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Waipareira Trust to try to claw back $385,000 in loans to John Tamihere campaigns

By Matt Nippert, NZ Herald

West Auckland social services charity Waipareira Trust has agreed to cease making political donations and try to claw back hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest-free loans advanced to its chief executive - and Te Pāti Māori (TPM) president - John Tamihere.

The move, effectively confirming a long-standing ban on charities making political donations or explicit endorsements, resolves an existential threat for Waipareira, but hits Tamihere in the back pocket and also throws a considerable wrinkle into TPM’s general elections planning.

Last year, the Herald revealed Waipareira, and the Tamihere-led National Urban Maori Authority (Numa), had contributed nearly half a million dollars to Tamihere's 2019 tilt for the Auckland mayoralty and his 2020 general election campaign with TPM, funding which had made the cluster of charities one of New Zealand's largest political donors.

The payments attracted the scrutiny of sector regulator Charities Services over concerns they breached long-standing prohibitions on charities engaging in partisan political activism.

This week, Charlotte Stanley, general manager of Charities Services at the Department of Internal Affairs, said its three-year investigation into Waipareira had closed after undertakings were given by the trust to no longer engage in political funding and also to recover funds previously advanced.

“The trust should take steps to recover the loans [and] it should not make any loans or donations to political candidates in the future,” Stanley said of the settlement.

“We have discussed this with the trust and it has agreed to meet these expectations. We are confident it will do so and will keep in touch to check on the situation.”

Stanley said during its investigation, the trust claimed it had advanced the funds in accordance with its charitable purposes, and believed structuring the payments as a loan to Tamihere meant they should not be considered a donation.

Stanley said regardless of whether the payments were packaged as a loan or donation, in Charities Services’ view they crossed a line: “Under the Charities Act, no charity is permitted to make contributions to political parties or candidates ... The trust’s loan was still a breach of the Charities Act.”

Accounts for Waipareira show over the past few years, it had advanced $385,307 in interest-free loans to Tamihere to “pursue the general elections and political aspirations”. According to the most recent accounts filed to the Charities Register, dated June 30, 2022, that sum remained outstanding.

This week, Tamihere declined to answer questions from the Herald about whether he had repaid Waipareira.

“The loans are commercially confidential, but thanks for asking,” he said.

Last year, after news of the Charities Service investigation broke, Tamihere defended the practice of charities linked to him donating to his political campaigns and said any determination to the contrary was racist and would be challenged in court.

“To pretend that we can’t use Māori money to advance Māori interests politically is a totalitarian state,” he said at the time.

But this week, Tamihere said there would be no such legal challenge.

“The matter is at a legal end and not requiring litigation,” he said.

Auckland University law lecturer Jane Norton said she believed this outcome will have come as no surprise.

“The law is clear, and always has been, that charities must not support or oppose a political party or candidate. Making donations or loans to a political candidate would obviously be supporting them and is therefore against the law,” she said.

Stanley said a parallel investigation into Numa, of which Tamihere is also chief executive and which paid $82,695 in “sponsorship payments” to assist his campaigns over the past few years, was still ongoing.

The settlement provides surety for the future of Waipareira Trust by taking off the table the possibility Charities Services could strip Waipareira of its charitable status, triggering an immediate $16m tax bill and vastly complicating tens of millions of dollars in Government contracts to provide social and health services in West Auckland.

But turning these political donations taps off could see TPM struggle for financing, given more than half of its declared fundraising during its 2020 campaign came from Waipareira and Numa.

Recent polling suggests the upcoming election could see the party occupy a kingmaker position and help decide who forms the next Government, a point Tamihere was keen to emphasise in playing down concerns that filling his party’s war chest had just become more complicated.

“We expect no problems in fundraising given the political position that Te Pāti Māori commands,” he said.

- NZ Herald