A toxic stew of electoral fraud, sexual shenanigans, bullying and insulting obscenity served up by the National Party this week caused denizens of the media to rediscover my phone number as political fundraising again became a hot topic.

This was obviously thanks to National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross's bizarre public meltdown.

I spent years raising money for the Labour Party, first as an organiser for the party in the 1980s and again as party president and/or campaign manager between 1998 and 2009 and am thus aware of the rules surrounding this pursuit.

Beyond the long-established grants that political parties receive from the state that pay for (and limit) radio, television and on-line advertising during election campaigns, we don't have the kind of state funding of political parties that is found in Europe, Australia and even the United States. This means our political parties must collect their own money to fund their day-to-day overheads and the increasingly expensive election campaigns.


There is poetic justice in the National Party's self-inflicted traumas this week as those with even a faulty memory will recall that in 2008 National smeared Winston Peters with an accusation around a $100,000 contribution made after the 2005 General Election.

When asked if his party had received the money, Winston held up a sign reading "NO".

National successfully convinced the commentariat that this was untrue, and this quite possibly cost the New Zealand First Party is parliamentary representation in the general election that year.

Winston was telling the truth. Having organised the donation for an electoral petition in Tauranga, I knew the donation had not gone to New Zealand First but to a legal team mounting the action.

One easily understandable aspect of electoral law is that individual donations larger than $15,000 cannot be anonymous.

This is where the disaffected National MP sought to skewer his erstwhile political ally, Simon Bridges, with an accusation of electoral fraud.

Though there will be attempts to fudge this matter, only two facts are pertinent.

Fact one: the donation of $100,000 came from one individual.

In the telephone conversation recorded by Ross and released to the media, Jami-Lee Ross says a named Auckland businessman has donated $100,000 to the National Party and the money is in a Botany National Party bank account.

Fact two: neither this donation nor the identity of the donor was subsequently reported by the National Party to the Electoral Commission as is required by electoral law.

If these two facts are accepted, an offence against electoral law has been committed.

The only question is by whom.

If, after the donation was received, it was split into sums of less than $15,000 thus disguising the original source of the money, that too is an offence.

Though the phone call shows Simon Bridges in a very poor light indeed and will, I believe, contribute to shortening his reign as leader of the National Party, there is no hint that he colluded in the offence that must have occurred and no "smoking gun" as Ross had suggested.

As something must have happened to the donation between it landing in the Botany National Party bank account and getting to the National Party HQ, it seems more likely that Ross himself would be complicit in any offence.

Jami-Lee Ross's charge of electoral fraud by his leader is therefore a nonsense. However, in my view, Simon Bridges demonstrates very poor judgement as a party leader by even discussing such matters.

As president of the Labour Party, I stuck rigidly to a rule that the party leader should not be involved in fundraising.

In my semi-regular Sunday morning phone calls with Helen Clark over a decade, such matters were never discussed.

If any approaches about donations were made to Helen or any other MP, they were immediately directed to me as president or to the party secretary.

If National Party president Peter Goodfellow had been doing his job and had involved himself in this transaction from the start, Jami-Lee Ross would have had no ammunition to attack Bridges.

This is not the only lapse of judgement by Simon Bridges.

This whole shemozzle originates with his poor judgement in even bothering to investigate the leak of information about his travel expenses.

A hairy chest display over what every commentator saw as trivial has backfired so spectacularly it must now put his leadership in question.

Add that to the fact he missed one of his closest allies melting down to the point of an explosion in front of him and you get a picture of someone out of their depth.

National's vote dropped 3% in an internal party poll last week - half of which occurred before Ross's outburst.

If this happens in a published poll, the knives will be getting sharpened.

*Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.