Time to tell us about your donors, National

01:28, Dec 15 2009

It's time for National to put its mouth where its money is.

After a week of climbing into Labour boots and all over the Owen Glenn saga, one thing has become abundantly clear: the Nats have lost any defence of their right to keep their own campaign donations secret.

It is the height of hypocrisy for National to claim, as both its leader John Key and deputy Bill English have done this week, that "Labour's relationship with its largest donor looks very murky indeed'' when National's own relationship with its donors is not so much murky as totally hidden.

All week National has been stirring the pot, demanding to know more about what Labour promised Owen Glenn in return for his financial assistance. Right, I'd like to know just what National promised its donors last time around. Well first I'd like to know who the donors were, full stop.

As readers will know, I've been severe on the Government over the Owen Glenn saga. It was a bad mistake to award him a New Year's Honour, and an even worse one to mislead reporters, as president Mike Williams did, by claiming Glenn had not donated again since 2005.

It's time for National to put its mouth where its money is.

After a week of climbing into Labour boots and all over the Owen Glenn saga, one thing has become abundantly clear: the Nats have lost any defence of their right to keep their own campaign donations secret.

It is the height of hypocrisy for National to claim, as both its leader John Key and deputy Bill English have done this week, that "Labour's relationship with its largest donor looks very murky indeed'' when National's own relationship with its donors is not so much murky as totally hidden.

All week National has been stirring the pot, demanding to know more about what Labour promised Owen Glenn in return for his financial assistance. Right, I'd like to know just what National promised its donors last time around. Well first I'd like to know who the donors were, full stop.

As readers will know, I've been severe on the Government over the Owen Glenn saga. It was a bad mistake to award him a New Year's Honour, and an even worse one to mislead reporters, as president Mike Williams did, by claiming Glenn had not donated again since 2005.

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The leak of Williams' resignation offer just capped things off, and for my mind indicates that the party is currently in something of a spin. The offer to quit should certainly have shut the likes of Molesworth and Featherston up, who had been trying to tell the press gallery it was taking the story too seriously. Yeah, and so was Mike Williams.

But notwithstanding this, I've been keeping a weather eye on National's hypocritical claims that Labour has been less than fulsome with the truth. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Bill English's statement today demanding to know what the Prime Minister was discussing in a private meeting with Labour's largest donor was the last straw.

Is National now going to tell us what John Key or president Judy Kirk talks about with National's donors? Don't make me laugh.

There are a lot more people besides Labour telling porkies over campaign funding, that's for sure. A case in point was a story in this morning's New Zealand Herald, in which Granny was trying to find out where New Zealand First's large and anonymous donation had come from late last year.

Now, Glenn has said he has donated to other parties besides Labour and I wouldn't mind betting he's given money to National in the past as well. ACT, United Future, the Greens, and the Maori Party all said he has not given them anything. NZ First either doesn't know (according to party president Dail Jones) or denies it (according to leader Winston Peters). That leaves National, which "won't discuss donors'', according to the Herald.

I'm sorry, but in my opinion National no longer has this defence.

I put this to John Key today, and he said this: "National complies with the law. I don't know who our donors are. I literally don't know.''

Two points. One: no one is suggesting National didn't comply with the old electoral finance laws by secreting its donations away in blind trusts. That was why Labour changed the law to stop them. Two: Labour hasn't broken the law either. It's about transparency, not illegality.

Now I'm not going to call Key a liar because he's probably technically correct when he says he doesn't know who National's donors are. But I'm sure he has a pretty good idea.

Amongst the many emails printed in Nicky Hager's book The Hollow Men, whose authenticity National has never denied, is correspondence linking Key, former leader Don Brash, and Kirk to many meetings with wealthy New Zealanders who had expressed an interest in giving National money.

Such as this one from former Business Roundtable chairman Rob McLeod to Key and Brash, concerning the wealthy Spencer family:

"Berridge and Mertsi Spencer have been talking with me about the possibility of increasing their financial contribution to your election campaign. They are also very keen to meet John after hearing about him from you. I was therefore wondering whether it might be possible for the three of us to have dinner with the two of you at some stage in the near future at their residence at Clifton Road in Takapuna? You guys are doing great, keep it up.''

 Key relied:

"Sure, love to do that. I will speak to Don and see if we can get a date that suits all of us."

Hager details many such meetings in the book between Key and potential donors, during which Hager says Brash and Key worked as a team. "Until the diary got too full in the last weeks of the campaign, collecting the money was always a priority,'' Hager wrote.

Now, none of this is illegal, of course. It is slightly dodgy, however, for the simple fact that involving senior MPs in collecting money from donors puts them in a potentially compromised position. That's why political parties generally don't do it. I doubt National will do it again - indeed, it probably doesn't need to.

But for Key to claim he doesn't know who National's donors are requires him to be either incredibly naive or very stupid, and he is neither.

For the record, Hager lists National's top donors as including Alan Gibbs, Barry Colman, Michael Friedlander, Peter Shirtcliffe, Rod Deane, Colin Giltrap, and Michael Horton. I don't think I've heard a single one claim that this is untrue.

You wouldn't know, however, from reading National's election return, since these gentlemen instead donated to the Waitemata Trust, which gave generously to National last election - to the tune of around $3 million.

That can't happen this year, thanks to the Electoral Finance Act, which prohibits blind trusts. But in the interests of putting the "murkiness'' that National seems to despise to rest, I'd challenge all political parties to name all their donors. Then we can have a proper discussion about who's hiding what from whom.