ACT took a huge gamble on political newcomer Jamie Whyte as its new leader - and instantly lost its chief fundraiser and donor.
Whyte will not stand in Epsom - the electorate crucial to the party's survival.
In a secret ballot, the party's eight board members yesterday chose 30-year-old David Seymour, a policy analyst, as its Epsom candidate.
It is a strategy that former MP John Boscawen, who also sought the party leadership, said he could not back.
He immediately quit as president and said he would no longer work to fill the party's coffers. He would, however, stay on as a party member.
Boscawen has poured tens of thousands of dollars into the party in his 17 years as a member.
He has also pulled out of bankrolling a campaign call centre and offices in Auckland. Boscawen insisted he was not "throwing my toys out of the pram".
"This strategy, I think there is a real risk we will get no MPs . . . I'll be very happy to be proved wrong. I think the National Party will sit back and watch and see how things unfold."
Whyte, a management consultant and writer, yesterday promised the party's policy would be "pure ACT".
"I won't let you down, I won't be boring," he said.
"We are ambitious; we believe we will get several people back into Parliament.
"We will motivate people to come back to us."
Asked if it was a risky move for the leader not to stand in the most important seat, Whyte said he and Seymour agreed on most things.
If ACT fails to lift its 1.07 share of vote from the 2011 election, Seymour could be the party's sole MP, leaving Whyte, 48, as a leader outside Parliament.
In a TV3 poll last night, the party's support fell to zero.
Whyte admitted it was not a good look and said it was clear that a lot of the voters of Epsom had been voting for ACT candidates simply because they believed it was a way of keeping a National-led government. "They are not devotees of ACT."
Whyte must also win National's trust. Prime Minister John Key had endorsed Boscawen. However, Whyte was spotted at a party hosted by Key at Premier House last week.
A spokeswoman for Key said: "The prime minister congratulates Jamie on his selection and looks forward to working with him. He wishes him and ACT well for the 2014 election."
Whyte has argued in the past for decriminalisation of drugs but said yesterday it would not be party policy.
"I have no mandate to make drug legalisation one of our policies. We have to pick our battles and legalising drugs isn't going to be one of them."
ACT's only current MP, Epsom's John Banks, will stand trial for allegedly knowingly filing a false electoral return in May. He has denied the charge.
Banks is facing trial after a District Court judge ruled in October he should be tried after three donations to his failed 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign were recorded as anonymous.
Two of $25,000 were from internet mogul Kim Dotcom and one was $15,000 from SkyCity.