Labour spent half as much as National on last year's election campaign and was outspent by the Greens for the first time.
Parties' election advertising expenses were released yesterday and show Labour spent $1.27 million - slightly less than the Green Party on $1.29 million and half the National Party's $2.6 million.
National was the biggest spender, followed by the Conservative Party, which was bankrolled by leader Colin Craig and spent $1.9 million. Funded by $3.5 million from Kim Dotcom, the Internet-Mana alliance spent $660,000 while the Internet Party spent a further $320,000. Of the parties in Parliament, United Future spent the least - just under $2000.
Labour's shoestring budget and low election result will have the party asking how the much smaller Green Party had more funds. In 2011, the Greens spent $780,000 and Labour $1.8 million.
Labour's hierarchy has been criticised for failing to fundraise and the election expenses indicate it was a problem. General secretary Tim Barnett said Labour had never had large reserves and had spent within its means. The lower costs were partly because of more "low cost, high impact" campaigning, such as phoning, door knocking and direct mail rather than traditional media advertising.
"If you're asking, 'Were there lots of things you would have done if you had an extra million', obviously that would be a nice position to have, but we stayed within the budget we had."
He said a lot was also spent on individual electorate campaigns, for which the candidate returns are due tomorrow.
The returns show Labour's campaign launch cost $62,000 and its total spending on hoardings and billboards was $308,000. Its campaign bus cost $37,000 to hire and decorate with a slip featuring former leader David Cunliffe.
National's campaign chairman, Steven Joyce, and secretary, Greg Hamilton, did not return calls yesterday. National's expenses included $294,000 to make its television ad and $390,600 for billboard and bus advertising. It also paid $16,000 for music. It is not clear if that was the song over which Eminem's representatives are taking legal action.
The expenses also show the shift to online media. National spent $377,000 on advertising online compared with $196,000 on newspaper advertising. Its app cost $28,000.
Labour is selecting a new president and former president Mike Williams said the ability to bring in the money would be a key factor. However, he did not necessarily think money was the be all and end all for a successful campaign, saying the ability to motivate grassroots members was more important.
The expense returns include spending on advertising and campaign-related activities, but do not include the broadcasting allocations.
Parties have a spending cap, depending how many electorate candidates they put up. National's was $2.736 million while Labour's was slightly higher at $2.9 million because it stood in the Maori seats.
Party election spending
National Party: $2.56m
Conservative Party: $1.9m
Green Party: $1.29m
Labour Party: $1.27m
Internet-Mana Party: $660,580
Internet Party: $320,000
NZ First: $268,530
Maori Party: $202,562
Mana Party: $28,265
United Future: $1995