The donors behind the closed gates

Laurence Day has copped a bit of criticism since it became public that he'd donated $675,000 to the Conservative Party - including people questioning his motives and others turning up on his doorstep asking for handouts - but he wouldn't have it any other way.

The former chairman of National's Hamilton East electorate believes all political donors should be named, and supports the Sunday Star-Times' campaign for more transparency.

"Otherwise you could easily get, say, a foreign lobby group that had an agenda in New Zealand . . . lobbying political parties, ‘we'll give you ‘x' amount of dollars but you've got to pass these rules and regulations'. That's not beyond the realms of possibility in this world, where you've got billions of dollars looking for a home."

He said he didn't welcome the publicity, and would have preferred to stay anonymous to protect his privacy, but understood it was necessary in an open democracy. "My wife [Katrina] and I weighed it up. We didn't want to go out there getting our names in the paper and people turning up on our doorstep looking for charity . . . but I think transparency is essential in a democracy."

Day supports the Conservative Party because of its policy of requiring governments to be bound by the outcome of referendums - which he says would act as a "constitutional brake on the absolute power of Parliament".

Day received more than $10 million for his share of a private training organisation when it sold recently and says he will probably end up giving the Conservatives "a mill".

He began with a $175,000 donation, then last month it was revealed he'd donated another $500,000, and "that's when the circus really began".

"I get zero out of this except the satisfaction of thinking that if that [law] was changed it would benefit all New Zealanders."

Day said his other reason for supporting the Conservatives was because he wanted to stop Kim Dotcom, who he believed was involved in politics for selfish reasons.

He admitted it would be a "tough call" for the Conservatives to make it into Parliament and that his million dollars might go down the drain.

"I've thought about that, and I've thought, ‘no, a waste of a million bucks would be to give it to Dotcom'."

Donors say they don't demand a direct influence on parties when they donate. Les Mills boss Phillip Mills has donated to both Labour and the Greens because of his concerns over climate change, but says he hasn't even spoken to the parties.

National's biggest single donor is the estate of Christchurch timber merchant Cyril Smith, who died in May aged 98. The estate donated $547,920.

Sources said Smith, who lost his apartment in the earthquakes, was a shrewd businessman who kept a low profile but was prominent in the racing industry. He owned racehorses, including a 10th share in the very successful Darci Brahma.

Smith was an early financier of Bruce Judge, whose companies Judge Corp and Ariadne were symbols of the 1987 sharemarket boom and crash.

Horse breeder David Ellis said Smith "put a lot back into the community".

"I think he felt after the circus of the last Labour government that John Key was the best person to take the country forward. He was a very proud New Zealander."

Smith's son, Hilton, added: "I didn't know anything about my late father's bequests until after he died, and nor did the rest of the family. I think his motivations were philanthropic as a most substantial part of his estate were legacies bequeathed to charities which he sought no recognition for."

In Auckland, John Key attended a dinner at King's House restaurant in east Tamaki on August 1, which a source said raised $200,000 for National's election campaign. "It was a private dinner and I don't want to reveal it to the public or the media," National list MP Dr Jian Yang said yesterday. "All parties have their fundraisers, it was all done legally and there's nothing wrong."

Among the guests, a source said, were Susan Chou and her husband Zhao Wu Shen. The Hong Kong Chinese couple are listed in the electoral rolls as "students", but they reportedly own more than $20 million in land and houses, including an $11m waterfront mansion in Herne Bay. They and their company have donated nearly $250,000 to National - but nobody knows what's in it for them.

Between stone gate posts and down a long drive past the giant greenhouse full of lime trees in a pleasant part of Key's Helensville constituency is Xiao Miao Fan and her husband Yaxun Zhang's $4.8 million mansion. Fan donated $63,500 to the National Party. "I think the National Party is right," she said. "I agree with them."

She knows John Key, but insisted there were no ulterior motives to her financial endorsement of National. "I get nothing," said Fan. She refused to answer further questions, and retreated behind her front door.

And some donors, well, they simply aren't really donors. Other than Kim Dotcom's largesse to Internet-Mana, the only other funder of note is billboard company M5.

Director Alf Jamieson said the almost $40,000 donation was simply a discount on a commercial sale of billboards.

"At my end it was normal discount so it was a bit funny to see it turn up as a donation - they did warn me it might. I'd sell billboards to anyone who wanted to use them to express a political opinion."

Sunday Star Times