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Cash for access? The price tag to schmooze New Zealand’s political leaders & More Breaking News Headlines Today

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Labour charged wealthy business figures $1750-a-head to schmooze with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a Wellington conference.

And National is cosying up to high-rolling donors – asking at least $1000-per head – to dine with leader Christopher Luxon.

Almost a decade on from the ‘cash for access’ scandal that engulfed John Key’s Government, the Green Party is demanding parties be upfront about who is contributing to their 2023 election war chests.

The call comes during a six-week trial centring on donations to a mysterious New Zealand First Foundation. Allegations of unlawful donations to both the Labour and National parties will be heard at the High Court in late July.

READ MORE:
* Election 2020: Rich-listers spreading cash across NZ’s political spectrum
* Election 2020: Delayed election sees parties scrambling for cash
* Labour party charge $1500-a head to schmooze Jacinda Ardern over lunch

The Greens have long campaigned for an end to influence from big money donors. Although the fundraisers don’t break any rules, Green MP and electoral reform spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman argues it gives corporate movers and shakers access not available to the public.

“The same politicians will be holding free events where they’re asking for your vote, they get to tell you what they stand for, and you get to ask some questions.

“Those are really different to what’s happening with these paid events. Why do you need an incredibly high price? This is a different kind of access.”

On June 9, Ardern, and ministers David Clark, Andrew Little and Willie Jackson joined 60 business guests for a day-long business conference, lunch and networking drinks at Wellington’s Te Papa museum.

Around 60 people paid to attend a business conference with Jacinda Ardern.

Stuff

Around 60 people paid to attend a business conference with Jacinda Ardern.

MPs Barbara Edmonds, Rachel Brooking and Tangi Utikere spoke on a ‘rising stars’ panel. Delegates were also treated to an update on the party’s election manifesto, and a presentation from pollster David Talbot.

It mirrored a 2019 event, ahead of the party’s annual conference in Whanganui. But inflation has bumped up the ticket price – by more than $250 – and it doesn’t include GST.

Political fundraising is ramping up as the parties look to next year’s election campaign. It was reported recently that ex-minister Paula Bennett spearheaded a drive which netted $1.8m for National, rattling Labour’s top brass.

Stuff can also reveal Luxon has been attending dinner parties in supporters’ homes. Guests are asked to stump up $1000 to spend the evening with the Opposition leader, and a source says there is an expectation further donations would follow. The soirées have taken place in Queenstown and Auckland’s Parnell.

In 2014, Labour, the Greens and NZ First slammed National for selling democracy when the party encouraged supporters to give donations of up to $10,000 in order to rub shoulders with senior ministers. Former Prime Minister John Key attended 53.

Rob Salmond, Labour’s General Secretary, said it is common for political parties to run ticketed events that MPs and party leaders attend.

“Labour’s business conference is a one-off ticketed event in the long tradition of political dinners, lectures, quiz nights, and more,” he said. “By contrast, National’s Cabinet Club was a subscription-based service touting ongoing access to members of Cabinet for ongoing financial contributions to the National party. The two are very different.”

The Cabinet Manual allows ministers to participate in fundraising activities for their parties.

Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman wants greater transparency around political donations and fundraisers.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman wants greater transparency around political donations and fundraisers.

A spokesman for the National Party said: “Like all political parties, the National Party raises funds and this includes events where guests make donations to attend. Christopher Luxon, like past leaders of the National Party, has attended a number of events where this is the case. Where the donations require public disclosure, this is done in accordance with the law.”

The Government has commissioned an independent panel to review how elections are run. This includes changes to donation rules – and even a proposed ban on anonymous donations.

However, the Greens aren’t satisfied the overhaul will go far enough. Ghahraman’s ‘strengthening democracy’ member’s bill was drawn from the ballot in May and awaits first reading.

It places a $35,000 limit on annual donations to any political party or candidate and lowers the anonymity threshold to $1000.

“We tell ourselves we have a system of democracy where each of us get one vote to decide who leads our government and what policies come in. But the fact that we don’t have transparency on political donations that would tell voters who is taking a stake in our democracy means that actually that one-vote-per-person system isn’t working. It’s not inclusive, or equal.

“The system incentivises this kind of fundraising that disadvantages ordinary voters who can’t afford to make $1000 donations.”

National’s justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said National would vote against the bill as most of the issues raised are to be considered by the independent panel.

“That is the appropriate process to deal with wider constitutional Issues, rather than a member’s Bill,” he said.

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