Questions after NZ First files “materially different” donation return

NZ First seems to have changed the way it is reporting donations given to the NZ First Foundation in the party’s latest annual electoral return, which has raised further questions about whether they were correctly reporting donations in past years.

Electoral law professor Andrew Geddis said the return this year was “materially different” to last year, with much more money declared.

The NZ First Party is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over how it has been handling donations via the NZ First Foundation trust.

Winston Peters has claimed the party has never broken any electoral laws.

From RNZ in April:  SFO decision over NZ First Foundation will come before election

The Serious Fraud Office says it is on track to make a call before this year’s election on whether to lay charges in relation to the New Zealand First Foundation, which has been bankrolling the New Zealand First Party.

When the SFO first decided to look into the case, on 11 February, Peters challenged it to find the evidence and proof to make its case.

“They would have no such proof and no such evidence and we’ve got a legal opinion to back up what we have said.”

Yesterday from RNZ:  Foundation donations not named on NZ First electoral return

New Zealand First has once again opted not to name any donations from the mysterious foundation bankrolling the party on its electoral return.

But an electoral law expert said the party did for the first time seem to be including donations to the New Zealand First Foundation in an aggregated total – which called into question the accuracy of returns from previous years.

And for the first time since 2008, the party has named two external donors in its returns – a Wellington property investment company that agitated strongly against a capital gains tax and a wood exporter who owns a private island in the Bay of Islands.

Under electoral law, as well as naming donors who give more than $15,000 in a calendar year, parties must also declare the total amount of any smaller donations of $15,000 or less.

In its return, NZ First declared just over $317,000 in such donations, including 13 donations between $5000 and $15,000 – totalling just under $155,000.

It is not clear whether the individual donations the foundation received are included in that total, some of which were just under the $15,000.01 level at which the donors’ names would have to be made public.

Otago University electoral law professor Andrew Geddis said the return this year was “materially different” to last year, with much more money declared.

That raised questions about how the party had declared donations in previous years, Geddis believed.

“If it has started to treat money to the New Zealand First Foundation as if it was money to the New Zealand First party … it raises the question of why that didn’t occur in previous years.

“It also calls into question the robust assurances that [NZ First party leader] Winston Peters has given that the law was correctly followed in those earlier years.”

From Electoral Commission Party donations and loans:

NZ First total party donations:

  • 2019: $369,535.17
  • 2018: $87,689.60
  • 2017: $546,253.77

NZ First total party loans:

  • 2019: $44,923.00
  • 2018: $76,622.00
  • 2017: $73,000.00

2017 was election year so higher donations are to be expected, but the big drop in donations reported for 2018 looks remarkably low.

As Geddis says there are problems with the high threshold for declaring donors:

The underlying problem was the $15,000 threshold before a donor’s identity had to be declared, Geddis said.

That was “a lot of money”.

“What we see is, in essence, the New Zealand First party has received something like $150,000 from 13 individuals. We have no idea who those 13 individuals are, we’ve no idea of their links to the party, what they might want from the party – and, frankly, I don’t think that’s really a good enough situation to have in New Zealand.”

Maybe it wouldn’t be a problem if parties didn’t try to game the rules to hide larger donors.

In January the Serious Fraud Office filed criminal charges against four people in relation to donations paid into a National Party electorate bank account – see SFO National Party Donations

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Geoffrey

     /  7th May 2020

    “A legal opinion” says Winston. Is that just the untested opinion of one person practicing law? It would seem so. The government relies on similar statements to justify policy but least it has the benefit of several lawyers opinions in the Crown Law Office but it is still just an opinion until tested in a Court.

    Reply
  2. Duker

     /  7th May 2020

    “Electoral law professor Andrew Geddis said the return this year was “materially different” to last year, with much more money declared.”
    Geddes is too silly for words most times but this takes the cake-
    Most parties have much more this year
    Labour 2017 ($1,611k) drops 2018($173k) 2019 ($783)
    National 2017(44,579k) drops 2018($741k) 2019($1,221)

    Labour has a similar drop in 2018 to 11% of the previous year , NZF was 16% of previous

    Its a shameless beatup PG and you have been had by that Geddes.. theres a slang term for those who are always in the media spotlight …..Otago Law School once had a great reputation

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  7th May 2020

      Possibly could say the same about its Public Health School?

      Reply
    • You’ve got the National 2017 figure wrong, it’s $4,579,086.44

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  7th May 2020

        Its a typo the 4 should have been $.
        Do you want to correct your comment …more of a misunderstanding than a typo
        “but the big drop in donations reported for 2018 looks remarkably low.”

        Nationals was materially different too only 16% of the previous year the same ratio as NZF ….oh dear. Is this the beatup of beatups – compared to other years of course.

        Reply

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