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Cunliffe’s secret trust

Just imagine the howls of outrage from left wing commentators if the successful winner of a National Party leadership race was found out to have used a secret trust for donations from businesses to fund their leadership campaign. Their outrage would be massive. As far as I can see, No Right Turn is the only left commentator to have said anything at all on Cunliffe’s secret trust.

The Herald reports:

 has admitted a trust was used to take donations for his leadership campaign, allowing him to sidestep the obligation to disclose donations in the MPs’ register of financial interests.

So the public will never know who funded his successful leadership campaign. These donations were not to a political party, but effectively to the MP personally to pay for their leadership campaign.

Mr Cunliffe said his campaign team opted to use a trust because the Labour Party’s rules for the contest specified donations would be confidential. “That is a decision we made as a campaign team at the time, pursuant to the rules which meant donors could have an expectation of confidentiality.”

Asked if he was trying to hide something he said “not at all. That has been common practice in New Zealand.”

Neither Grant Robertson or Shane Jones used a trust. And while trusts have been used previously in wider political terms, they have been outlawed for general elections and local body elections (can still be used but donors to the trust must be revealed so donor identities can not be hidden). And the party that has campaigned loudest and strongest for outlawing these trusts – Labour. Cunliffe himself has railed in Parliament against the use of secret trusts, yet here he is defending his own one/

By deadline, Mr Cunliffe had not responded to further written questions about whether he knew the names of donors who had given to the trust, or whether he had included individual donations in his return to the Labour Party under its rules.

That’s a fascinating question. I suspect that Cunliffe does know the donors (especially if family members are trustees of the trust, which is what I have heard) and has revealed them to the party. He is just refusing to reveal them to Parliament despite the requirement in Standing Orders to do so.

What surprises me about this is the political idiocy in using a trust to hide donations. When he decided to run for leader and someone proposed setting up a secret trust to launder the donations through, did none of his advisors think or say “Hey, that may not be a good idea, we could look a bit hypocritical”.

Equally surprising is Labour’s response to this is to focus on the legality, not the politics. The brand damage to Cunliffe from having a secret trust for his donations is considerable. It neuters Labour on any issues of transparency. If I was an advisor to Cunliffe I’d be saying “Why don’t we ask the donors if they are happy to be named”. I imagine most donors would be happy to do so. Shane Jones received donations and he has stated his are included in his Register of Pecuniary Interests.

Getting permission from the donors seems the obvious thing to do, to defuse this. The fact they are refusing to do so, despite the political cost, makes you wonder why. I can only conclude that they believe revealing the identities of the donors would do more political damage than keeping them hidden.

Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.

Comments and questions

They (Labour and Mr Cunliffe) will never reveal the donors names. Does this not ring any bells about Shearers undeclared US bank account? They will continue to sweep this matter under the rug and hope that no more questions are asked.

Labour think we're idiots, and sure some of us are. But time and time again they use the same tactic of crossing their fingers, closing their eyes and repeating three times, please go away, please go away, please go away. Len Brown is another example of this

Oh dear. You've just been proven wrong.

He hasn't revealed all of the names. Wonder who he is protecting? Kim Dot Com? Probably. Unite Union? Likely.

But I digress. Repeat after me "It's OK when the left does it. Nothing to see here. Move along"

Frankly, it is only OK when everyone is open and transparent about such things - do you support that?

It is always ok when the left do it. They have the moral high ground....right.


Those that have been revealed are merely those that don't have a conflict of interest. It's the others that haven't been named that will be interesting.

...and that's the trouble for CunningCV, it's not only the perception he's creating for himself, but the blatant hypocrisy and outright deceit he's attempting also. Bad heaped upon worse!

If everything was "above board" he wouldn't need a trust to funnel secret funding through.

Has Tricky-Ricky Flip Flop done a "nah Yeah" regarding donations from a Bavarian vested-interest lobbyist that would prove to be exceedingly embarrassing to admit to? Has Clare delivered suitcases of cash to him that might be tricky to explain?

Regardless - it's the perception. Shearer should have been held to account for his secret off-shore US trust fund... and so should this polisher of CV's.

NZ deserves better than a wanna-be politician who flip flops over laws and the intent of them that he himself created and set-up... and especially so regarding matters of transparency, ethics and credibility.

Cunliffe should come clean - because in politics, it's often not so much the indiscretions that will trip them up, it's always the attempted cover-up after the fact that gets them if the first issue doesn't trip them up.

Given the obvious political issue in using a secret trust, it seems the following possible conclusions could be drawn:

- As David says, the identities of the donors must be even worse
- This suggests the donors themselves aren't comfortable with their identities being known (would this imply unions, or other bodies with some public accountability? I can't see an individual having this problem?)
- Finally, the amount of money involved must have been significant for this to be all worth it...Cunliffe would have surely known the ruckus it would cause

The mind boggles! I wonder if the ABC club will leak the donor names somehow...

Of course not - not.

Cunliffe's recent conduct and comments illustrate why the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party didn't want him as leader. Now he has opened himself up to ridicule if he raises issues of ethics, when he should be on the attack.

Have Grant and Shane released the names of their donors for this leadership race?

No wonder people think this guy is tricky.

I see that Selwyn Pellett (fired NZ ABAC representative, and owner of Scoop) has owned up to being one of the donors.

Cunliffe should do the honourable thing and resign before his party is destroyed.

Mr Cunliffe - the expensive home, secret trust, a "man of the people" yeah right!!

Mat has said fess up now David say your wrong and all this will be gone by lunchtime, opps its lunch time.

Dishonest is as dishonest does. You'd be a fool to trust the Labour Party and it's current crop of leaders.

Ooops -but he has released all but two of the names who want to maintain their anonymity (and so are having their donations refunded).

Now what about all those anonymous donations to the National Party and its trusts. I look forward to the same clamour for the same transparency.

National don't campaign on anti trust or political transparency. Take your blinkers off for a moment and you will hear the defending silence coming from national on this topic.

Your comment doesn't make sense Steven. But certainly transparency of political donations is not something we associate with National.

And so the propaganda wings of Act (Hooton) and National (Farrar) attempt their own versions of the Goebbelseque Big Lie to try and influence the elections. Its going to be a long year.

Nice attempt at the "bait & switch" distract and obfuscate.

Next you'll be trying to set-up a National MP who went to China with her Chinese husband, had a glass of milk at a business he is a Director of - and with willing TV journalists and editors, try and run interference claiming some conspiracy...

Pathetic really - laughable, but pathetic...


I'd buy a watch from David. He offers an amazing range when he pulls up the sleeve of his jacket. And they're cheap, too.

The reality is all politicians who hold positions of power; i.e Key portfolios (excuse the pun) will have blind trusts.

Hasnt anyone heard about 'Power Corrupts'. Its been around since time began.

This is just a convenient distraction for government, who promise the earth, but end up lining there own pockets.

Ask yourself, do you trust any politician?

What is with all of the throw away comments. Show me evidence that National politicians are lining their own pockets.

Stop letting them all distract us from the real issues!