An insightful look at the NZ First Foundation

Luke Malpass at Stuff writes:

The New Zealand First Foundation is an entirely different beast. Set up in 2017, its trustees are former NZ First MP and party president Doug Woolerton, and NZ First’s judicial officer and Winston Peters’ personal lawyer Brian Henry.

On the evidence collected by Stuff and other media, it effectively acts as a second bank account for NZ First, raising and spending money on routine party matters, but outside the control of the party’s elected officers. It appears to have had a website for a few days, before disappearing.

The SFO’s announced investigation suggests that the Electoral Commission thinks the foundation is dodging electoral law.

Yet the foundation’s primary purpose actually appears to be to keep the control of money into the party in the hands of Winston Peters’ two closest confidants and away from the party hierarchy.

This is an important insight.

The Electoral Act requires party donations to be notified to the party secretary. The Electoral Commission has said that they believe the law was breached by the donations going into the NZ First Foundation and being hidden from the party secretary.

It appears to have been a deliberate strategy to do this. And who benefits from being able to exclude the Party Board from having oversight of income and expenditure? Well, obviously the party leader.

This is important because it means that the party – governed by rules, a constitution, party president and secretary and so on, who can make decisions at odds with those which Peters, Woolerton and his self-proclaimed “dark shadow” Henry might make – is sidelined. In short, the foundation is about concentrating power in the hands of the party leader.

So the democratically elected board were sidelined, to so that leader could make decisions on expenditure without having to bother with them.

This is very pertinent to the SFO investigation.

This is the second time NZ First has had such a structure. The first led to the Spencer Trust fiasco, in which donations that people thought were going to NZ First ended up in the Spencer Trust – at that time run by Peters’ brother Wayne, Peters’ adviser Roger McClay, and another lawyer.

The common theme with both these trusts was that NZ First party officers were kept in the dark about its operations, or even existence.

There is a veritable conga line of former NZ First officials and MPs who claim to have been forced out when they asked tough questions about party finances. There is a great tale that former party treasurer Colin Forster told about the Northland by-election in 2015 – the party had $20 in the bank, he wouldn’t let them take on a loan, and then suddenly there was money and a campaign bus.

Doing the same thing twice means it is no accident. It is deliberate.

Lester Gray, who resigned as party president in October last year, wrote to the board resigning and saying he was uncomfortable with the financial arrangements in place. Back in 2006, party president Dail​ Jones said that NZ First bills being paid by the Spencer Trust “were totally going on behind my back”.

As far as I can tell the role of Party President is to simply be a fall guy.

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