Donations towards MPs' election campaigns came from diverse sources, ranging from artists to fisheries companies and Australian unions and some disclosed donations well in excess of the $25,000 spending limit.

In candidate expense and donation returns just released by the Electoral Commission, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples disclosed $55,000 of donations - including $20,000 from Fletcher Construction and $25,000 from Mainfreight's founder and chairman Bruce Plested. He also disclosed a $10,000 donation from Chinese investor and businessman Richard Yan, chairman and CEO of the NZ-based Richina Group. Dr Sharples declared spending of $16,689 in the election period.

Candidate donations are separate from party donations, which are yet to be disclosed.

In the three months before an election, candidates can spend up to $25,000. However, there are no limits on spending on election material before that.


While a large proportion of the donations were the result of fundraisers or funds from party headquarters, other candidates to get significant individual donations included Labour's Shane Jones. His tally of $37,000 included $10,000 from the fishing company Sealords. Mr Jones was a former chairman of the Waitangi Fisheries Commission, a fisheries minister and is now Labour's spokesman on fisheries.

He also disclosed a $10,000 donation from property law firm Knight Coldicutt. Mr Jones spent $18,746 on his campaign.

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove got $17,500 from Independent Fisheries.

Labour MP Andrew Little's disclosure of $29,975 in donations included $2500 from Crafar Farms receiver Michael Stiassny, who is a partner at KordaMentha and chairman of the board of Vector. Mr Little said he first met Mr Stiassny when the pair worked on the collapse of Ansett. They had stayed in touch ever since and were "good mates".

A former EPMU secretary, Mr Little also disclosed two $1500 donations from Australian unions, including the coal miners' union which he said had been supportive over the Pike River disaster. The maximum donation allowed from overseas donors is $1500. Todd Energy also gave $5000 to Mr Little and his National Party rival in New Plymouth, Jonathan Young.

Several ministers - including Bill English, Judith Collins and Phil Heatley - were given $5000 from the Road Transport Forum.

Act leader John Banks listed two relatively small donations only, other than $20,000 from a family trust.

And although business entrepreneur Selwyn Pellett was critical of Labour's former leader Phil Goff, he gave donations to some Labour candidates - including $4000 each to Jacinda Ardern and Stuart Nash.

The returns showed Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye spent almost twice as much as her main rival, Labour's Jacinda Ardern, on the battle for the seat - but Ms Ardern raked in the big donations. Ms Kaye spent $21,347 on her campaign in the Auckland Central seat while Ms Ardern spent just $11,365.

However, Ms Ardern declared $27,295 of donations for her campaign - including artworks for a fundraiser from artists John Reynolds, Greer Twiss and Karl Maughan, worth a combined total of $10,750. Ms Kaye got just $5525 in donations - most of it from National's central office.

Ms Ardern was not the only Labour candidate to benefit from the arts - unsuccessful Napier candidate Stuart Nash listed a $6000 donation from Hastings artist Dick Frizzell.

Mr Goff disclosed no donations and Prime Minister John Key's candidate campaign was funded by just over $11,000 from National head office.

Labour's Su'a William Sio was among the most inventive at fundraising - listing a kava fundraiser which raised $3090 and a comedy fundraiser which netted him $3539.

All candidate donations of more than $1500 must be disclosed. The return of donations to political parties is yet to be released. All party donations of more than $15,000 must be disclosed and parties will now also have to disclose the number of donations they received in bands of between $1500 and $5000 and $5000 to $15000.

Although political parties can spend up to a maximum of $2.4 million in an election, individual candidates have a limit of $25,000. Most spend well under the limit - under MMP most of the attention and funding goes towards winning the party vote rather than candidate votes.


Top donations to MPs as candidates:

Pita Sharples $55,000
Included Fletcher Construction ($20,000), Mainfreight chair Bruce Plested ($25,000), CEO of Richina Group Richard Yan ($10,000).

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga $51,997
All from National Party HQ.

Clayton Cosgrove: $50,935
Independent Fisheries ($17,500).

Bill English $42,723
Road Transport Forum ($5000) and $37,723 from a raffle.

Jo Goodhew $40,000
Talleys Group ($5000), Road Transport Forum ($5000) and Timaru National Centre Trust ($30,000).

Shane Jones $37,000
Knight Coldicutt ($10,000), Sealords ($10,000).