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Revealed: What ACT spent in bid to keep NZ First out of Parliament

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 20 Mar 2024, 8:35pm

Revealed: What ACT spent in bid to keep NZ First out of Parliament

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 20 Mar 2024, 8:35pm

The Act Party laid out more than $100,000 on advertising aimed at keeping NZ First out of Parliament, as revealed in the release of political parties’ election campaign spending.

Party expense returns released by the Electoral Commission also show Labour spent $1 million more on election advertising than National, declaring $3.5m in election expenses to National’s $2.5m – despite National’s groaning coffers after two years of big donations.

Act’s return lists how much it spent on attack ads in an attempt to keep NZ First out of Parliament – Act’s return includes a $100,000 expense in August for advertising that related to Winston Peters from a digital advertising company, as well as some smaller bills for other material that was related to Peters. Overall, Act spent $2.8m on election advertising.

Act also paid for large billboards with NZ First leader Winston Peters’ face and the words “Don’t be Fooled Again” on them – although the cost of those is not broken out in the expenses. It is included in the overall spending of $70,000 on large billboards.

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Those were displayed in early August, at which point Act leader David Seymour described them as a “public service announcement” to remind voters of Peters’ decision to side with Labour in 2017. At the time, Seymour also said he was confident NZ First would not make it over the 5 per cent threshold.

The spending returns also include $977.50 for a voiceover recording on a Peters-related ad, $575 for music licensing for the same ad – and a $690 item for a “Winston Peters video”.

Act and NZ First are now in a coalition Government with National.

Act leader David Seymour said the spending on ads targeting Peters amounted to about 2 per cent of its overall spending on the campaign. “Parties can legitimately point out not only what they are advocating but also what some of their opponents are offering.”

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Asked if he thought it had been successful, he said “well, the saying with advertising is that half the money we spend on advertising is wasted – we just can’t tell which half.”

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Labour was the biggest-spending party and Act was the second-biggest, declaring $2.8m in spending. National was third, followed by NZ First which spent $1.5m and the Green Party with $1.3m.

Te Pāti Māori’s grassroots and social media-based campaign cost it a mere $99,000 in advertising.

National got better bang for its buck than Labour - polling 38 per cent on election night to Labour’s 27 per cent.

National’s return shows it paid its campaign social media team, Topham Guerin, a total of $319,000 for ad production and “tactical ads” on social media platforms. Topham Guerin has done social media for campaigns for conservative parties such as National, Australia’s Liberals and the UK Conservatives, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. After the election, Sean Topham spoke to the Herald about the campaign.

Its ad creative agency, Sue Worthington’s Big on Writing, was paid $258,000.

The disparity in overall election spending was despite National far outstripping Labour in securing donations leading up to the election.

Between 2021 and the 2023 election, Labour had declared $1.3m in donations while National declared about $9m.

That included multimillion-dollar hauls in large donations from wealthy donors and richlisters over the past two years. The Act Party had also declared about $5m.

The full party donation returns for 2023 – which will include donations of less than $20,000 - will not be released until April. Only large donations of more than $20,000 must be declared within 10 days of being received.

Over the election period, campaign spending is capped at $1.39m for each party plus $32,600 for each electorate they stand candidates in.

That meant Labour’s cap was $3.7m while National’s was $3.5m.

The spending includes spending on things such as hoardings and billboards, as well as paid advertising online and in print media. Parties are allocated public funding for advertising on television and radio depending on their size and polling, and must declare their spending on that as well.

Parties do not have to disclose their spending on party and campaign staff, or such things as polling.

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