5 Oct 2016

Wgtn mayoral candidate's donation disclosure a 'publicity stunt', say rivals

8:30 am on 5 October 2016

Wellington mayoral candidates are accusing rival Justin Lester of a publicity stunt for revealing his campaign donations.

Stephanie McIntyre and Justin Lester

Wellington mayoral candidate Justin Lester. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp

Mr Lester decided to release the information after a nudge from a Sunday Star-Times editorial calling on candidates to release the information.

Legally, candidates do not have to disclose their spending until mid-December.

He said he had generated $36,000 from fundraising, and was topping up his campaign with his own money to reach the $60,000 cap.

"I've spent a little bit more than [$60,000] because I spent some before the election period. In total it's closer to $90,000 [or] $100,000."

Video debate: Watch Four Wellington mayoral candidates battle it out here

Mr Lester said he had received three donations above the $1500 declaration mark: $5000 from the union E Tū, $2000 from Ian Cassels, a local property developer; and a further $2000 from Gerard Morrison.

He said he wanted his rivals to be as transparent, and said electoral law should change to facilitate that.

But his rivals disagreed on the late push to release the information.

Candidate Nicola Young said it was a cheap PR stunt by Mr Lester who could have released the information much earlier.

"So we're talking about transparency, and Justin's saying he's totally transparent which is really interesting considering his involvement in the slush fund involved in the secretive Singapore Airlines subsidy - there's no transparency there," she said.

She said she would have published the information if more notice had been given.

Nick Leggett agreed and said the call to declare donations three days before the election was a political stunt.

"I don't think that it's a serious attempt to improve transparency because actually a lot of people will have voted [if] they're going to vote, and actually perhaps it would have been better to ask for that three or four weeks ago."

Compare Wellington's mayoral candidates here

Mr Leggett would be spending about $55,000 in the campaign period, he said, but none of his donors would be anonymous - including high-profile hotelier Chris Parkin.

Mr Leggett said he would be happy to talk about reforming the Electoral Act once the campaign was over.

Susie Ferguson (centre) and the four Wellington mayoral candidates (from left to right) Jo Coughlan, Justin Lester, Nicola Young and Nick Leggett.

Susie Ferguson (centre) hosted RNZ's debate with four Wellington mayoral candidates (from left to right) Jo Coughlan, Justin Lester, Nicola Young and Nick Leggett. Photo: RNZ

Andy Foster said he would post his donation information to his website on Friday, but he was not convinced continuous disclosure was worthwhile.

"What I'd really like to see done is a bit of a focus [on], and to ask some hard questions on what it is the candidates are promising to do and what that will cost," he said.

"There've been a lot of expensive promises being made by quite a number of candidates but nobody's ever said what will all these things collectively cost."

Helene Ritchie said releasing the details now was disingenuous.

"Such an announcement should have been made right at the outset of anyone's campaign and then progressively any donations, if candidates accept them, should have been progressively announced," she said.

Ms Ritchie did not accept, or ask for donations, because she said that would undermine her independence.

Keith Johnson said big money funding political candidates was a major issue all Western democracies faced.

Jo Coughlan did not return calls for comment.

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