Concerns over foreign interference in the upcoming general elections have led the New Zealand Government to decide on banning large foreign political donations over $33 and misleading social media advertisements on December 3.
The new legislation, introduced by the government in Parliament on Tuesday, also requires that the names and addresses of those paying for political advertisements in all mediums should accompany them.
New Zealand will hold its next general election in late 2020 and Little said further action could be taken to counter foreign influence based on recommendations from a parliamentary committee that was looking at the issue.
USA intelligence says that foreign interference played an important role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and a Canadian intelligence report this year found that cyber attackers attacked half of the national elections held in major democracies in 2018. "New Zealand is not immune from this risk", he said.
"The Justice Select Committee has heard there are credible reports of interference campaigns in the elections of other countries, and these attempts are increasing in their sophistication", Little said. That's a threefold increase since 2015. Foreign political donations in New Zealand are capped at NZ$1,500 (US$975), under the existing law.
While the New Zealand government did not single out a specific threat on Tuesday, British and USA intelligence agencies accuse Russian Federation of meddling in domestic politics and elections of several Western countries including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"Limiting foreign donations to $50 will reduce undue influence from powerful vested interests and create a healthier and fairer system", she said.
"We don't want our elections to go the way of recent overseas examples where foreign interference appears to have been at play".
New Zealand will be joining the likes of Australia, which bans foreign donations over $1000, Canada, which has a $20 limit, and the United Kingdom, where the donation ban is set at over £500. Foreign or anonymous donations can not be accepted in Australia over $1,000, Canada over $20 or the United Kingdom over £500 respectively.
The law will have a threshold of $50 for foreign donations to ensure that small-scale fundraising like bucket donations are not affected. But big donations will be gone.
The bill introduces a new requirement that party secretaries and candidates must take reasonable steps to ensure that a donation, or a contribution to a donation over a $50 threshold, is not from an overseas person.
The bill also requires party secretaries to reside in New Zealand.
The changes also require that online political ads contain details about their creators, which Little said was meant to stop the "flood of fake news social media ads, quot; seen during overseas elections". Moreover, after the changes, online political advertisements will have to contain details about their creators, which was aimed at stopping the fake news seen during overseas elections.
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service director-general Rebecca Kitteridge had said that they have seen activities by state actors that concern them.
"A good start, more needs to be done to make our democracy resilient against foreign interference", said New Zealand academic, Professor Anne-Marie Brady on Twitter.