The billboard probe

Matthew Dearnaley in the NZ Herald reports:

Prime Minister says he supports a proposed inquiry into a donation by a Manukau trust to Auckland Mayor ’s election campaign.

Mr Key yesterday said he supported the view of Local Government Minister “that it may be appropriate for the to look at the nature of whether the entity that actually gave [Mr Brown] a donation is capable of doing so or whether it’s within their rules to do so”.

He was referring to a donation of billboard space worth $3375 from the , which runs the TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre.

One issue for the Auditor-General might be whether the value of the space is correctly recorded. I know of no billboard space in Auckland that goes for $1,000/mth. $2,000/mth is pretty much the minimum for an average billboard, and my understanding is the size and prominence of the trust billboard is such that the commercial value would be at least $3,000 + GST a month.

So if the billboard was up for three months, then the value of the donation and associated expense should be $10,125.

If the billboard was up for more than three months, then the associated expense for the Brown campaign would remain at $10,125 (as only last three months count), but the donation value would be even great – would be $20,250 if it was for six months.

So these two facts need to be established – the commercial value of the billboard space, and the length of time the billboard was up.

“We are a community charitable trust,” he said. Trust chairman Sir said no costs were incurred or revenue lost by providing Mr Brown’s campaign with billboard space, which his board had made a decision to provide free to any mayoral candidate who approached it.

This is spin of the highest order. The trust CEO is on the Len Brown campaign team, along with two trustees and possibly a senior trust employee. And you expect us to believe that they would have stuck up John Banks billboards if asked.

The Auditor-General should ask for a copy of the board minutes where this decision was allegedly made.

Even if they made such a decision, it was obviously to give the illusion of political neutrality. Unless they actually wrote to all the other mayoral candidates advising them of the availability of the billboard space, how could they possibly expect another candidate to know that they could ask to use their space.

Mr Brown said yesterday that he was unconcerned about Mr Hide’s intention to ask Ms Provost to look into the trust’s donation.

Excellent. Let the facts be discovered.

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