Cunliffe’s secret trust

Just imagine the howls of outrage from left wing commentators if the successful winner of a National Party leadership race was found out to have used a secret trust for donations from businesses to fund their leadership campaign. Their outrage would be massive. As far as I can see, No Right Turn is the only left commentator to have said anything at all on Cunliffe’s secret trust.

The Herald reports:

David Cunliffe has admitted a trust was used to take donations for his leadership campaign, allowing him to sidestep the obligation to disclose donations in the MPs’ register of financial interests.

So the public will never know who funded his successful leadership campaign. These donations were not to a political party, but effectively to the MP personally to pay for their leadership campaign.

Mr Cunliffe said his campaign team opted to use a trust because the Labour Party’s rules for the contest specified donations would be confidential. “That is a decision we made as a campaign team at the time, pursuant to the rules which meant donors could have an expectation of confidentiality.”

Asked if he was trying to hide something he said “not at all. That has been common practice in New Zealand.”

Neither Grant Robertson or Shane Jones used a trust. And while trusts have been used previously in wider political terms, they have been outlawed for general elections and local body elections (can still be used but donors to the trust must be revealed so donor identities can not be hidden). And the party that has campaigned loudest and strongest for outlawing these trusts – Labour. Cunliffe himself has railed in Parliament against the use of secret trusts, yet here he is defending his own one/

By deadline, Mr Cunliffe had not responded to further written questions about whether he knew the names of donors who had given to the trust, or whether he had included individual donations in his return to the Labour Party under its rules.

That’s a fascinating question. I suspect that Cunliffe does know the donors (especially if family members are trustees of the trust, which is what I have heard) and has revealed them to the party. He is just refusing to reveal them to Parliament despite the requirement in Standing Orders to do so.

What surprises me about this is the political idiocy in using a trust to hide donations. When he decided to run for leader and someone proposed setting up a secret trust to launder the donations through, did none of his advisors think or say “Hey, that may not be a good idea, we could look a bit hypocritical”.

Equally surprising is Labour’s response to this is to focus on the legality, not the politics. The brand damage to Cunliffe from having a secret trust for his donations is considerable. It neuters Labour on any issues of transparency. If I was an advisor to Cunliffe I’d be saying “Why don’t we ask the donors if they are happy to be named”. I imagine most donors would be happy to do so. Shane Jones received donations and he has stated his are included in his Register of Pecuniary Interests.

Getting permission from the donors seems the obvious thing to do, to defuse this. The fact they are refusing to do so, despite the political cost, makes you wonder why. I can only conclude that they believe revealing the identities of the donors would do more political damage than keeping them hidden.

UPDATE: Labour are in full retreat now. Cunliffe now says using the trust was an error in judgement. No shit Sherlock. Why did it take so long to work that out. Two donors are refusing to be named, and their donations are being returned. Named donors include Selwyn Pellett (owner of “independent” Scoop News), Tony Gibbs and Perry Keenan. Keenan appears to be a colleague from Boston Consulting Group now based in Chicago. I presume Tony Gibbs is the company director.

UPDATE2: Just returning the anonymous donations doesn’t avoid the need for transparency. Maybe they’ll just donate the money to Labour now instead. At the end of the day the donations were made in the last calendar year and should be disclosed in his Register of Pecuniary Interests – even if refunded this year. And you have to wonder why those two donors are so desperate not to be named? How embarrassing would it be if their names were disclosed.I can only assume the answer is greatly, if they are being refunded.




This is hilarious. Attack National for secret trusts (which were wound up in 2007 by the way) and then go and set up a secret trust for your own leader to hide the donations to his leadership campaign. Again, how did no one think this was a bad idea?

The number of “errors” by David Cunliffe is growing. Off memory it includes:

  • The secret trust for donors
  • Getting the details wrong for the baby bonus and a false advertisement
  • Claiming he had  a”middle range existence”
  • Breaking the law by encouraging people to vote Labour on the day of Chch East by-election
  • Including details in his CV that were inaccurate

I leave the last word to Danyl Mclauchlan:


Imagine what it would be like if they were running the country!

UPDATE4: Idiot/Savant at no Right Turn quotes Cunliffe:

“I don’t think in hindsight that a trust structure fully represented the values I would like to bring to this leadership. Decisions that were made to set up the trust could have been better. I have learned form that and am now making sure I do whatever I can to ensure transparency.”

Idiot/Savant comments in turn:

Which is just sociopathic “sorry I got caught” bullshit. The thing about values is that you live them, and they’re instinctive. Cunliffe’s aren’t. When faced with a choice between transparency and corruption-enabling secrecy, he chose the latter, and then tried to cling to that choice when it was questioned. These are not the actions of an ethical man who believes in open politics – they are the actions of someone trying to get away with something they know is wrong. 

I’m sorry I got caught!

Comments (103)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment