A pro-China local board candidate has confirmed giving virtual cash credits to potential supporters to attend his team's campaign launch on Saturday.
Morgan Xiao, 34, who is standing for the Howick Local Board under the Labour-aligned East Vision ticket, said the virtual money handed out on Chinese social media message app WeChat was for advertising purposes.
"The amount is very small, just a few cents each, and it is just to advertise our campaign launch event," he said.
"The launch is a public meeting and we are not asking for votes."
Xiao said that as a sales assistant, he regularly distributed hongbao dollars in WeChat groups.
However, when he realised it could be against election rules, he stopped and reported the matter to East Vision Howick team leader Tofik Mamedov.
Xiao posted an invitation on a WeChat Auckland Culture and Art chat group calling for those who supported getting young Chinese to enter politics and media to attend the launch at Te Tuhi in Pakuranga next Saturday.
"At the meeting, we can discuss economic and local issues, make friends, chat and be entertained," Xiao wrote.
A screenshot sent to the Herald showed Xiao messaging a member of the group using the red envelope symbol. The recipient responded with an emoji thanking him for the hongbao.
Hongbao is a Chinese tradition of gifting money in a red envelope usually on special occasions, and was adopted for the digital age by WeChat in 2014.
"Red envelope is [part of] the Chinese culture and a Chinese blessing," Xiao said.
"I realised I made a mistake after I finished sending out six envelopes, about $1-2 in each."
He said the red envelopes were intended to be shared by between 50 and 500 people, and he tried to retrieve the money but failed to withdraw about half of them.
One local Chinese resident from the Howick area, where Xiao is standing, told the Herald she was concerned about his extreme pro-China views.
She felt Xiao's action on WeChat was a further example of how he does not understand New Zealand's democratic values.
"Giving out money to gain people's support is quite a common practice in China, but it is totally unacceptable in a democratic elections and I am not sure he gets that," she said.
Xiao's strong writings have countered China's critics here including calling China scholar Professor Anne-Marie Brady and others "sons of bitches" and "anti-China forces".
He said the words he used against Brady directly translated to mean "turtle's egg", but the Herald understand when used together means "son of bitch".
Xiao apologised on his Facebook page for his choice of language but said the apology was not to Brady or other Chinese dissident groups such as Falun Gong.
Xiao, who moved to New Zealand when he was 19, told the Herald he has been "greatly misunderstood" and that he was both "pro-New Zealand and pro-China".
"The reason why I am standing in this election is to be an example to other Chinese living here on how we can serve New Zealand," he said.
"I made make some mistakes but I have a true heart. I hope more people can understand me."
Mamedov said he was informed by Xiao about the "WeChat mistake" on Monday.
"Morgan called me and said he had made a mistake ... he has assured me it won't happen again," Mamedov said.
"He was just trying to promote our campaign launch event and it was human error that the [digital] envelopes were sent out."
At the last general election, complaints were also laid against Māori Party candidate Wetex Kang for distributing hongbao dollars on WeChat to further his campaign.
But unlike the general election, the commission said it does not oversee candidate behaviour in local office elections.
The Department of Internal Affairs said it could not comment on individual cases.
"We have not received any complaints about candidates offering cash for votes either through WeChat or any other means in relations to the 2019 local elections," a department spokesman said.
It added that the Local Electoral Act contained offences relating to bribery and "treating" - inducing a person to vote in a particular way.
Last week, a complaint was laid with police by Howick councillor Paul Young alleging a racially motivated smear campaign including claims he has links with the Chinese Communist Party.
Originally from Taiwan, Young said 15 of his hoardings have been damaged or disappeared but signs of European candidates had not been touched.