Some of Wellington's most recognisable names paid $3500 each to meet Prime Minister John Key at a National Party fundraising dinner also attended by his taxpayer-funded chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson.
As Opposition allegations continue to swirl around National's so-called "Cabinet clubs" for wealthy donors, it has emerged about 15 people, including former Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast and Weta Digital co-founder Jamie Selkirk, attended the dinner at the Museum Hotel, which raised $45,000 for National.
The Cabinet club fundraising events, attended by leading National MPs, have been in the spotlight this week after the resignation of Maurice Williamson, who intervened with police on behalf of a wealthy National Party donor.
Justice Minister Judith Collins has also been under attack over her dinner with representatives of milk exporter Oravida - a company her husband governs, and which has also donated to National.
The fundraisers have been criticised for providing donors with access to ministers in return for cash. National has responded that Labour has done the same kind of fundraising.
The Museum Hotel event was held in 2011, and organised by hotel owner and National Party fundraiser Chris Parkin.
He said yesterday the event was nothing to do with the Cabinet clubs but was his way of helping to support National.
He joked that at least $2000 worth of each donation was for the food and wine. He did not believe anyone attending fundraising dinners expected to be able to "influence" the prime minister. "They are more there to ask questions."
Developer Richard Burrell, who was one of those present, said he was "chuffed" to attend after the asking price dropped from $5000 to $3500, and because Parkin always put on entertaining events that were good fun.
Key and Eagleson chatted to those attending, and it was "a good fun evening".
Payment for the event went to Parkin, he said. Official party donation records show Parkin correctly declared a $45,000 donation to National about two months later.
Prendergast said yesterday that she did not pay to attend, as she was there as a guest of Parkin. Selkirk did not want to comment.
Green Party leader Russel Norman said the fundraiser showed wealthy people could get access to the prime minister when poorer people could not.
Such fundraisers "may be technically legal, they're not right", he said. "If you have a lot of money, you can buy exclusive access to the prime minister."
Having his chief of staff with him was "proof" that Key was there in his official capacity, Norman said. "He was using the office of the prime minister to fundraise for the National Party. That is wrong."
A spokeswoman for Key said the Greens were welcome to highlight legitimate fundraisers by National, but Key was more interested in the job of governing.
National had frequently pointed out that all the funds it raised were declared as required by law. She did not respond to a question asking if it was Key's usual practice to take Eagleson to fundraisers.
Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said National had obeyed the rules around donations by declaring the aggregate of those who donated.
People who donated to political parties liked to see where their money was going and to have contact with those they were giving money to, he said.
- The Dominion Post
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