The Labour Party is charging businesspeople $1795 to have “policy” sessions with some of the top Cabinet Ministers.
In a move reminiscent of National’s “Cabinet Club”, the party is offering access to the Ministers in return for what, in effect, is a donation to the party’s funds.
An invitation emailed from Labour party President Claire Szabo to business people on Friday invited recipients to a “Labour Party Business Conference” in Auckland on July 30.
The day would Include “interactive sessions with speakers, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and networking drinks.”
The “speakers” listed were the Prime Minister, Finance Minister Grant Robertson; Associate Fiance and Environment Minister David Parker; Local government and Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta and Transport Minister Michael Wood.
The invitation did not refer to their Ministerial titles but instead described them as “spokesperson’ for their relevant portfolios.
The invitation said it would be a day of policy discussion with the New Zealand Labour Party.
Szabo has been careful to stress that the day is a party function, and at $1795 (plus GST), a ticket is obviously a party fundraising function.
And the party’s General Secretary, Rob Salmond, in a statement to POLITIK, said that for many years political parties had hosted events which their MPs attend and sold tickets to those events.
“There’s nothing new in that,” he said.
The Cabinet Manual does allow Ministers to participate in fundraising activities.
It says: “As senior members of political parties, Ministers are often asked to participate in fundraising activities for their parties, their own electorate organisations, or those of other members of Parliament.
“Any speaking or appearance fee the Minister receives must be donated to the political party and declared to the Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament.”
For all that, events like this in the past have given rise to accusations of cash-for-access.
The most notorious was National’s “Cabinet Club”.
During the Key Government party, members paid annual fees, estimated at up to $10,000, to be part of a club that allowed them to attend functions to hear and meet ministers and MPs.
The-then Prime Minister John Key said he had attended 53 Cabinet Club gatherings since 2008.
Green Party leader Russel Norman claimed the Prime Minister might have raised up to $1 million or more through these events.
Labour then introduced its President’s Club in 2017, which charged business up to as much as $10,000 annually.
The party’s then-president Nigel Howarth said it was about offering access into the party to talk to the party about policy as it was developed. (The party was still in Opposition).
In 2019 the party charged businesspeople $1500 a head for an all-day business conference which included several Ministers as well as the Prime Minister.
In 2018 NZ First Leader Winston Peters held two fundraising dinners at law-firm Russell McVeagh offices for their clients at $350 ahead. POLITIK understands former NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell solicited donations from those present.
The Greens have been the party most critical of this form of fundraising.
Former co-leader Russel Norman said the system gave wealthy people more access to the halls of power.
Szabo’s latest invitation says the party has confirmed attendance from “the Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern, Labour finance spokesperson Grant Robertson, Labour environment spokesperson David Parker, Labour local government spokesperson Nanaia Mahuta, and Labour transport spokesperson Michael Wood.
“Each will be running sessions at the conference about Labour’s work in their area of expertise.
“The conference includes morning and afternoon tea, lunch, and networking drinks at the end of the day.”
The invitation describes the sessions as “interactive”.
Labour has obviously carefully designed this so that it falls within Electoral law and also the requirements of the Cabinet Manual.
Both Labour and National are under pressure now to find new sources of funding with their previously lucrative China funding pipelines effectively closed down by the Serious Fraud Office, which has charges before the courts relating to both parties’ acceptance of funding from Chinese sources.
The parties face other challenges. The era of mass membership numbers is over; a party with around 100,000 members (as National once had) found it much easier to raise big money from its own supporters.
The question now is whether the revelations that are made during the Serious Fraud Office cases will be sufficient to stimulate a real tightening up of political donations in New Zealand.