I want to clarify the major difference between the Brethren spending money to elect National and the union’s spending money to elect Labour. The Brethren spent $1.2million and National didn’t have to account for it. Whatever the unions spent on Labour came under Labour’s spending cap. So in fact the National Party got what was in effect $1.2 million EXTRA to spend on election advertising. That’s half as much again as they were allowed. If it had been attributable it would have put them way over their cap and in deep donkey do with the law.
We know for certain as a result of emails in “The Hollow Men” that the Brethren wrote to Don Brash and John Key seeking to support National’s campaign. We know for certain as a result of the documents released at the conclusion of the police enquiry that the same Brethren spokesman later wrote to the Chief Electoral Officer informing him that the Brethren wished to spend $1.2 million in a campaign to elect Don Brash. He and others sought a meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer as they had a number of questions they wished to put to him about the legality of their campaign, particularly in relation to whether or not their spending would be counted as part of the National Party’s expenditure limit.
The Brethren took three different examples of advertisements to the Electoral Office. The advice they were given was that if advertising was negative, that is it did not advocate for a political party, it did not need authorisation and would not be attributable, but that there were grey areas in what might “appear to support” a Party and care was needed.
One of the ads was purely negative and not attributable, one was clearly advocating for Don Brash and would be attributable, and the Brethren were advised that the third one because of its use of blue ticks, was considered most likely needing to be authorised and to be attributed.
So what did the Brethren do? After having received this advice from the Chief Electoral Officer, they produced at least seven separate ads, all with the National Party’s blue ticks and the National Party’s election slogan & Party vote, change the government. So the $1.2m they spent should have been authorised as advised by the Electoral Office, and therefore attributed to National.
We know National and the Brethren were complicit. But none of this shows the Chief Electoral Office in good light either. They either pulled the wool over the Chief Electoral Officer’s eyes or he was deliberately looking the other way.