David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

No public accounts for transparency group

The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance has told Auckland Council to show ratepayers how their money is being spent - but hasn't produced accounts showing what it does with donations from ratepayers.
Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance representative Jo Holmes says the transparency advocacy group does not have to make its own financial accounts public. Photo / NZ Herald
Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance representative Jo Holmes says the transparency advocacy group does not have to make its own financial accounts public. Photo / NZ Herald

The most vocal lobby group in Auckland is campaigning on "accountability and transparency" but doesn't tell the public how much money it has collected in donations and what it is spent on.

The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance has become a vocal part of this year's council elections in Auckland, particularly with its calls for candidates to sign a "Ratepayer Protection Pledge" limiting rates' hikes to 2 per cent.

The group is a splinter group of the NZ Taxpayers' Union, a lobby group which is pushing for smaller government in line with right-leaning political philosophies.

The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance campaigns to "increase transparency and accountability" of those spending ratepayer money, but it doesn't appear to publish any accounts or declare how much it has raised.

The group - which calls itself a "dedicated Auckland ratepayer group" - asks for donations to fund its campaigns.

It does not have to publish accounts publicly because it is a limited liability company, unlike its parent body. Companies Office accounts list the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance as having one director and sole shareholder - NZ Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams.

Williams, currently embroiled in a High Court defamation case, did not return calls or emails last week.

The Herald began seeking the accounts from others in the group a fortnight ago.

One of those contacted was the group's "media spokeswoman" Jo Holmes, who is standing for the Waiheke board. She told the Herald she didn't know herself exactly how much money had been collected from the public. She did say it was "tens of thousands of dollars".

"We're just spokespeople," she said of herself and Carmel Claridge, a Communities and Residents' candidate for the Orakei board who told the Herald she was also unaware of how much was raised or spent.

Holmes said: "I wouldn't know about that. I'm just a media spokesperson. There's a lot of trust and trust is what it's all about."

She said "small donations" of $10 to $50 were made regularly. It helped fund campaigns such as the recent delivery of 72,000 pamphlets to Albany.

Holmes said she had seen the accounts and believed they would be available to anyone who had donated funds to the group. She didn't believe they should be available to anyone else.

"Not one person who has donated money has asked to see any accounts."

The Herald's questions were prompted by the group's insistence on accountability and transparency - not from any suggestion the money is being used for other than its declared purposes.

Holmes is quoted on the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance site saying: "It's time Auckland Council started to worry less about expansion into new roles and more about who's paying the bills."

The questions from the Herald prompted Holmes to blog on the interview, which ended with her disconnecting the call during questions about who should be able to view the accounts showing the amount of money raised through donations and what it was spent on.

She described the interviewer as "angry and abusive", saying "as a private limited liability company the organisation is not required to publish its accounts".

"Trying to equate the financial responsibility of a volunteer organisation relying on freely given public donations with the financial obligations of Council to account for money it takes from the public by legal force smacks a very warped political agenda to me."

She questioned what bias and political motivation lay behind the questions.

Claridge, who works as the group's volunteer coordinator, said she was busy campaigning and was unable to supply the information. She said she was "enormously proud to be part of a true grassroots organisation supported by thousands Auckland wide".

David Farrar, co-founder of the NZ Taxpayers' Union, did not respond to a request for the accounts of the Auckland group.

- NZ Herald

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