Alf was drawn to a Sunday newspaper beatup today about a National MP receiving $25,000 from a controversial businessman after The Boss had a private dinner with him at the man’s home.
The donation will be be confirmed – readers are told – when electoral returns are published next week.
Before going beyond the first paragraph the long-serving Member for Eketahuna North was braced for phone calls from constituents demanding to know if he was the MP in question, and who in the neighbourhood was dishing out $25,000 donations.
But it quickly became clear no such calls were likely.
The donation in question harks back to the fuss about a Chinese gentleman by name of Donghua Liu.
The newspaper is reminding us of The Boss persistently maintaining he met Donghua Liu at a National Party fundraiser but he would never say where.
The hacks at the Weekend Herald profess to have found the answer to that mystery.
The Weekend Herald can reveal that the fundraiser was actually a private dinner at Mr Liu’s $4.75 million home in Remuera, where a smiling Mr Key and Jami-Lee Ross, the MP for Botany, were photographed alongside Mr Liu and his young family.
Afterwards, Mr Liu donated $25,000 that same month to Mr Ross’ election campaign. But the following year, Mr Liu became a political embarrassment for the Government after a Herald investigation revealed the impact of the property developer’s links to the National Party.
Maurice Williamson was forced to resign as a minister when the Herald revealed he had called police after Mr Liu was arrested on domestic violence charges and told them Mr Liu was a big investor in New Zealand.Mr Key said then that Mr Williamson had “crossed the line”.
After the election Jami-Lee refunded the large donation.
It seems he has disclosed it nevertheless in candidate returns for the 2014 election about to be released by the Electoral Commission.
One of the consequences of this carry-on is that Liu is upset about the refunding of his $25,000.
He regards it as a “slap in the face”.
Obviously we Nats would never want to offend a donor.
And sure enough:
Last night, Jami-Lee Ross said he did not intend to insult Mr Liu and any negative publicity associated to the businessman was not the reason the $25,000 was returned.
He said the Liu donation was given to be used in the local Botany campaign, but was not spent as a $24,000 donation from the National Party covered his expenses.
“So when the [donation and expense] returns were being put together after the election, it was decided the $25,000 should be returned to the donor because it was not used.
“There was no intent to slap anyone in the face.”
The Herald on Sunday is focussed not only on Jami-Lee (fine fellow, by the way):
But the discovery of the private dinner with the Liu family and the $25,000 donation to a National MP raises new questions about the Prime Minister’s meetings with the wealthy businessman.
When previously asked last year about his personal contact with Mr Liu, a spokeswoman for Mr Key stated: “As Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party, Mr Key attends a number of functions up and down the country which are attended by a large number of people. While we don’t have a record of who attends these events, Mr Key recalls seeing Mr Liu at various functions, including a dinner as part of a National Party fundraiser.”
She went on to say the fundraiser was in August 2013 at a “private home and we will not be disclosing the address in Auckland” – without clarifying the dinner was at Mr Liu’s home.
Yesterday, the PM stood by his statement and declined to answer any questions. “The Prime Minister’s statement was quite correct regarding his recollection of seeing Mr Liu at a number of events, including at a dinner,” a spokeswoman said.
“Any questions regarding candidate donations are a matter for individual candidates.”
That’s as it should be.
Alf does not have the same fund-raising problems as his Auckland colleagues because he does not have to campaign too hard to hold on to true-blue Eketahuna North.
There will be no mention of him in the Electoral Commission report.
Hence – sadly – he is unlikely to get a mention in any of the headlines.