8 Sep 2017

Hey, big political spender

9:41 pm on 8 September 2017

Gareth Morgan leads the way among New Zealand rich-listers spending up large on the election campaign - donating $1.4m to his own political party.

Gareth Morgan, Economist and leader of The Opportunities Party.

Gareth Morgan has given $1.4m to TOP (The Opportunities Party) Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Artists, business owners and a retired judge are among others who have stumped up hefty donations as the election draws closer.

TOP (The Opportunities Party) has received more large donations this election year than National and Labour combined, kicking things off with a $100,000 boost from Mr Morgan in March and escalating as the election has drawn closer.

The economist and philanthropist's most recent donation was $500,000 last month. Mr Morgan is the only declared donor to the party so far.

Last election it was another minor party, again formed by a wealthy founder, that led the way in political donations - Kim Dotcom's ultimately failed Internet Party received about $4m in funding from the online tycoon.

Kim Dotcom outside the Auckland District Court.

Last election, the Internet Party received $4m from its founder. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker WIlson

Other minor parties have also got a look-in this election, some from interesting quarters.

Mainfreight founder and chairman Bruce Plested has donated $150,000 to the Māori Party - putting his money where his mouth is after using the freight company's annual report as a chance to castigate politicians for their lack of action on the cost of housing, education and water quality.

"All governments have been aware of the [housing] problem," he wrote. "No government or local government has taken any meaningful action against this rising tide."

A $100,000 donation was made in Mr Plested's name while his Waiheke business, Rorohara Farm, gave another $50,000.

Alan Gibbs on a quadski

ACT party founder Alan Gibbs on a "quadski". Photo: Supplied

At the other end of the political spectrum, ACT Party founder Alan Gibbs, along with his former wife, art collector Dame Jenny Gibbs, have donated more than $200,000 to ACT between them this year.

Retired High Court judge Robert Smellie leads the way among donors to the Labour Party, giving $115,000.

Paintings by two local artists, Stanley Palmer and Karl Maughan - known for his lush paintings of flower gardens - were also donated to the party.

Perennial Labour donors Phillip and Jackie Mills - owners of the Les Mills fitness empire - gave the party $50,000 in February.

Ponying up for National was the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry - a horse breeding company owned by Chinese billionaire Lin 'Mr Wolf' Wang - which made a donation of $150,000 in May.

On 31 July - the day then-Labour leader Andrew Little admitted he might not be the best person for the job - former NBR publisher Barry Colman gave the National Party $56,000.

National party allies in the business world have also come to the party.

HWM (NZ) Holdings, a wealth management company owned by trusts linked to John Banks and the Hulijch family, donated $55,000 to National, while Oravida founder De Yi Shi gave $50,000.

Electoral financing rules require parties to declare individual donations over $30,000 or more, within 10 days of receiving them.

Donations under that amount, of $1500 or more, are declared in the parties' annual returns.

The parties have also received many smaller donations that do not require declarations. Labour said it raked in about $250,000 in the 24 hours after Jacinda Ardern became leader.

No party can receive more than $304,000 in anonymous donations in a three-year electoral cycle, with any excess returned to donors by the Electoral Commission.

Political donations over $30,000 received in 2017

  • The Opportunities Party - $1.4m
  • National Party - $605,000
  • Labour Party - $524,600
  • Māori Party - $150,000
  • ACT Party - $286,200