Matilda spoke to Keeling two weeks ago, he said "It was definitely a commercial arrangement". However, he said that he could not discuss how it would be declared as he didn’t know how it was classified from the Tebbutt campaign’s perspective. Tebbutt campaign director, member of the NSW Legislative Council Penny Sharpe, declined to comment to New Matilda on how Keep_Carmel would be declared.
New Matilda’s attention was first drawn to the campaign when Keeling posted a case study on the success of the unofficial Keep_Carmel twitter campaign shortly after Tebbutt claimed the seat on a two-party preferred basis of less than 800 votes.
Greens spokesman John Kaye said, "We are asking the EFA to investigate both the commercial value of the in-kind donation in relation to the $1000 cap in the Act and also the absence of an ABN. The law requires corporate donors to hold an ABN and we understand that One Small Planet does not." (ABN is an Australian Business Number and is required by all businesses offering services in NSW).
"The laws limiting donations were a first step towards driving money out of politics and putting the voters back in charge of the state. Every time the caps are ignored, NSW takes a step backwards toward democracy for sale."
In the case study and when interviewed by New Matilda, Keeling specifically said that he offered the service to campaign staff, who would not have had the time or resources to do it themselves. He said such a campaign must be done full-time, as it could not be done "half-heartedly".
The nearly 370 tweets show that he, as team leader on the campaign advertising account, or an employee of the team, was tweeting during live debates and on election day. The team also helped organise media coverage on the day that the SMH and Kevin Rudd were in the Marrickville electorate. Keeling said their work also involved monitoring the NSW election twitter conversation.
Yesterday, after the SMH report appeared, Keeling tweeted @johnkaye and an ABC journalist offering to share his rates. He tweeted to another ABC journalist asking how many tweets he had published this year.
Some of those commenting on the Keep_Carmel story have assumed that the costing will include only the time taken to type the tweets. This is a misunderstanding. The One Small Planet campaign was a commercial service which included time taken to plan, research and summarise scores of press releases. The team also responded to public enquiries, monitored and retweeted media coverage, prepared and tweeted photos, communicated with journalists and live tweeted during events. The campaign began in early February and ended after Tebbutt claimed victory. Keeling told New Matilda that the campaign was run from his office, the "tweet centre", which is run like a call centre. Part of the strategy involved developing a "tone of voice" that was a "well informed advocate" for the Tebbutt campaign.
Kaye said, "The @keep_carmel controversy is relatively small beer but if the EFA fails to investigate properly, the message to future campaigns will be that it is ok to subvert the caps and deliver large donations through understating the value of services."
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