Key’s election-advice invoices undermine attacks on Labour

Nicky Hager follows the Crosby/Textor papertrail to John Key’s office.

NATIONAL PARTY leader John Key appears to be using taxpayers’ money to pay for his controversial Australian strategy advisers, Crosby/Textor. Inside information strongly points to the firm being paid through Key’s parliamentary office rather than by the National Party, even though the Australians are primarily assisting the party’s election campaign strategy.

Key has spent the past week refusing to say whether he is being advised by the controversial firm, after the Star-Times revealed last Sunday that he is.

Now he refuses to say who is footing their $A10,000-a-visit ($12,600) bill.

When Crosby/Textor worked on National’s 2005 election campaign under leader Don Brash, its invoices arrived at National Party headquarters addressed to general manager Steven Joyce. However Crosby/Textor’s work for National in 2007-2008 has instead been paid through Key’s parliamentary office. This strongly suggests they are being charged to the leader’s budget and paid with Parliamentary Services money.

It is lawful under Parliamentary Services rules for National to use public money for certain election-related activities. Other parties use parliamentary money for similar purposes. But it is surprising that National is. National’s main attack on the Labour government week after week since the last election has been about it using leader’s budget money from Parliamentary Services for electioneering. This issue dominated New Zealand politics for much of the last term of parliament.

Key has spoken of the Labour Party rorting the system by using money from the taxpayer-funded leaders budget for campaigning. Deputy leader Bill English has spoken of the “disgrace” of politicians spending taxpayers’ money for such purposes. Yet it appears National has been quietly doing the same to pay for its Australian election advisers.

A September 2005 Crosby/Textor invoice illustrates that the firm’s work is campaign advice. The invoice dates from the final week of the election campaign, when Brash was trying to recover from the Exclusive Brethren fiasco, and reads “Consulting fees for Mark Textor: Campaign consulting 2 days in New Zealand”. He charged $A10,000, plus travel and accommodation costs for the two-day visit. Other documents confirm that Crosby/ Textor are specialists in election campaign strategy and National hired them for that reason.

The apparent public funding of Crosby/Textor is not an isolated example. A similar issue arose last year when the Dominion Post reported National using Parliamentary Services money to pay for a voter information database called Feedback. The National Party leader’s budget funds were being paid to a company called Parakeelia Pty, wholly controlled by the Australian Liberal Party, that had developed the voter organisation software.

National was accused of hypocrisy at the time for spending taxpayers’ money on an election campaigning tool, but Key denied this. He told Radio New Zealand that the Australian database provided information that helped MPs communicate with constituents and could therefore justifiably be funded by taxpayer money.

National Party internal documents show that Key’s explanation was misleading. Although the Feedback computer system helps MPs communicate with constituents, its primary purpose – the reason the Liberal Party developed it – is gathering and processing voter information to help win elections.

Documents describe its “campaigning” functions as supporting telephone and door-to-door canvassing, mass mailouts of MP “surveys” to gather voter data, storing information on individual voter preferences, characterising voters according to socio-economic and demographic data, allowing demographic-based and issue-based direct mail and storing voter contact information to help party organisers get National voters out on election day.