The taped conversation between Simon Bridges and Jami-Lee Ross is opening the National Party to accusations of a cash-for-candidates policy, prompting the Green Party to call for sweeping changes to political donations.
The conversation about a $100,000 donation to the National Party, following a dinner with Zhang Yikun and Colin Zheng, also traversed how to include another Chinese MP in the caucus.
"Now there's no catch or anything to it. You may recall at the dinner they did discuss candidacy, and another Chinese candidate," Ross said in the recording, also noting that Zheng had signed up for candidates' college.
Bridges then talks about getting rid of some current MPs to make way for new ones, adding that it is "bloody hard, you've only got so much space ... Two Chinese [MPs] would be nice".
Despite Ross' comments on the recording, Bridges said this morning that he did not believe they discussed candidacy at the dinner.
"This was a very convivial dinner and we did not discuss that."
He denied National Party list places were for sale.
"We have incredibly robust processes to become a Member of Parliament. It involves selection processes and competition ... and what that's about is the best man or woman winning the job on their merits."
His comments were supported by National MP Melissa Lee, who said: "I did not pay to actually get here, and I don't think anyone else has either."
But Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the recording suggested that National list positions could be bought.
She said the current law allowed too much room for anonymous donations, and New Zealanders deserved to know who was trying to buy influence.
"It could be oil and gas. It could be tobacco lobbying. The Greens have an ethics committee to approve all donations over $5000. We will not accept - and have refused in the past - any donations that don't sit with our charter.
"It's very clear that at the moment we are a bit ripe for corruption, and this is why the Greens are calling for powerful vested interests and big money to get out of influencing political parties."
Currently donations over $15,000 to a party have to disclose the donor, or over $1500 to a candidate.
The Electoral Commission provides a publicly-funded broadcasting allocation for each party for election campaigning on television, radio or the internet.
Davidson called for sweeping changes, including removing anonymity for donations over $1000, capping individual donations at $35,000, banning overseas donations and increasing public money for campaigning.
But New Zealand First leader Winston Peters disagreed.
"I don't believe the taxpayer should be funding political parties to the degree that the Green Party says. The reality is, if you've got a consumer demand politically, people out there will back you."
He said New Zealand First had never taken money in exchange for political influence, but the recording told a different story for National.
"It's clear from those tapes that the National Party has a cash-for-candidates policy."