The mysterious foundation bankrolling the New Zealand First Party has been receiving donations from entities connected with some of the country’s wealthiest business people in amounts just under the threshold at which the donors’ names would normally be made public.
Last year companies owned by New Zealand’s richest man donated nearly $30,000 to the Foundation in two amounts that each fell $5.01 short of the $15,000.01 level at which political donations are publicly disclosed.
Church Bay Farm, which is 100 percent owned by Graeme Hart, donated $14,995 to the New Zealand First Foundation on 29 March, 2019, according to documents seen by RNZ.
On the same day Walter & Wild, which owns the Hubbards, Hansells and Gregg’s food brands, also donated $14,995 to the Foundation. Walter and Wild is two-thirds owned by Graeme Hart with the remaining third owned by his son Harry Hart.
Graeme Hart, a businessman and philanthropist, who recently funded a $10 million initiative to provide low cost dental care in South Auckland, has a wealth estimated at $10 billion by Forbes magazine.
The irony is that Winston used to pretend he was battling for the little guy against big business!
There is no real doubt electoral donation laws have been broken. Under both alternatives, the laws have been broken.
The Foundation is part of NZ First
If the Foundation is deemed to be part of NZ First (which would be the ethically correct thing to do – National treats its Foundation as part of the party and reports donations to it, as donations to the party) then the NZ First donation returns have not disclosed the 29 donations of between $5,000 and $15,000 made to the Foundation (s210(6A)(d)).
The Foundation is independent from NZ First
If the Foundation is independent of NZ First, then the Foundation itself should have been named as a donor in 2017 and other years. It has paid expenses on behalf of NZ First, which means that should be recorded as a donation in kind (s207(2)).
So either way the law has not been complied with.
The other legal issue is around splitting a donation between associated companies to stay under the $15,000 disclosure limit. S207LA states:
A person is guilty of a corrupt practice who directs or procures, or is actively involved in directing or procuring, 2 or more bodies corporate to split between the bodies corporate a party donation in order to conceal the total amount of the donation and avoid the donation’s inclusion by the party secretary in the return of party donations under section 210(1)(a).
This only applies if the donation is regarded as a party donation. But a number of donors have said their belief is they were donating to the party, so the interesting question would be who told them to split the donation up between associated companies? Was it their idea, or did someone from NZ First suggest it?
Frankly I can’t see any way the Electoral Commission can’t conclude there has been a breach of the donation laws. The only issue is which specific laws. I’ll be amazed if there is no referral to the Police or SFO.