National has been busy constructing a story around recent news concerning Donghua Liu’s donation of $25,000. The proposition is that John Key went to Donghua Liu’s place for dinner, that Liu then gave a significant donation but it was not to the party or to Liu’s BFF Maurice Williamson who found Liu a house, set up meetings with successive Immigration Ministers for him and even sacrificed his ministerial career by interfering in a police prosecution of Liu. No not to the top man John Key, not to the National Party, not to Williamson, but to a nondescript back bencher who tagged along with Key to the dinner.
How likely is that?
The motivation is clear. If news of a donation by Liu to National had been published the day before Williamson resigned for interfering in a police prosecution it would have been incendiary.
In the Herald story National claimed that the donation was to the Botany Cabinet Club. This particular club has the unique feature that donations to it or at least the Liu donation do not appear to be recorded in National’s yearly return of donations. Apparently this particular cabinet club works under different rules to the rest of them.
Jamie-Lee has now filed his return of electoral expenses. It is interesting that the Herald [may have been] given three days heads up on the story. Perhaps National saw this as a way to lead the story with its own framing in particular suggesting that the donation was to Ross and not National. The news was obviously going to break anyway as soon as Ross’s return was published.
I have had a look through the returns. The figures are impressive. There are some unusual features:
It seems clear that cabinet club donations are collected centrally, recorded in the party’s annual return and then distributed out to the local electorates. National previously said that since Cabinet Club donations were declared everything was above board.
And the story, at least in the way that National presents it, keeps changing. According to TV3 a couple of days ago:
Last year Mr Key’s office denied a dinner he had with Liu was a ‘Cabinet Club’ fundraiser. But today the story changed, after pictures emerged of the Prime Minister meeting Liu at his Remuera home – a meeting that at the height of last year’s donations saga, Mr Key didn’t want to talk about.
His office at the time said the mystery dinner wasn’t a contentious fundraiser, but today Mr Key said he knew it was a Cabinet Club dinner.
Liu’s links to National have hurt the Government – most notably last year’s resignation by Maurice Williamson as a minister for interfering in Liu’s ongoing police case.
At the time, Mr Key was keen to keep his distance, admitting they’d met, but wouldn’t give specifics. However Mr Key’s office later said the pair met at a National Party fundraiser.
But today’s pictures reveal that fundraiser was actually the private dinner at Liu’s home – complete with a smiling Mr Key and National’s Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross.
When asked last year if it was a Cabinet Club dinner, the Prime Minister’s office replied in a statement simply saying no.
So what happened? Maybe Key employs absolutely amateurish staff who put out information without running it past the boss to make sure that it is accurate. Or maybe not.
So Key denied last year the dinner was a Cabinet Club dinner. And his staff said it was not a contentious fundraiser the day after TV3 broke the news about cabinet clubs and on the same day that news about contentious Cabinet Club meetings for the Chinese was released. Then this year it is said to be a cabinet club fundraiser but the donation is not declared by National even though it seems that it has declared other cabinet club donations.
The whole story is as fishy as Talley’s best products.