Clark stole election, says Brash

By Audrey Young

National launched a fevered attack on Prime Minister Helen Clark in Parliament yesterday, accusing her of having "stolen" the election through Labour's taxpayer-funded $446,000 pledge card, which was recently declared unlawful by the Auditor-General in a draft report.

National leader Don Brash led the attack, ending in a demand for a fresh and fair election.

He also prompted his MPs to break into chanting: "Pay the money back!"

Labour responded with further attacks on the Exclusive Brethren's support for National.

But they lacked the volume or immediacy of National's onslaught.

The draft opinion of Auditor-General Kevin Brady - and the Solicitor-General - has reignited the election spending issue, with his statements this week that he had forewarned parties in June last year, three months before the election, to be careful about election spending.

Dr Brash said four official agencies had now concluded that the pledge card was election spending - which cannot be funded from parliamentary funds - the Auditor-General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Electoral Commission and the Solicitor-General.

"Helen Clark stole the election. Not content with enormous bribes to voters with other people's money, she had to misappropriate half a million dollars of taxpayers' money to fund her campaign.

She should pay the money back," he said, the trigger for his own MPs to repeat the chant.

"She should then resign, go to the country and have a fair election."

National MP Murray McCully reminded Helen Clark that she declined an invitation in late April last year from Mr Brady to meet the two major party leaders in a bid to get agreement on how the leader's budget should be spent.

He said that was because it would have interfered with her plans.

"The Prime Minister declined to meet the Auditor-General because she knew when she got the letter from the Auditor-General that she had already signed off on a plan to spend half a million bucks on the Labour Party illegal pledge card which is now coming home to roost."

National sought to show that Labour deliberately broke the rules after having been forewarned about them by Mr Brady and specifically about the pledge card by Chief Electoral Officer David Henry.

"They went ahead and knowingly broke the law.

"Section 214b has a description for the conduct. That's a corrupt practice," Mr McCully said.

Helen Clark said that unlike National, Labour had not accepted money from "exclusive religious cults" and corporates, and that that money had enabled National to free up its own parliamentary spending.

She said Labour had met with the Auditor-General last year.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen questioned how Dr Brash could attack Helen Clark as he had, when he had said he would support any bid she made to become Secretary-General of the United Nations.

National finance spokesman John Key accused Dr Cullen of having bullied the Herald last week and having threatened to withdraw a retrospective tax bill that benefited the paper's owners, APN, because of its critical coverage of proposed retrospective legislation to validate spending on the pledge card.

Dr Cullen said the Government was supporting the legislation, and that had been in the press statement.

When asked by Mr Key if his comments were to remind APN that it owed him and his Government a favour, Mr Cullen said they were to remind Herald journalists that it was "wise to be consistent".

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