Pledge card invoices stamped 'approved'

By Paula Oliver

New court documents hint the Parliamentary Service may have questioned Labour about its controversial pledge card.

The Prime Minister's chief of staff wrote curtly to the service urging it to ensure Labour's pledge card items were paid for "without further delay".

The contents of Heather Simpson's letter were disclosed yesterday as the case taken by Libertarianz Party leader Bernard Darnton against Helen Clark and the service took another step forward. Mr Darnton is seeking a judicial review of the spending on Labour's election pledge card - the production and distribution of which cost $447,883.

Election spending is at the centre of a political storm as the Auditor-General separately investigates the advertising of all political parties in the three months before last year's election.

Several parties identified as having spent outside the rules in the Auditor-General's draft report have claimed they had approval for the taxpayer-funded spending from the service.

But that has been contradicted by service in its statement of defence in the case involving Mr Darnton.

The statement, filed in recent days, shows the service views its role as administering payments.

The expenditure at issue is "incurred on the direct authority of the members themselves", the statement says. This argument appears to be backed by an excerpt from a letter written by Ms Simpson - who in Wellington is known as "H2". Helen Clark is known as "H1".

The letter was written last November 17 - two months after the election.

In it, Ms Simpson wrote that in relation to the pledge card expenditure "the publications were created and issued in compliance with established procedures.

"To my knowledge, they comply with all applicable laws and procedures for such publications. That is an entirely sufficient certification for your requirements.

"Kindly ensure that the payments are made without further delay."

Labour invoices relating to the pledge card were stamped "approved for payment" and signed by Ms Simpson, the statement of defence said.

The Parliamentary Service yesterday declined to answer questions about whether there was a delay in its payment of Labour's invoices or why that might have been the case.

The service's argument that its payment of the invoices did not constitute the exercise of any statutory power is not unexpected.

A letter from Acting Solicitor-General Cheryl Gwyn reported in the Herald this month noted that the service has no "statutory power of decision".

Her letter noted that prior approval from the service is not sought and there is no opportunity for it to vet spending at any stage prior to payment.

The service's statement of defence also argues the court should decline to review the pledge-card spending because the matter is "properly within the purview of Parliament" and the subject of an investigation by Auditor-General Kevin Brady.

The service said it had acted lawfully in paying the relevant invoices and in accordance with its own past practices and procedures.

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