Cunliffe to repay some donors

Last updated 11:28 04/03/2014

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Labour leader David Cunliffe has admitted he made a mistake by having donations towards his leadership tilt last year channelled through a trust.

And he has now moved to pay back the big donors who still want anonymity.

Cunliffe said he was satisfied the trust complied with party rules and the parliamentary pecuniary interest register.

However he had asked the trustee, his top electorate official Greg Presland, to ask the donors who gave more than $500 if they were prepared to reveal who they were.

Three donors had agreed to waive anonymity - businessman Selwyn Pellett, a longtime friend Perry Keenan and Labour party supporter Tony Gibbs.

Together they had donated $9500 but he had not been told how much came from each.

Another two had said they were unwilling to waive confidentiality. Cunliffe said he respected that, and the trust would return the $8300 they donated to it.

Cunliffe said the rules around donations needed to be tightened, and he admitted he had a lapse of judgment.

"I don't think in hindsight that a trust structure fully represented the values that I would like to bring to this leadership, and that's why I have encouraged donors to be as transparent as possible," he said.

Cunliffe said his wife, who was a lawyer, was not a trustee but he did not know if she was involved in seeking donations. As a lawyer she knew that if a trust had been set up and he did not know who the donors were, there were some things she would not discuss with him.

He estimated he had spent about $20,000 on the campaign to lead the party.

If there was a shortfall in the trust he would pay it himself.

"There may be a deficit and the buck stops with me," he said.

He did not know the names of the two bigger donors who were being repaid from the campaign trust, called the TR Trust, and he did not know how many trustees it had. He was not a beneficiary of the trust but it "forgave debts of the campaign".

Prime Minister John Key criticised Cunliffe yesterday because Labour changed the law to stop parties using trusts in election campaigns.

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- Fairfax Media

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