Lord Ashcroft is a worry.
Not just to John Key, who had to admit that he didn’t know why Ascroft had met him at Key’s home: it just happened to be in his diary.
According to an article in the Daily Telegraph, he is also a worry to many in the Conservative Party.
Ashcroft “does not just give donations, he is also responsible for the Party’s polling and target seat strategy. When the shadow cabinet is briefed on focus group or poll results, it is Lord Ashcroft who presents the results. That puts him in an extraordinarily powerful position.”
He is also a generous donor. “According to the Electoral Commission website, he has given almost L2.6 million to the Conservatives since 2003.”
“About half of this comes in donations in kind – polling, focus group work, consultancy work and at one point last year, rather bizarrely, L5,927.88 for ‘bottle openers'”.
Both John Key and Lord Ashcroft were at pains to tell TV3’s Duncan Garner that Lord Ashcroft had given no money to the National Party. But nobody asked Key were there any donations in kind of the sort mentioned above – polling, focus group work, consultancy services such as those provided by Crosby/Textor, who were also used by the Conservative Party.
Kiwis wouldn’t need the bottle openers.
Donations of such kind are significant because Lord Ashcroft is not just the Deputy Chairman of the British Conservative Party, he is also the Treasurer of the International Democratic Union. This was founded several years ago by Margaret Thatcher and George HW Bush to give political and organising assistance to right-wing parties around the world. John Howard is its current President. As has been noted, Ashcroft gave the Liberals in Australia $1million for the 2004 election.
So Ashcroft’s job is also to provide such help to their member parties. He didn’t fly halfway around the world just to give Key the latest news from Britain.
What Key should be asked is whether or not any political services to the National Party were discussed or arranged at the meeting? Donations of services are expressly described as party donations in the Electoral Finance Act, and as John Key himself noted when ruling out donations of cash, they cannot be made by overseas persons if they are valued at more than $1,000.
The law also says that if a donation – say of a service – of more than $1,000 in value is received from an overseas person that person must within 20 working days of receipt return the donation, less $1,000, or pay it to the Electoral Commission.
The deadline is September 26th.
Plenty of time for questions. Watch out for slippery answers.