The most expensive campaigns of the Tauranga City Council byelection have been revealed.

Mandatory expense disclosures revealed the field of 20 candidates together spent more than $65,000 vying for the seat left vacant by Gail McIntosh's death.

Most spent less than $3000 each but two spent more than six times that amount.

One was byelection winner John Robson, a former councillor and retired management consultant.


Robson, sworn in in May, disclosed spending of just under $21,000 for his "Real Change - Guaranteed" campaign, which included media advertising, hoardings, flyers, a website and two donations.

The other was first-time council candidate Lester Gray - though the actual amount he spent was unclear.

The expenses on his disclosure form added up to just over $28,000 - easily the byelection's biggest spend - but he told NZME there must be a double up or other error on the form as he recalled spending closer to $18,000.

When contacted, he was in Wellington and could not access original documents to clarify in time for our deadline.

Lester Gray was one of the biggest spenders of the byelection. Photo / John Borren
Lester Gray was one of the biggest spenders of the byelection. Photo / John Borren

Gray, a service station owner, said whether he spent $28,000 or $18,000 the upshot was the same:

"It's just the cost that a new person to the game has to be prepared to pay to try and get your message across and gain profile."

Gray, who stood for New Zealand First in the Bay of Plenty during the last general election, placed sixth in the byelection.

He said he was the highest polling first-time candidate below three ex-councillors and two repeat candidates.


Gray planned to run for council again in 2019 and hoped to reuse a lot of what he bought for the byelection.

He said everything he spent came from his own pocket, unlike Robson who took two donations.

He said in his opinion candidates who accepted donations ran the risk of being beholden to donors, but also said he would accept a donation from someone whose beliefs aligned with his own.

"I probably wouldn't say no."

John Robson won the byelection by more than 600 votes. Photo / John Borren
John Robson won the byelection by more than 600 votes. Photo / John Borren

Robson was the only candidate to disclose any donations to his campaign.

In a move that stoked controversy among other candidates but was cleared by the electoral officer, sitting councillors Rick Curach and Steve Morris publicly backed Robson and contributed $295 apiece to help him come back into the fold.


Robson said their endorsement came with no quid pro quo or agreement of any sort for how he would vote or behave if elected.

He believed Morris and Curach supported him because they believed the council was "missing someone with my abilities".

Their donations were publicised before people voted. Robson said it was worse to accept donations and not disclose them until after the votes were counted.

Robson said he spent $10,000 just on putting a postcard in "every letterbox in town" to tell people his positions in detail a billboard could not provide - though he got those too at his nominators' urging.

Robson said when he ran for council in 2013 he spent $112 and was elected. When he ran for re-election in 2016 he spent more than $29,000 and missed out.

Four candidates said they spent nothing bar the $200 registration fee: Bill Faulkner, Murray Guy, Yvette Lamare and Peter Stanley.


Disclosure forms are posted on Tauranga City Council's website.