Taxpayers’ Union surrogate election campaigning

A Taxpayers’ Union surrogate has mass mailed letters trying to stop people from voting for the Green party.

The TU claims to “represent the common interests of all taxpayers and to provide them with a voice in corridors of power”, but obviously they don’t represent the interests of all taxpayers. This campaign they are looking to me increasingly like political activists, and little more than a surrogate for the Act Party.

Connections between the TU and Act and National were detailed here: A web of connections between the ACT Party, Taxpayers’ Union and National Party

The TU recently a surrogate surrogate campaign directly targeting the Green Party – Taxpayers’ Union Launches Major Direct Mail Campaign Against Green Party’s Proposed Asset Tax

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is today launching the Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership to fight against the Green Party’s proposal to implement an asset tax.

Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership spokesperson Islay Aitchison says…

The website does have an authorisation statement:

Authorised by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union – for the Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership 

Islay Aitchison is listed on the TU ‘Our Team’ web page as “our part-time research officer”.

A letter from with Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership and with her signature has been mass mailed:

But there is no sign of the TU nor an authorisation statement on the letter, even though the letter would appear to be a form of (deceptive) election advertising.

From the Electoral Commission: What is election advertising?

An ‘election advertisement’ is an advertisement in any medium that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not vote for a:

– candidate
– party
– type of candidate or party the advertisement describes by referencing views they do or don’t hold.

All election advertisements must include a promoter statement. This rule applies at all times, not just during the regulated period.

Promoter statements must be clearly displayed in election advertisements. For audible election advertisements, the promoter statement must be as easy to hear as the rest of the advertisement.

Not including a promoter statement is an offence which could lead to a fine of up to $40,000.

If you put out advertising about a candidate, party or election issue, but are not a candidate or party yourself, you’re a third party promoter.

The Taxpayers’ Union is registered as a promoter for the 2020 General Election and Referendums, but not their surrogate campaign for home ownership.

I expect that someone will have brought the letter to the attention of the Electoral Commission.

There is also questions being asked about the mailing list used for the letter. The TU membership database is not likely to contain many potential Green voters.

From Martin @dannedaerd

Can confirm. And they’ve got the mailing list improperly – looks like they pulled a list from LINZ data, where you have to confirm you won’t use it for DM purposes.

The address I got mine from isn’t an address I’ve lived at and will not appear on any list – apart from ownership

I guess that will be checked out too, but nothing is likely to happen until well after the election.

Deterring people from voting for the Greens would potentially benefit National and ACT – if the Greens don’t make the 5% threshold (and Chloe Swarbrick doesn’t pull of a surprise win in Auckland Central) then the left loses a lot of votes, and forming a government would come down to Labour versus National+Act.

The TU has properly put an authorisation statement on this:

The TU are clearly ‘pay less tax’ activists, and that would obviously align them with National and in particular Act.

David Farrar is a founder of the Taxpayer’s Union. It’s been interesting to see his posts at Kiwiblog this campaign. He has been targeting Labour in a series of posts, the last one being Labour’s Failures Part 11 – Renewable Electricity.

Kiwiblog has also featured promotions for both the Taxpayers’ Union and the Act Party. Three consecutive posts on 5 and 6 October:

Also on Tuesday was a post promoting the Taxpayers’ Union Scorecard: Taxpayer Scorecard

This omitted the authorisation statement from the graphic:

So it looks like Farrar is advertising for the Taxpayers’ Union who are effectively advertising for ACT.

Yesterday on Kiwblog: Huge tax cuts in Australia with a comment from Farrar:

“Sadly we have a Government here that believes the only acceptable fiscal stimulus is them deciding to spend more money, not giving taxpayers more of their own money to spend.”

Curiously Farrar, who has had close connections to National, is hardly posting any sort of party promotions – since Saturday the only National directed posts are on specific candidates:

Auckland Central – it doesn’t matter whether the Labour or National candidate win, but it does matter to National and Act if Swarbrick wins for the Greens.

Also curiously, there are only two posts at Kiwiblog in August tagged with Judith Collins, one in September and none so far in October:

Farrar and the Taxpayers’ Union seem to be most interested in keeping the Greens out and getting Act in, but the way things are looking they are likely to be unsuccessful.

Taxpayers’ Union – Government subsidy more pressing than ideological purity

This is an interesting decision from the Taxpayers’ Union:  Statement On COVID-19 Wage Subsidy

As confirmed by the Government today, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is one of the many employers that have accepted the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy. This decision was made on the basis of our ethical obligations to staff during the government-mandated economic shutdown.

The decision to accept this subsidy was not as simple for us as for most organisations. Prior to COVID-19, we have stated on the record that we would never accept taxpayer funding. That commitment was, of course, made in a time few New Zealanders could possibly have anticipated COVID-19 and the ensuing economic situation.

After brief deliberation, the Taxpayers’ Union board determined the welfare of our employees to be a more pressing immediate concern than ideological purity.

Moreover, we support the Government’s strategy helping employers through the current crisis and we have not criticised any employer for taking this subsidy. It is important to distinguish between targeted corporate welfare, which we oppose, and across-the-board compensation for the effects of a government-mandated economic shutdown.

They are presumably as entitled to claim the subsidy as any other employer affected by the lockdown.

But they are using the wage subsidy so they can keep holding the Government to account and “to expose excessive and wasteful government spending”.

Taxpayers’ Union – advocates or activists?

The Taxpayers’ Union has been a controversial player in New Zealand politics, given those who are involved (from the right of politics).

Their self-description on Twitter:

We’re the voice for Kiwi taxpayers in the corridors of power. With  and our 36k members, we fight for Lower Taxes, Less Waste, More Transparency.

But the causes they promote or oppose suggests that their focus is rather narrower than “the voice for Kiwi taxpayers”.

Their reaction to this article suggests a certain sensitivity to criticism – Newsroom: Tobacco ties undermine Taxpayers’ Union

“Here at the Taxpayers’ Union, we are no defenders of ‘Big Tobacco’ or its lobbyists.”

Jordan Williams’ words, in the foreword to a 2016 report on the impact of tobacco taxes, have a certain irony in light of his organisation’s financial ties to British American Tobacco.

In many ways, news of the tobacco giant’s “corporate membership” of the Taxpayers’ Union (for an undisclosed annual fee) should come as little surprise.

Since its inception in 2013, Williams’ organisation has consistently opposed measures designed to regulate or reduce the use of tobacco, such as the plain packaging law and the annual increases to excise tax.

Add in its ‘Clear the Air’ campaign for lighter regulation of vaping and other e-cigarette products – a sector in which cigarette companies themselves now have a large stake – and the alignment of beliefs seems clear.

Does that mean that Williams and company are mere stooges for hire, on offer to the highest corporate bidder?

Not necessarily (although the group’s most vociferous critics would surely beg to differ).

Egregious lack of transparency

British American Tobacco may pay its dues to the Taxpayers’ Union not to ensure it would take the party line against tobacco controls, but because it already shared those views as a philosophically “free market” organisation.

And the group’s argument about the regressive impact of tobacco taxes – that they impact the poor disproportionately – is one which carries some weight.

There would be value to some voters in an organisation which lived up to the Taxpayers’ Union motto of “lower taxes, less waste, more transparency”.

However, it’s in the area of transparency where the organisation most egregiously fails.

None of the numerous press releases and reports on tobacco put out by the Taxpayers’ Union make even a passing reference to the group’s funding from a cigarette manufacturer.

A Taxpayers’ Union spokesman pooh-poohed the suggestion of disclosing conflicts of interest, claiming doing so would “distort people’s perceptions of our work” given its many donors.

That’s an argument that doesn’t hold water, given the high standards to which the organisation is willing to hold politicians (take its criticism of Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter for the awarding of transport contracts to her partner, despite her lack of involvement in the decision-making process).

The organisation’s spokesman suggested taxpayer-funded entities had to be held to “a special standard” – but surely a group seeking to enhance government transparency should be purer than pure.

They should practice what they preach on transparency.

Also apparent is their interest in issues that seem to be straying somewhat from the interests of “Kiwi taxpayers”.

A few days ago:

This sort of general anti-government stance is common from the Taxpayers’ Union.  They look more like activists with vested interests in certain political outcomes rather than general advocates for reducing Government costs. This probably doesn’t surprise any Kiwi taxpayers.

IRD paid for Spinoff articles

Commercial media have to find ways of getting revenue for their work, but there have been a questionable series of articles tax articles at The Spinoff, funded by IRD to the tune of $40,000, according to OIA discoveries by the Taxpayers’ Union.

Tax Villains: The Spinoff Breach $40,000 Agreement With IRD

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that The Spinoff have broken the terms of their agreement with IRD to publish content in their Tax Heroes project.

The Tax Heroes project, which featured a number of articles from writers associated with The Spinoff, intended to highlight the public good of paying taxes, and in doing so promote compliance with tax obligations among the public.

Due to an official information request, the Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that The Spinoff was paid $40,000 ($46,000 including GST) by the IRD to publish the series.

The IRD is required to be politically neutral – especially so for matters currently under consideration by Sir Michael Cullen’s Tax Working Group.

The Spinoff’s contract with the IRD specifically states: The Spinoff agrees not to refer to any political party or their policies in the content.

However, an IRD-branded article by Maria Slade, published on 31 March, ignores the contractual obligation.

This article, titled Why the lack of a capital gains tax is letting property companies off lightly, names Labour along with a click baity baby reference, in the same sentence as it mentions a capital gains tax:

Whether New Zealand should introduce a capital gains tax is set to be almost as hot a topic in Labour’s first term as the prime minister’s pregnancy.

The Taxpayers’ Union claims:

The article “Why the lack of a capital gains tax is letting property companies off lightly” advocates for a Green Party policy, a capital gains tax, violating the agreement.

I thought it was also a Labour party policy. A quick check id Labour’s Tax Plan proves this.

  • Set up a Tax Working Group, to ensure that there is a better and fairer balance between the taxation of income and assets, in particular the capital gain associated with property speculation.

The fact that IRD funded articles like this at at The Spinoff, and how many articles were funded, are also potential issues.

Other overtly political articles bear the ‘Tax Heroes’ tag, but without IRD branding. IRD and The Spinoff must explain whether any of these articles were paid for with taxpayer funds.

If not, and IRD funding was only used for the articles labeled ‘partner content’, then the cost per article was approximately $6,600 – which seems extraordinary.

If Whale Oil had been found to have been paid to post things favourable for National last term, or NZ First this term (they haven’t been as far as I’m aware), I’m sure there would be some jumping up and down in some quarters.

It seems odd to me that IRD would pay substantial amounts of money for online media posts promoting the paying of tax regardless of whether agreements were violated.

Submission to the Tax Working Group

Summary of a submission to the Tax Working Group:

That was from

Here are the key points of our submission to the Tax Working Group. You can read the full document here:

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/taxpayers/pages/13/attachments/original/1525056499/20180430_tax_working_group_submission.pdf

I think these are all good points worth considering and debating.

‘Back Judith Collins’ website and the Taxpayers’ Union

The Taxpayers Union denies being involved in a pro-Judith Collins website that appeared briefly before being taken down. Whether they were or weren’t behind the site it is a curious story.

Stuff reported on Monday: Anonymous ‘Back Judith’ website has fake phone number, registered to Collins’ office address

An anonymous website backing Judith Collins for National Party leader is registered to her electorate office address, a fake phone number, and what appears to be a fake identity.

The now-deleted website BackJudith.nz said it is “in no way endorsed by the National Party formal hierarchy, or Judith Collins” – a view Collins echoes. But a domain name lookup on the service whois has the website registered to her office address and phone number.

Since Stuff published a story on the topic the website appears to have been deleted.

The name associated with the registration was Raquel Ray. There is no online or ownership records of a Raquel Ray in New Zealand, save for a recently set up Facebook account and a smattering of Official Information Act requests to Callaghan Innovation.

That Facebook account – which has posted a link to the BackJudith website – has a profile picture also found on a photography website. That photographer told Stuff the person in the photograph was someone else not named “Raquel Ray”.

Collins herself said she and her office had nothing to do with the website. She assumed it was someone who really did want to support her and simply remain anonymous.

“Well I know that nobody in my office would actually be able to do that. I presume it’s not someone trying to cause difficulty for me.”

If her office had set it up secretly “using my work address would be a really dumb thing to do.”

The website encourages people to sign an open letter to National MPs to back Collins for the leadership.

The NZ Taxpayers Union have run a campaign around Callaghan Innovation expenses. Director Jordan Williams said they had a “Raquel Ray” in their database as someone who had sent in tip-offs in the past.

Williams said he and his staff were not at all involved in the website.

Stuff followed up yesterday: Taxpayers Union’s Jordan Williams’ personal email connected to Judith Collins website

Taxpayers Union director Jordan Williams’ personal email address was connected to an anonymous website backing Judith Collins for the National Party leadership, information provided to Stuff shows.

Williams said he was not behind the website on Monday and continues to deny it on Tuesday, instead suggesting that he is the victim of an elaborate smear.

Williams said the Taxpayers Union had a “Raquel Ray” in its records as someone who had sent in tip-offs but ruled out any involvement from him or his staff.

“They’re in our database and have sent through a bunch of tips in the past,” Williams told Stuff on Monday.

“Otherwise we have absolutely no association and are not taking a position in this. It’s definitely not come from within.”

A screenshot provided to Stuff shows the Raquel Ray email address that was used to set-up the website has Williams’ personal email set as its password recovery email.

The last five letters of the email address are starred out but perfectly match Williams’ personal email address. He later confirmed he had received a message to that address concerning password recovery.

However, there is nothing to stop the person who controls the Raquel Ray account setting the account recovery address as Williams – there is no verification process.

Reached on Tuesday, Williams said that this “can’t be right”.

“I did get a password reset email randomly last night,” Williams said.

He confirmed he had no involvement with Raquel Ray – other than that email had sent in tip-offs to the Taxpayers Union in the past. He declined to immediately forward that correspondence on to Stuff.

After searching his inbox Williams said that he received an email to his personal address early on Tuesday morning saying his email had been added as the recovery address to the Raquel Ray account.

He declined to forward this on to Stuff, saying he wanted to get advice on that first.

“I’m very worried that this is some sort of setup,” Williams said.

He said his personal email address was available easily online and so it wouldn’t be that hard for someone to set him up in this manner.

Williams and his organisation maintain that they are politically independent.

Related to the ‘Raquel Ray’ tipoff to the Taxpayers Union on the Callaghan Institute

There are no online or property records linked to a “Raquel Ray” save for a recently setup Facebook account using a stolen photo and a smattering of OIA requests to Callaghan Innovation.

RNZ (5 February 2018): Taxpayers’ Union criticises Callaghan spending

Last week the Taxpayers’ Union revealed the government’s science funding agency Callaghan Innovation spent more than $300,000 in a year on entertaining clients and staff. Now it says new figures show it also spent about $2.4 million on travel and accommodation. Joining us in the studio is the executive director of the Taxpayers’ Union, Jordan Williams.

And this tweet:

From FYI.org.nz:

Expenses | Beer and Burger Joint

Request sent to Callaghan Innovation by Raquel Ray on .

Withdrawn by the requester. 

That’s the only OIA request by ‘Rachel Ray’ at FYI.

I haven’t seen the ‘Robert Preston’ lead investigated. I haven’t heard of that name and a quick search doesn’t come up with anything. Surely OIA requests can’t be anonymous?

So:

  • Who set up a website supporting Judith Collins but didn’t want to be identified?
  • Why was the website taken down as soon as curious information was reported?
  • Was Jordan Williams or the Taxpayers Union involved (this is denied)?
  • If Williams wasn’t involved, why has someone tried to link him to the website?

I’d have thought that if someone wanted to set Williams and/or the Taxpayers Union up they would have wanted maximum publicity, so why would they take the site down so quickly?

Another curious aspect – as far as I can see there is no mention of this ‘Back Judith Collins’ website on Whale Oil. If such an odd attempt to promote Judith Collins but then was suddenly taken done when publicised has involved one of the other four National leadership candidates Slater is likely to have poured scorn on it.

Perhaps Slater didn’t want to give any more publicity to another website backing Collins, as that would compete with Whale Oil’s hard core promotion of Collins – the WOBLOG party is in activism overdrive.

Both Collins and Williams have had connections to Slater and controversial political activities in the past.

NOTE: some apparent connections have been reported on, but denials have been made with serious alternative suggestions (a set up). Don’t assume, insinuate or claim anything as confirmed or fact unless you have confirmation or facts to back your comments up.