"Worrying" is the term the Labour Party's most senior official has used to describe Paula Bennett's $1.8 million fundraising for the National Party.
Labour's general secretary Rob Salmond emailed registered party supporters late yesterday pointing to the NZ Herald's revelation that Bennett, a former Deputy Prime Minister, had raised a huge amount of money in just three weeks.
Donors included New Zealand's wealthiest man, Graeme Hart, who gave $250,000, as did multi-millionaires Murray Bolton and Nick Mowbray.
In an interview with the Herald, Salmond said the scale of the donations showed a "return to normal" as National once again became "competitive".
Salmond's email to supporters referenced Labour's position on National's recent tax cut policies, saying: "National's focus on the wealthy is paying off in donations for their war chest, with some of New Zealand's richest people giving them huge amounts."
"I'm proud that Labour is a people-powered organisation, chipping in whatever they can afford to enable us to run the biggest, most effective campaigns we can.
"But if I'm honest, this news is worrying. $1.8 million is a huge amount for the Opposition to receive in only a few months."
Salmond wrote the surge on donations gave National "a big head start on next year's election" and it was "important we make up as much ground as soon as we can".
Salmond's email carried an embedded "Yes, I'll Donate" button and encouraged people to "chip in anything" to help Labour catch up.
"We run a small, efficient team who give us better bang for buck than National's operation.
"But money of this scale does enable the kind of activity that makes a difference at an election, like buying advertising and billboards, training staff and getting out the vote."
The button link leads to a page showing a photograph of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a slogan from the 2020 election, "Let's keep New Zealand moving". The webpage offers six donation options: $4, $20, $50, $100, $250 and "other".
Salmond said Bennett's fundraising drive and the returns it garnered were a "return to normalcy".
"National wasn't very competitive in 2020 and now clearly they are."
Asked if Labour also had high-profile politicians raising funds, he said National was benefiting from having a crop of former Cabinet ministers who had left politics in recent years.
Salmond told the Herald that financial support for political parties did make a difference when it came to securing support at polling booths.
For Labour, he said, donations would be accepted "from anybody of any type", pointing to Electoral Commission disclosures to distinguish a difference in fundraising between the parties.
"As seen in the disclosures going back several years, we do not receive donations of a quarter of a million dollars."
Electoral donation records bear out Salmond's claim showing some hefty individual donations to Labour over the past decade but none from any living person at the scale Bennett's three-week whip-around secured. The most significant donation on record was a $430,000 bequest made a decade ago.
Since then, retired High Court judge Robert Smellie was the donor who made the largest single contributions by some margin, giving the party $140,000 in 2019 and $115,000 in 2017.
Bennett's three-week fundraising drive among some of New Zealand's wealthiest individuals was revealed in the Herald. The donations were yet to be formally published under Electoral Commission rules.
She said the total raised during the current fundraising drive was $1.8m and came from "a number of people who wanted to see National run a strong and effective campaign in 2023 and challenge the Government's thinking and direction".
National traditionally outperforms Labour on donations with official records showing Labour recorded donations of $1,510,628 in 2020 while National's were $2,802,766.
Of those parties currently in Parliament, declared donations in 2020 to Labour and the Greens totalled $2,370,355 while National and Act's totalled $4,029,887. Te Pāti Māori donations were recorded as $389,604.