Gower asks tricky donations questions

The debate about political donations took a tricky turn on The Nation this morning. As a result of Patrick Gowers tricky questioning activists are calling for John Key to identify all people who donate to National. They don’t seem to have thought this through to it’s logical conclusion.

Patrick Gower manoeuvred John Key into a tricky position. He first got Key to confirm that he thought David Cunliffe should reveal who the two donors were that declined to be identified. Then Gower pointed out that Key had been at National Party fundraising dinners where $5,000 ticket prices for a meal were effectively donations.

Key claimed that it was different, that he had nothing to do with the donations and that it was within the rules. But handled to questions adeptly as he usually does but he looked a tad uncomfortable as he (presumably) realised he had been skewered.

Key not talking about fundraising dinner

Fancy fundraising dinners raising thousands of dollars from undisclosed donors aren’t “tricky”.

Spoiler alert! On 3 news tonight Gower will emphasis his tricky wee points win over Key and highlight the fact that National have anonymous donors, which looks a bit tricky. It’s often obvious from Gower’s interviews what story he is angling at. That’s how he works.

But it gets trickier than this.

There was an immediate reaction on Twitter, pointing out some hypocrisy from Key. That’s a fair call, to an extent.

Blogs have followed up with the attack on Key.

Martyn Bradbury at The Daily Blog in Guess who’s coming to dinner – questions about Key’s $165 000 fund raisers:

Key has said of Cunliffe that he had to be transparent over the donations ‘‘or he’s going to be guilty of being labelled as having a secret agenda which none of us can verify one way or another’’. Well Mr Key, by your very own words, don’t you have to reveal who your donors were and if they aren’t prepared to be named, do as Cunliffe has done and pay back the donations?

And ‘Zetetic’ (who has jumped back into action for Labour this week) at The Standard in Give us the names or pay the money back, John:

David Cunliffe had a trust set up for campaign donations. The structure kept donors anonymous and was within electoral rules, but was a bad look. He named three of the donors and paid the other two back. Total donations equaled $17,800 with $8,300 of that returned.

At the time, John Key called for Cunliffe to name his anonymous donors (even though the money was returned to them).

John Key received 21 five thousand dollar campaign donations (total $105k) via a dinner, and another $60k through another. He acknowledged there have been many other dinners.

Paddy Gower asked him to name these anonymous donors on the Nation this morning, Key refused.

By Key’s logic he now has to either pay back the $165k – and all the other secret dinner money – or name the donors.

Not to do so wouldn’t just be tricky, but hypocritical.

The money or the secret names John. You can’t keep both.

Those wanting to divert attention from Cunliffe and turn the heat on Key need to be careful. For one thing, the circumstances are different between Key and Cunliffe.

Zetetic makes a false claim. Key did not receive any donations. He attended the dinner and would have been the main draw-card, but any donations were paid to the National Party (via president Peter Goodfellow).

In contrast Cunliffe’s donations were for him personally, for his leadership campaign.

And Cunliffe with Labour have made a big noise about shutting down secret donation trusts. And have legislated against them. So Cunliffe’s hypocrisy is greater.

But that’s not the trickiest part of this for Labour.

If Labour activists and other political activists like Bradbury insist that Key divulges the identity of National donors, even though the size of the donations is less than the amount where disclosure is compulsory, then if they want to avoid double standards and hypocrisy they should insist that Cunliffe identifies all Labour Party donors. And Norman/Turei identify all Green donors. And Harawira identifies all Mana donors.

In Zetetic’s words, “not to do so wouldn’t just be tricky, but hypocritical” – far more so than Key.

Leave a comment


  1. Sjlmass

     /  8th March 2014

    You argument rests on the false premise that National are less culpable or hypocritical because they clearly have fewer morals – if you don;t have ’em you were never really hypocritical; however, you can’t call Cunliffe on one hand and take secret contributions on the other. True, Cunliffe received donations to further personal ambition to leadership, but let’s not be naive about Key’s apparent lack of awareness about $ going to National coffers: this furthers his personal ambition. Also, one set of donations is covered by the Electoral Finance Act and the other is not.

    • “You argument rests on the false premise that National are less culpable or hypocritical because they clearly have fewer morals”

      No it doesn’t, I haven’t argued that at all. And no, I don’t think National “clearly have fewer morals” – and you have done nothing to substantiate that claim.

      There are significant differences. Cunliffe took secret donations for his own benefit, Key would have been aware that National was fundraising but kept a distance from the process.

      You have ignored the main point I made – the Labour will certainly be fundraising like National were, I’ve seen evidence that proves this. If Laborites are demanding that Key must reveal donors (despite not being legally required to do so as the party threshold for disclosing donor identities is $15k) ) then Labour would be hypocritical if they didn’t do what they are demanding of Key.

    • David Farrar explains the different Donation disclosure thresholds

  2. Sjlmass

     /  9th March 2014

    I agree that there should be no anonymous donations at all, and that all should be revealed. I disagree re the hypocrisy because arguing technical compliance and convenient ignorance is a ploy Key uses regularly to avoid making morally principled decisions. You are also avoiding the fact that, while individual dinners cost $5, it is highly likely that multiple tickets were purchased by the same organisation and several members of that organisation attended. Of course, we’ll never know if the names aren’t revealed.

  3. Brown

     /  9th March 2014

    “technical compliance” is all that matters. Its a question of legality – not right or wrong. Don’t ever expect govts to do what is right although sometimes that’s the accidental outcome of actions taken and laws passed.

    Cunner’s problem is that he says its wrong, even if legal, and would change the law so is a two faced shyster for doing it.

    I think Labour should declare the union assistance in election years. It may look free but its not and is, in my view, very wrong for unions to support one party using members funds.


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