The Electoral Commission has published further documents on New Zealand First, and they confirm that every single erturn they filed in the last three years was false. The 2005 and 2006 returns can not be prosecuuted simply because the time has expired.
The amended returns state the following amount of big donations:
- 2005 – $87,684.83
- 2006 – $67,083.33
- 2007 – $80,000.00
So that is 234,768.16 that never was declared.
So why was 2007 not prosecuted:
The Secretary explained that the omission of the $80,000 donation was as a result of a misinterpretation of the Act. Legal advice received indicated that the Spencer Trust was “a body of persons involved in the administration of the affairs of the party” and as such when donations were made to the Spencer Trust those equated to donations to New Zealand First and the payment of the money from the Trust to the Party did not amount to another donation.
So the defence is she followed legal advice. The legal advice was wrong. I bet you we can all guess where that advice came from. This was the same legal advice that Winston did not have to declare the Owen Glenn donation. Possibly the same legal advice who gave false evidence to the Privileges Committee?
Also interesting that their argument was that the Spencer Trust was an integral part of the Party. This contradicts Winston who claimed it was independent.
The Electoral Commission accepts that the Secretary had no intention to mis-state the facts in respect of the return of party donations. The Commission also considers that under the circumstances it was reasonable for the Secretary to rely on what she had been told by the Party and by the Auditor, who is a professional and also relied on legal advice, in respect of the classification of the donations in question.
This is quite clever. There is no liability for the professional advisors if they give wrong advice, but the party secretary is protected because she got their advice.
I wonder if the law should be changed to have the Electoral Commission appoint the auditors for a political party, rather than the party?
Finally they note:
The matters the Electoral Commission was required to consider are governed by sections 214F to 214L of the Electoral Act. Those provisions apply in respect of the obligations and actions of the Party Secretary only. As a result the Commission has considered, and this decision pertains to, the actions of the Party Secretary only.
I advocated in my submission on the Electoral Finance Act that parties themselves should be able to be prosecuted for incorrect returns etc. The law currently only allows individuals to be charged, and you get situations like this when people can escape liability by not holding the correct role.
At the end of the day the important thing is that the public now know NZ First received $235,000 of donations over three years though the Spencer Trust, and that Winston has personally benefited by a further $140,000+ of large donations. This is the info that they went to such great lengths to keep from us.