Claire Trevett

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

Cabinet Clubs bad look, even to National voters

National Party leader and Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Dean Purcell
National Party leader and Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Dean Purcell

Almost half of National's own supporters believe the fundraising tactics the party uses with its "Cabinet Clubs" are a bad look - or even a "corrupt practice" - the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey shows.

National has defended the fundraising method, in which members in electorates nationwide pay annual fees, estimated at up to $10,000, to be part of a club which attends functions to hear ministers and MPs speak and meet them.

However, when asked for their views on National Party politicians speaking regularly to donors in private meetings, 38 per cent of National Party voters said it was not a good look and 8 per cent said they believed it was a "corrupt practice".

About 46 per cent believed there was nothing wrong with it, compared with 13 per cent of Labour voters.

Overall, 21 per cent of those polled said it was a corrupt practice, 42 per cent said it didn't look good and 30 per cent said there was nothing wrong with it.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said it showed there was "disquiet on all sides of the political spectrum" about such methods for fundraising.

Labour has charged for attendance at events where MPs were involved, but Mr Cunliffe said the party had nothing similar to the Cabinet Clubs, giving access to ministers for those paying high fees.

"All parties do lunches and dinners and that kind of fundraiser.

"I don't think that would be seen as particularly exceptional by many people."

At the party's conference last year, stall-holders paid for space at the conference event and the chance to meet an MP.

Mr Cunliffe said it involved much smaller amounts of money and he had told the party he was uncomfortable with the promise of a meeting with an MP as part of the deal. "We won't be repeating it."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has described the scheme as "cash for access" and said the poll results showed a strong majority agreed it was wrong.

"Unsurprisingly, the National Party's cash-for-access scheme, the Cabinet Club, is very unpopular with ordinary New Zealanders.

"National people also don't like cash for access because it fundamentally corrodes our democracy."

He acknowledged the issue did not appear to be enough to sway National supporters' votes and had not hurt its poll ratings so far - the Greens went on the attack over it last month but National was still polling over 50 per cent support.

But he didn't believe the polling would hold up to election day.

National's campaign chairman, Steven Joyce, referred questions about the poll to the party yesterday. General manager Greg Hamilton said the response was to be expected given it was "such a loaded question".

He said parties had to fundraise to run campaigns. "The party carries out its fundraising activities in an ethical manner in full compliance with the law."

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed he has attended more than 50 Cabinet Club meetings since 2008, and said last month they didn't breach Cabinet rules because MPs were not attending in their ministerial capacities - something Dr Norman has disputed.

Only individual donations of more than $15,000 have to be disclosed and the clubs are within the rules.

The poll of 750 eligible voters, taken June 6-15, has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 per cent. The margin of error does not apply to the breakdowns of National/Labour voters.

- NZ Herald

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