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ANTHONY HUBBARD
Last updated 10:39 21/06/2014
Laurence Day
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

EXPENSIVE RESPONSE: Laurence Day has given $175,000 to the Conservatives after becoming enraged at Kim Dotcom's multimillion-dollar pledges.

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Laurence Day has given $175,000 to the Conservative Party "and there'll be more to come". The cashed-up Hamilton businessman is furious that Kim Dotcom is trying to buy political influence in New Zealand. So Day is putting his money where his mouth is - and fighting back.

The Kim Dotcom thing "really got up my nose", he says.

"There's a guy who has a single axe to grind because he tried to, I feel, bribe his way into New Zealand by buying politicians and that didn't work, they went doggo on him.

"And now he's all-out to get rid of [John] Banks and [John] Key and he's prepared to throw $3 million at it, $3m of money that I think - well, if you believe the Americans - was unlawfully obtained, you know.

"And I just think it's appalling that there's a guy that is trying to influence New Zealand politics who really doesn't have a care for New Zealand unless you can shelter him from the FBI or whoever's after him.

"And you know I would love to see genuine New Zealanders have a say."

Day, 59, recently sold his share of the Quantum Education Group of private training providers "and I'm thinking to myself, 'I can leave this money to my kids and it'll probably wreck them', just like winning Lotto might".

"Or I can do something for everyone else's kids in this country, and that is to leave them a more democratic New Zealand."

Day, 59, a National supporter for 30 years and Hamilton East electorate chairman for four, switched to the Conservatives because of their referendum policy.

The party wants referendums to be binding on the government if backed by two-thirds of the voters - a policy that would make the country more democratic and provide a check against parliamentary excess, he says.

"I think at the moment Parliament is out of step with the people," says Day, now semi- retired and living on a lifestyle block on the edge of Hamilton.

For him, the referendum policy was "almost a single issue".

"I'm fairly Right-wing but if the Green Party had said, 'We will institute binding referenda,' I would have supported them."

MMP was supposed to be a check on the power of the government, but in practice had led to "very very minority viewpoints being foisted upon us".

Helen Clark's Labour government had put the foreshore and seabed into national ownership but then National "opened it up, sort of open season to put [Maori] claims back on it again. I think that was an unfortunate by-product of having to pander to a very very minor view."

The Maori Party has gained "not even two per cent of the popular vote. And I see that as a very undemocratic way of governing, having to pander to that sort of a minority."

POLITICAL DONATIONS: GOOD AND BAD

Political donors tend to regard their own spending as virtuous but the spending of others as dubious or even wicked.

They want the best for their country, but people who spend on opposing parties are different. Then it's, "What are they after?"

The wealthier the donor, the more dubious others tend to be. Donors of foreign origin are apt to fall under particular suspicion, as with Dotcom and the Chinese immigrant Donghua Liu.

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Government minister Maurice Williamson was forced to resign when it emerged that he had telephoned police about the prosecution of Liu, a National Party donor, for domestic assault.

Then this week Labour leader David Cunliffe was embarrassed after it turned out he had written a letter for Liu after initially denying any knowledge of it.

Dotcom's $3.35m donation to the Internet-Mana Party has drawn particular fire.

But Internet leader Laila Harre rejects the "cynicism" about the German internet tycoon and his money.

The idea that his donation comes from Megaupload, the Dotcom company allegedly involved in internet piracy, is wrong, she says.

Those funds had been frozen and nobody could get access to them.

Instead, the $3.25m came from the proceeds of his new company, Mega, "which he started in New Zealand while on bail".

"It is already proving to be financially very successful, so I don't have any reservation about that."

Is Harre bothered about taking money from a convicted criminal?

Those convictions were in Germany, she says, and "I have satisfied myself that the convictions were for - how shall I put this?

"I've sort of satisfied myself that those convictions have no bearing at all on Kim Dotcom's authenticity in relation to this project.

"And they have been clean- slated [under German law] and he has, you know, he's paid his dues.

Dotcom was making "an extraordinary gift to a progressive constituency in New Zealand and there has never been a conversation between us about any direct or indirect benefit for him".

And no, he wasn't trying to buy a tame minister to shield him from extradition to the United States.

The ultimate decision on Dotcom's extradition would be made by the justice minister, Harre says, but no Internet Party MP would take part in that decision because "clearly there would be a conflict of interest for us".

Harre plays down the financial advantage to a small party of having Dotcom's $3m.

Even a small party in Parliament, she says, has access to "significant public funding".

WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WE DON'T KNOW

Law changes in 2011 are supposed to make the donation system more transparent.

Now any party donation of more than $30,000 must be made public on the Electoral Commission website as soon as the party receives it.

That is how we know, for example, that Oravida, the Chinese dairy company that caused Justice Minister Judith Collins such trouble, gave another $30,000 to National in December.

The fact that it had already given money to National, and that Collins' husband is a director of the company, opened her up to allegations of conflict of interest following her visit there.

However, the website reveals only the name and addresses of the big donors. Plenty of these are well-known. Conservative leader Colin Craig has multiple entries - totalling donations of nearly $2.5m since 2012.

But other donors keep a very low profile.

The Contue Jinwan Enterprise Group, for instance, gave National a total of $49,220.18 in four donations in January.

This is a paper company owned by a very wealthy Hong Kong Chinese couple, Zhao Wu Shen and Susan Chou, who have previously given more than $200,000 to National.

The company also sponsored the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's visit to play at the Beijing Olympics.

Contue Jinwan has also invested in Kim Dotcom's Mega, and is now the biggest shareholder. The Chinese and German multimillionaires back different political parties, but they have a shared interest in Mega.

Unlike Dotcom, however, the couple almost never speak to the media and they do not draw attention to themselves.

They list their profession in the electoral rolls as "student".

In fact, Susan Chou and husband Zhao Wu Shen own more than $20m worth of land and houses in New Zealand.

The jewel in the crown is a 695 square metre mansion in Herne Bay which Shen bought from rich- listers Colin and Jennifer Giltrap last October for $10.75m.

Nobody answered the phone at the property when The Dominion Post telephoned this week.

Another generous donor to the National Party is Xiao Miao Fan, who last year gave more than $62,000 to National. She has given money to National in previous years.

Fan and her husband, Yaxun Zhang, own a $4.8m lifestyle property in Hobsonville and two other Auckland houses worth $2m.

In 2011, Zhang, who belongs to the Henan Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand, gave $100,000 to Christchurch earthquake victims.

But in general he and his wife keep a very low profile.

THE RICH AND THE RIGHT

Kim Dotcom is an exception to the general rule that the big spenders usually give to the Right, not the Left.

Another exception is Phillip Mills, who used to vote National but is now an angry critic of the "stupid, economically short- sighted and environmentally blind" John Key Government.

In April, he gave $65,000 to the Labour Party and $60,000 to the Greens.

"Climate change is the definitive issue of our age," says Mills, the chief executive of Les Mills International. "If we don't deal with this, then nothing else is going to matter."

New Zealand could help save the Earth and also make money out of the deepening global warming crisis, he suggests. "At the same time as doing the right thing and the moral thing and being a leading voice in the world about climate change, we can be doing something that is good for our economy."

But the Key Government is doing neither, he says. In fact, Mills believes the evidence suggests that till recently Key was a climate change denier.

Instead of developing sustainable energy resources and green technology and moving away from a commodity-based economy, Mills says, the Government seems to be doing the bidding of Big Oil and Big Coal.

"I have been a National voter for most of my life, but I think this is the stupidest National Party [government] that we've ever had."

It also seemed to be two-faced.

John Key "will try to tell you that he's green but he's not, he's absolutely not".

Mills had tried to work with the Key Government in various ways but three years ago he gave up. "I became totally cynical about them."

He initially gave smaller sums to the Greens and to Labour to ensure they fell under the threshold that automatically makes them public. But now he makes no secret of his political support.

He seeks nothing from Labour and the Greens in return for his donation.

"I make a point of not telling them what I want. I have talked to them to find out what they're doing and I believe there's a very strong commitment from both parties to dealing with climate change."

WHAT MONEY WILL BUY IN POLITICS

Conservative leader Colin Craig says his family has paid a price for the millions he has poured into his party.

"I've worked hard for years and I've saved . . . but that's money that I don't spend on my family, that doesn't go to my children."

Does he mean his children are going hungry?

"No, no, I'm a responsible parent, I feed my children." But most of his money has gone on the party.

"My wife and I live off a very meagre budget, less than most New Zealanders live off . . . I'm not in Dotcom's league or John Key's, for that matter."

He estimates his personal worth at $5m in property, and he has already mined most of his savings.

The result is that he will not be able to spend as much on this campaign as he did on the last. However, the party had about 6000 members and supporters, 10 times as many as in 2011. This would allow it to cut many of the costs, including the $860,000 spent last time on distributing materials.

Craig is also delighted to receive the donation from Laurence Day, which is "fantastic".

But doesn't the money give the Conservatives a big advantage?

No, he says. Labour and National get $1m each in free state broadcasting time during the election. That gave them an "enormous" advantage over parties like the Conservatives.

"This is just basic marketing - I think access to television and radio is the single biggest influencer of people's consumer behaviour."

In politics, it seems, you can never have enough.

POLITICAL DONATIONS: THE RULES

Parties must tell the Electoral Commission of any single donation of more than $30,000 within 10 days of receiving it.

 

They must also disclose any personal loans of more than $30,000 within 10 days of receiving it.

Anonymous party donations cannot exceed $1500.

Overseas donations cannot exceed $1500.

Parties must give the commission an annual list of donations.

- The Dominion Post

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