Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Conservative candidates under scrutiny

Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig says that if Police find there was any wrongdoing by two candidates under scrutiny for their election returns, they will not be allowed to stand for the party again.

The Electoral Commission has referred the two Conservative Party candidates - former United Future MP and Tauranga City Councillor Larry Baldock and Peter Redman - to the Police for filing false returns in 2011. It has also referred Mr Baldock "for paying, or arranging another person to pay" election expenses in excess of the $25,000 maximum spending limit for candidates which applied in 2011. The penalties include fines of up to $100,000.

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig said it related to advertising the two men had booked on Radio Rhema. Mr Baldock had arranged for the advertisements to be split so 60 per cent were for Mr Baldock and 40 per cent for Mr Redman and their original expense returns had reflected that split.

However, they subsequently discovered Radio Rhema had only run Mr Baldock's ads so the two men put in amended returns in May last year so that all the costs were in Mr Baldock's return.

Mr Craig said it appeared to be a genuine error and both men had assured him they had filed accurate returns to the best of the their ability. However, he said he understood the wish of the Electoral Commission to look into the matter.

"The Electoral Commission have said they are not entirely happy with that, they think it needs to be checked. I totally support them in that - that is their job. Now the Police will follow up with the candidates and see if there was anything wrong with that," Mr Craig said.

"If any impropriety is found, this will obviously rule out these persons as potential candidates for the Party in the future."

Mr Baldock said he did not want to comment because it was now in the hands of the Police.

Mr Craig said he did not know why Mr Baldock had been referred for breaching the $25,000 spending limit. Mr Baldock's amended return lists a total of $24,902 in expenses, including $17,936 on advertising with Radio Rhema, $2,323 with RadioWorks and $4,600.76 with the Radio Network. The remainder was $41.68 for business cards. Mr Redman's only lists business cards.

Mr Craig said possibly the Electoral Commission was concerned there were other costs that had not been disclosed, although he was not aware of any. He said he could not see any issue on the face of it, but welcomed the scrutiny.

"I'm not sure that there is anything in it, but I all along have said we need to be squeaky clean on the transparency thing. I'm not expecting them to suddenly forget helicopter rides or anything like that. I expect this to be a thorough investigation and they will answer all the questions."

Under the Electoral Act, it is an offence to directly or indirectly pay or aid and abet any person in paying for any election expenses above the spending cap. Anybody who enters into an agreement for the purpose of trying to get around that spending cap is guilty of a corrupt practice - which carries a maximum 2-year prison term or up to $100,000 fine.

The penalty for knowingly filing a false return is up to two years imprisonment or a maximum $100,000 fine. There is a maximum $40,000 fine if the candidate can prove it was accidental and they took all reasonable steps to ensure it was correct.

- NZ Herald

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