Lobbyists, cash and Voldemort: political donations exposed by the trial

Andrea Vance is a senior reporter at Stuff.

OPINION: It’s odd that Winston Peters wants to draw voters’ attention to yet another legal battle.

Nor his misguided participation in the occupation of Parliament in February.

But in what looks like another futile attempt to stay relevant, Peters claimed his trespass notice (now rescinded) was tied to Chairman Trevor Mallard’s upcoming retirement.

Peters claims Mallard is leaving because of his threats of legal action.

READ MORE:
* Intrusion of Parliament: Trevor Mallard withdraws five trespass notices, including that of Winston Peters
* Former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters loses court battle over pension confidentiality breach
* WR Peters lends $60,000 to NZ First

A man bows as he shakes hands with Winston Peters as New Zealand's first leader visits protesters occupying the grounds of Parliament.

DAVID WHITE/STUFF

A man bows as he shakes hands with Winston Peters as New Zealand’s first leader visits protesters occupying the grounds of Parliament.

It’s a curious strategy, not least because Mallard’s exit plans have been an open secret in Wellington for some considerable time.

Second, because the last thing Peters should be looking to do is remind the public that he physically supported an unpopular protest that ended in violence, burning and injuries to 40 police officers, eight of whom were hospitalized.

Nor is it wise to drag the taxpayers (who will inevitably foot the bill) into another costly legal drama, at the same time as his first New Zealand party is embroiled in a court case over his secret fundraising foundation. funds.

Two men, whose names are deleted and who were neither sitting MPs nor candidates before the 2020 election, deny Serious Fraud Office accusations of deceptively obtaining through the New Zealand First foundation . They are accused of mishandling $750,000 which the Crown says should have been declared as donations to the Election Commission.

Winston Peters and former MP and party whip Clayton Mitchell.

Lawrence Gullery / Stuff

Winston Peters and former MP and party whip Clayton Mitchell.

The trial, now in its second week, is expected to last six weeks in the Auckland High Court. It is a fascinating window into the network of privileged access to politicians that is largely hidden from the voter.

A list of witnesses includes 40 donors, many of whom have given money to the foundation, some saying they believe they are committed to the party. Even former MP Clayton Mitchell, who solicited donations, didn’t know the difference between the foundation and the party.

Donors include prominent figures from the racing industry and the business elite, including commercial fishing magnate Sir Peter Talley.

The lawsuit also features lobbyists and private strategists doing their jobs out of the spotlight, including controversial figure Simon Lusk. A main protagonist by Nicky Hager dirty politics book, his links to New Zealand First were confirmed by Mitchell. Lusk sent donors his way and the party apparatchiks nicknamed him Voldemort.

Auckland High Court.

RYAN ANDERSON/Stuff

Auckland High Court.

Some of the party’s most publicized policies are seen as pro-racing and fishing and the party has attracted donations from donors in these industries.

The court heard from a real estate developer donated more than $150,000 to the party after the 2017 election. The founder of the Bermuda-based Conrad Properties group, Robert Holden, feared that a ban on foreign investors, proposed by the Labor Party, could hurt his apartment building business.

The government later relaxed its proposed ban on foreign buyers, excluding new apartments in large developments and multi-storey buildings.

The most telling revelations centered on the country’s richest man, Graeme Hart. The packaging billionaire, his son Harrison and his son-in-law Duncan Hawkesby all donated under the financial limit that would see their donations declared publicly.

They were introduced to MPs (including Mitchell and Rotorua mayoral candidate Fletcher Tabuteau) by public relations consultant Thomas Pryor of public affairs firm Sherson Willis. Pryor and his boss Trish Sherson have been regular political commentators in the media.

Pryor met with Mitchell and discussed a capital gains tax proposal, then emailed Hawkesby in March 2019 to say their “thinking is totally aligned.”

The following month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the government would not implement the tax, recommended by their expert working group. Peters celebrated the move in a tweet, saying he killed the idea.

NZ First has long campaigned for limited taxation and a strong racing policy. Peters was proud that NZ First was a handbrake. Arguably he was more successful in torpedoing Labour’s plans (CGT, light rail, hate speech legislation, repeal of a “three strikes” law, electric vehicle discount, cameras on boats, rent relief in the event of a pandemic) than to keep its own electoral promises.

Simon Lusk, pictured in 2013. New Zealand party members called him Voldemort, after the Harry Potter villain.

John Cowpland / Stuff

Simon Lusk, pictured in 2013. New Zealand party members called him Voldemort, after the Harry Potter villain.

NZ First’s reputation is all about pitting powerless ordinary people against powerful ones, led by Winston Peters to keep his rivals honest.

Peters built his reputation on the Winebox investigation and resisted big business cats while his party subsisted on “cake stands and raffles”. In 2018, he reveled in the news that the SFO was investigating National over donations, happily playing the song “Burning Bridges” to reporters.

Peters himself is not in the dock – he won’t even be called to testify.

And yet, the lawsuit presented so far has painted a sensational picture of the money-raising practices surrounding his party and the organization’s ties to lobbyists and strategists lurking in the shadows of our democracy.

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