28 Nov 2019

Document leak: Why the NZ First Foundation was set up

5:58 pm on 28 November 2019

Key documents about a mysterious foundation loaning money to New Zealand First have been leaked to RNZ, detailing why the New Zealand First Foundation was set up, how it would operate and who knew about the idea from the outset.

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The documents were sent anonymously to RNZ, as the Electoral Commission investigates questions raised about compliance with the requirements for donations and loans.

They show the foundation was set up to seek donors who would be offered a "tiered donation structure with benefits adhering to each tier".

The leaked documents show NZ First leader Winston Peters was present at a March 2017 board of directors' meeting, where the board agreed to the concept of establishing the foundation.

The documents contain a recommendation that Mr Peters "select an appropriate legal adviser" to develop the foundation.

Brian Henry, Mr Peters' lawyer, later became one of two trustees of the foundation. The other trustee is former NZ First MP Doug Woolerton, who runs his own lobbying firm, offering media strategies, services in "drafting changes for legislation" and "personal introductions" where appropriate.

When the NZ First Foundation came under scrutiny earlier this month, Mr Peters distanced himself from the foundation. Asked by reporters if he could explain what role the NZ First Foundation played, he responded: "I look after the political wing of the NZ First party. That's an administrative matter and you've got to ask somebody else."

Mr Peters declined to comment for this story.

RNZ revealed in mid-November that the Foundation had loaned NZ First money, and that the Foundation was the only named entity that had provided any money - in loans or donations - to the New Zealand First party since 2017.

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

One of the leaked documents is called 'Proposal to Establish a Strategic Fund Raising and Management Vehicle for New Zealand First' and lays out the reasoning for the Foundation.

It says the "generally weak" state of electorates and a "lack of success" at board level in raising funds meant a new business model was needed to bring money into the party.

"The precedent is clear. It is the National Party's National Foundation. In essence this proposal suggests a cloning of that model into the New Zealand First Foundation," the document says. "There can be little doubt that the model is legally sound and is operated in a manner that meets all legal and ethical obligations."

The proposal says the fund would be a "legally established autonomous organisation that would operate independently of and at arms length" to the board.

The idea was to set up a capital protected fund. "This means contributions will never be removed from the fund. Instead they will be invested with the proceeds ensuring a stable and diverse revenue stream to support our activities and the capital will continue to benefit our party for the long term."

Brian Henry and Winston Peters entering the High Court in Auckland

Brian Henry (L) and Winston Peters (R). Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The document says a capital protected fund would be of "comfort" to donors.

"Contributors will be sought within a tiered donation structure with benefits adhering to each tier," it says.

The document says New Zealand First needed the money it believed would flow from establishing the New Zealand First Foundation.

"It is fair to say that as a party we have not been successful in this endeavour."

The proposal says New Zealand First "has reached the age of maturity" and cannot rely on adhoc fundraising at electorate and board level.

"The question must be posed though - is it reasonable to expect those electorates or for that matter the board to have the skills to produce funding of the magnitude demanded by a party seeking to be the dominant player nationally."

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