A Charities Services investigation into hundreds of thousands of charitable dollars donated for John Tamihere's political campaigning resulted in an allegation of "serious wrongdoing" and the issuing of a formal warning notice to Waipareira.
Tamihere is chief executive of major west Auckland education and social services charity Te Whānau o Waipareira.
He was also an unsuccessful candidate in 2019 for the Auckland mayoralty, and was co-leader and candidate for the Māori Party during the 2020 general election. This year he became that party's president.
He said the warning notice was being contested.
Last month the Herald reported that Waipareira, and the National Urban Māori Authority of which Tamihere is also chief executive, had "endorsed" his tilts for public office and advanced $468,002 in "sponsorship payments" or no-interest loans.
A Charities Services investigation sparked by a donation from Waipareira to Tamihere's 2019 mayoral campaign resulted in the issuing of a formal warning notice in late 2020 after Charities Services determined the payment amounted to serious wrongdoing.
Hundreds of thousands of charitable dollars donated to the Māori Party made during the 2020 election campaign were only publicly declared in early 2021, after the warning notice had been issued.
Details of the warning notice came in a letter from Charities Services released by Tamihere last month to bolster his claim that charities he ran were not facing any scrutiny over political donations.
Tamihere's response included an attack on sector regulator Natasha Weight, general manager of Charities Services. "Nothing has been probed or investigated and Ms Weight from [Charities Services] has knowingly misled the press," Tamihere said.
The letter, however, includes a timeline that records Charities Services began an inquiry in December 2019, using statutory powers to demand documents, sparked by a Herald report that Waipareira had donated $100,000 to Tamihere's failed mayoral campaign.
In November 2020, Charities Services shared an "investigation report" with Waipareira about the donation and issued the charity a formal warning notice "on the grounds that we considered the trust had engaged in conduct that constituted serious wrongdoing".
Contacted with detailed questions about the letter and the allegation of "serious wrongdoing" — and whether $387,604 in no-interest related-party loans paid by Waipareira for his political campaigns had been repaid — the entirety of Tamihere's response to the Herald was: "Go jump in the Lake, White man! [sic]"
After the first Herald story broke Tamihere hosted a Facebook Live broadcast from Waipareira and Māori Party pages where he alleged media scrutiny of the charities was "racist" and a "pogrom".
Charities Services confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but in a written statement Weight declined to answer further questions "as the matter is currently subject to our regulatory processes, including our obligation to observe natural justice requirements that can only be served through further engagement with [Waipareira]".
"We will not be commenting any further on our inquiries until they have been completed."
Requests under the Official Information Act to Charities Services for the warning letter and investigation report were denied using a section of the Act that allowed for information to be withheld if making the information available would be likely to "prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial".
A request to Tamihere to provide the same documents was not responded to.
The letter, dated September 9, concludes with reference to an upcoming meeting between the regulator and charity to discuss Waipareira's response to the warning notice. The two parties hold opposing views on the ability of charities to make political donations.
Charities Services has reiterated its official advice that "a charity must not support or oppose a political party or candidate. This includes making a donation to a political party or a candidate's election campaign, endorsing a party or candidate, or allowing a party or candidate to use a charity's resources."
Tamihere, for his part, released an email he sent last week to Weight that said: "Now call the meeting and make a decision and if it's against us, off to court we go."
He was also quoted in Waatea News, an Auckland Māori radio station half-owned by Waipareira, arguing Māori charities were not subject to the prohibition on making political donations. "To pretend that we can't use Māori money to advance Māori interests politically is a totalitarian state," he said.
The point of contention is the widely-acknowledged prohibition on charities engaging in political activity.
Sue Barker, principal of boutique law firm CharitiesLaw, said the restriction was near-universal.
"I went through all comparable jurisdictions and every single jurisdiction recognises this political prohibition," she said.
"It's not unusual and New Zealand is not out of step with the rest of the common law world."
Jane Norton, a senior lecturer in charities law at Auckland University, said previous challenges to the prohibition on political activity — cases against Greenpeace and Family First — concerned only political advocacy, not financial donations or partisan endorsements.
"In my view this issue is way more black and white. This isn't even a grey area," she said of Waipareira's campaign funding.
Barker said Charities Services had only one option.
"I don't see there is any option but to apply the rule," she said.
The next step from Charities Services, if it continued to see political donations as amounting to serious wrongdoing and Waipareira remained in dispute, was deregistration — a move she described as "the nuclear option".
Barker said this would see Waipareira lose its tax-free status and immediately incur income tax levied across its net assets.