Unfolding controversies involving senior politicians and party donations have sparked allegations of cronyism and special treatment.
Perceptions of rich business people gaining political influence in return for cash don't sit well with the Kiwi public - particularly when New Zealand is lauded as the least corrupt nation on earth.
And though there is nothing illegal about political leaders seeking financial contributions, there's a perhaps naive expectation that the money comes with "no strings attached".
There are now calls for more accountability from politicians and suggestions that taxpayers should stump up more funding for political parties, to avoid them going cap in hand to those with the fattest cheque books.
Unlike a number of other nations, political parties in New Zealand don't have to publish their full accounts - leaving many questions about funding and membership unanswered.
Perceptions of conflict
Minister of Justice Judith Collins has come under fire in recent months over her dinner with Oravida bosses and an unnamed Chinese border control official in China late last year.
The food company - of which the minister's husband is a director - made a $30,000 donation to the National Party in December, just days after receiving a Chinese import clearance certificate for its fresh milk - something it had sought New Zealand government assistance for.
While there are accusations the company received special treatment, Ms Collins has maintained business was not discussed at what she says was a "private" dinner.
The heat has been on for Ms Collins to resign over the affair, though Prime Minister John Key has given her the all clear.
Labour Party leader David Cunliffe, too, has been feeling the heat after his alleged use of a private trust to hide donations towards his bid for party Recent weeks have also seen Mr Key challenged to reveal how much his party made from 53 "Cabinet Club" meetings during which attendees paid thousands of dollars to meet him and senior National colleagues.
And just last week, ACT MP John Banks went on trial to defend allegations he filed a false electoral return following his 2010 failed mayoral campaign, amid claims he wrongly declared donations from SkyCity and Kim Dotcom as anonymous.
The thin line
Opposition parties have seized on Mr Williamson's fall from grace, claiming cronyism and repeatedly accusing National of exchanging money for favours.
"Once again we see a National Party minister intervening in relation to someone who has given the National Party money," Greens co-leader Dr Russel Norman said. The Green Party has proposed introducing a ministerial disclosure and lobbying disclosure regime, but it was voted down.
A clean Government
Donations scandals don't sit well with our country's international reputation as one of the world's least corrupt nations.
Transparency International last year ranked New Zealand alongside Denmark as having the best reputation for clean government out of 177 countries, for "strong access to information systems and rules governing the behaviour of those in public positions". Our political parties must file an annual electoral return of all party donations received during the year, in which donations of more than $15,000 have to be declared.
Any party which receives more than $30,000 from a single donor in a 12-month period has to make a disclosure to the Electoral Commission.
As of January 2011, anonymous and overseas donations under $1500 must also be declared.
Victoria University political science Professor Jack Vowles says political donations should come with "no strings attached".
"Donations should be made in the public interest, and there should be no expectations on the part of donors that the political party ... or politician ... will owe them anything.
Both the Green and Labour want to see our current system scrapped in favour of taxpayer-funding.
"There's a tradeoff to be made between investing more taxpayers' funding in the political process to guarantee fairness and democracy on the one hand, and making sure that every dollar is well and prudently spent," Mr Cunliffe said.
However John Key told TVNZ the public would reject the idea. "Taxpayers will be able to find alternatives for the spending of their money than funding the election campaign of Labour and the Greens." - APNZ