Key under fire for Antoine’s donations
"At least they didn't hold the dinner at TVNZ"Featured comment
Prime Minister John Key faces charges of hypocrisy from his political opponents for receiving $165,000 of donations from Auckland’s exclusive Antoine’s restaurant owned by celebrity chef and National Party supporter Tony Astle.
The donations, of $105,000 and $60,000, date back to two dinners prior to the last election and were publicly disclosed by the National Party to the Electoral Commission and reported in the media in 2010 and 2011.
On TV3’s The Nation this morning, Mr Key was asked to reconcile accepting the Antoine’s donations with his criticisms of Labour leader David Cunliffe’s secret TR Trust.
Mr Key denied any wrong doing saying “people buying tables at a dinner is absolutely standard”.
However, on the left-leaning blog, The Standard, closely linked to Mr Cunliffe through his lawyer and electorate official Greg Presland, who writes under the pseudonym “mickeysavage” and is a trustee of Mr Cunliffe’s TR Trust, there are calls for Mr Key to repay the $165,000 or name who was at the dinners.
It is understood Mr Cunliffe is considering issuing a similar demand.*
But political commentator and NBR columnist Matthew Hooton, like Mr Key a regular at Antoine’s, says the two situations are not comparable.
“The Antoine’s thing is more a case of an eccentric restaurateur taking it upon himself to raise funds for National, than anything to do with Mr Key or the party,” Mr Hooton said.
“He rings round his friends, arranges a dinner, charges usurious amounts, invites Mr Key and then passes on some of the profits to the party.
“That’s really very different from Mr Cunliffe’s secret TR Trust or National’s dodgy old Waitamata Trust, where donors were directed by the party to the trust as a way of laundering donations.
“In fact, if each of the people at one of these dinner had been asked to write a $5000 cheque to National rather than to Antoine’s, each of them would have been below the threshold for disclosure so we wouldn’t know about it all.
“It was only because Mr Astle was acting privately, and aggregating the money, that the $15,000 threshold was breached and National quite rightly publicly disclosed his donations.”
Mr Astle is refusing to comment but NBR understands he plans similar personal fund-raising efforts in the lead up to this year’s election.
He has previously been reported as saying he “loves” Mr Key who has been a customer for more than 20 years.
Labour's undisclosed event
It has also emerged today that Labour charged individuals $1000 a head to dine with an arch-critic of Mr Key, actor Sir Ian McKellen.
Neither the donations nor the dinner were disclosed to the Electoral Commission because the rules do not require it.
* So far Labour has limited itself to an attack by front bencher Chris Hipkens, who said earlier today:
"John Key can’t claim that people donating to the campaigns of Labour leadership contenders somehow have a secret agenda but duck for cover when it comes to revealing those donating thousands of dollars to the National Party, Labour MP Chris Hipkins says.
“It’s utter hypocrisy for John Key to try to establish a new level of transparency for donations to Labour and then resort to technicalities when questioned about donations he has assisted the National Party in soliciting.
“He is being tricky. The same standards must apply to National.
“For decades the National Party has raked in millions of dollars in anonymous donations using trusts to hide the true identity of donors. It’s a bit rich for them to start throwing around accusations about secret agendas now."