Did John Banks ask SkyCity Casino to Donate Anonymously?
Did John Banks ask SkyCity to Donate Anonymously To His Mayoral Campaign?
By Hamish McConnochie
New evidence has come to light which offers a motive for why John Banks may have asked SkyCity to have donated anonymously to his campaign - namely he didn't want to be seen to be a hypocrite during the Mayoral election campaign.
And did Mayoral Candidate John Banks make a convention centre for Auckland an election commitment to give himself wriggle room to change his position on the pokies after the election?
The new evidence consists of a combination of a little-seen Youtube video posted during the Mayoral campaign (around the time of the anonymous donations from Kim Dotcom), John Banks strident opposition to Casinos expressed in 1997, SkyCity's record in making political donations (it didn't before 2010), and the timing of Prime Minister John Key's intervention in the National Convention Centre policy debate.
Over the past week John Banks has been rocked by claims from millionaire MegaUpload founder and alleged internet pirate Kim Dotcom that he solicited an anonymous donation by asking for a $50,000 donation to be split into two $25,000 cheques.
John Banks' $15,000 anonymous donation from SkyCity was likely made at around the same time.
As yet SkyCity has not revealed why it made an anonymous donation to John Banks, but made a public one to Len Brown (who was subsequently elected as Auckland Supercity Mayor).
John Banks Promises To Back A Convention Centre For Auckland
In a rarely seen YouTube video dated a month before the donation to Kim Dotcom, Banks states that he is "totally committed to bringing an international convention and conference centre to Auckland".
The video is dated May 11 2010, 5 months before the postal ballot Auckland Council election. At the time of posting this article the video has had less than 200 views.
Banks has a vision that a national convention centre would
be built in Auckland on its waterfront as a part of the
masterplanned [sic] development of the Auckland waterfront.
John’s vision is that this is ideally located on Bledisloe
Wharf, when land is progressively released back to the
Auckland public by the Ports of Auckland Ltd. A national
convention centre would be a huge economic driver that would
create jobs in accomodation, [sic] hospitality, tourism and
more. Any such convention centre would require Government
assistance for the bulk of the funding." - John Banks - 2010
Banks comments about the convention centre come just 84 seconds into the campaign video. See John Banks Mayoral Youtube Campaign Page - video title - John Banks on economic development and job creation.
Who Knew About The PM's Pokies Convention Centre Subsidy Plan?
By May 2010, SkyCity was well aware of the convention centre proposal which the Government had put out for consultation in March 2010. (Ref: TVNZ)
And by then Prime Minister John Key's idea of a gambling rules change to sweeten the deal was also already on the table.
According to news reports the Government and Auckland City Council launched a feasibility study for a National Convention Centre in August 2009. Prime Minister John Key dined with SkyCity "bosses" in November of that year. And in April 2012 official papers were released showing that John Key intervened in the policy development process at the end of 2009.
"Official papers released by Labour on Thursday show John Key told officials in 2009 to stop work on the development of an Auckland Convention Centre, and to wait for a SkyCity proposal - details the party interprets as Mr Key's "fingerprints" on the deal." - Radio NZ 19 April 2012
We do not know the date that SkyCity made its $15,000 donation as that detail is not sought in the expenses and donation returns that candidates are required to complete.
However we do know that the twin cheques deposited in a Queenstown bank branch from Megastuff limited are dated 9 June 2010 less than a month after the video of Banks was posted to Youtube.
Political Donations Are Not Business As Usual For SkyCity
SkyCity did not donate to Banks’ 2007 Auckland City mayoral campaign, and its spokesperson Brodie Stewart said his understanding was that the Casino did not have a policy of donating to mayoral candidates – despite SkyCity general counsel Peter Treacy having said his company made donations to political campaigns "to facilitate the democratic process" in 2010.
Brodie Stewart told Scoop that at this stage SkyCity was not planning on donating to mayoral candidates at next year’s election.
Therefore, on the face of it, SkyCity’s donations appear to have been motivated by an intention to help smooth the way for their convention centre proposal.
Did Banks Or Brown Meet With SkyCity In 2010?
Which begs the question did SkyCity meet with Banks and Brown at some point in 2010. Perhaps to "pitch" their convention centre proposal to the candidates. A personal meeting with someone from the campaign teams would seem likely given the size of the donations.
Doubts around the "anonymity" claims made in relation to the casino company's donation to Banks have centred around the fact that SkyCity's $15,000 donation to Brown was publicly declared, while Banks' $15,000 donation was not.
Any meeting between Banks and SkyCity is relevant as if such a meeting did occur, Banks would have had an opportunity to request that any donation made to his campaign be made anonymously, as he is accused of doing by Kim Dotcom.
Meanwhile Banks prior anti-casino stance (expressed in 1997) may have provided a reason for Banks to make such a request - to avoid being accused of hypocrisy during the campaign period.
"They're wideboys, they're flashboys, they're big boys and they can take it," Banks said in 1997. "Because the little people of this country have been sucked, hung, drawn, quartered, bled by these people in these casinos." TV3 News
By making a convention centre for Auckland a campaign commitment - Banks was clearing himself wiggle room to enable him to subsequently push in favour of SkyCity's bid at council meetings.
Keeping the donation anonymous would protect him from being accused of flip-flopping on his casino views as a result of having received a donation from SkyCity.
Of course we do not know whether at the time he received the donation John Banks was aware of the pokie-machine-rule-change-convention-centre -building-subsidy plan of the Prime Minister.
However he may well have been given that it had by the time of his campaign been in play for more than five months.
SkyCity's Declines To Answer Scoop Questions
Scoop submitted a series of questions to SkyCity which can be read in full below. However the casino company did not answer these questions, instead a spokesman reiterated a prepared statement saying:
"SKYCITY made donations of $15,000 each to Mr Len Brown and Mr John Banks for their respective 2010 Mayoral campaigns. SKYCITY made no donations in 2007 to John Banks’ mayoral campaign."
And What About Len Brown?
SkyCity’s donation is now causing problems for the other candidate in the 2010 Supercity election - Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown. Scoop has also submitted a series of questions to Len Brown this evening.
Recently, Len Brown voted against Cr Cathy Casey’s motion that Auckland Council, "does not support", any law change to allow SkyCity to, "increase opportunities for gambling" in return for a convention centre – effectively a vote in favour of SkyCity's pokie machine rule change proposal.
However Len Brown may now be preparing to change his position.
Today he said he was very concerned about revelations broadcast by TVNZ last night showing that while observations of problem gambling at SkyCity Casino were up over 300% in three years - preventative measures appear to have not increased and the number of problem gamblers banned from the Casino has increased by only 27%.
In an interview with Paul Holmes on TVNZ's Q+A last weekend, Brown did not give a blank cheque to SkyCity for his support for a convention centre, but he did say: "we desperately need that convention centre". The Q+A team summarised his responses to questions on this point as follows:
Brown is expecting the Government to be negotiating well down below the figure of 500 pokies.
Brown: "Of course I’m worried about more pokies."
"When the government concludes its negotiation I’ll give my view in terms of whether or not I think that the position they’ve arrived at is appropriate and one that we can actually live with."
Brown believes the harm minimisation measures he wants in place will be listened to by the Government
What does he mean by harm-minimisation? 24/7 officers on the ground looking out for problem gamblers, and a machine to give you a reminder as to how much you’re spending. - Q+A Transcript - Source Scoop.co.nz/a>
1996 – John Banks speaks out against casino operators in Parliament calling them "wide boys"
August 2009 - Feasibility study for a new convention centre
November 2009 – John Key has dinner with SkyCity bosses
Late 2009 - John Key intervenes in the MED process around building a convention center.
February 2010 - Gerry Brownlee instructs officials to stop work and expect a proposal from SkyCity.
March 2010 - Government seeks high level indications of interest in building a convention centre in Auckland.
Sometime in 2010 – SkyCity donates to both John Banks’ and Len Brown’s Mayoral Campaigns. (Note: SkyCity did not donate to John Banks’ 2007 campaign.)
May 2010 – John Banks uploads video stating that he is "totally committed" to a convention centre for Auckland
June 9 2010 - Two cheques for $25,000 are deposited in the Banksie Campaign account by one of Kim Dotcom's employees in Queenstown.
June 2011 - SkyCity is announced as "preferred developer of the New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC)" Press Release - source Scoop.co.nz
5 April 2012 - Grant Robertson asks Prime Minister John Key a question about the $15,000 anonymous donation to John Banks from SkyCity - Hansard - Source Scoop.co.nz
April 19th 2012 - Labour Party releases papers showing the idea of the pokies rule change came from John Key.
April 26th 2012 – Len Brown , as Auckland’s Mayor, votes against the motion that Auckland Council does not support increasing gambling opportunities in return for a convention centre.
April 29, 2012 - Len Brown tells Paul Holmes that he is hoping to see far greater efforts to prevent problem gambling at SkyCity Casino.
Questions for SkyCity
Did any representative of SkyCity engage in a conversation with either Mr Banks, a representative for Mr Banks or any party associated with Mr Banks' 2010 Mayoral campaign, at any time prior to, or after the 2010 Auckland Mayoral election, but before Friday December 3, in which it was discussed that any donation made by SkyCity be made anonymously?
If no representative of SkyCity discussed making an anonymous donation to Mr Banks' 2010 Mayoral campaign with any representative of Mr Banks' 2010 Mayoral campaign or Mr Banks, why was the donation made anonymously?
How was a donation by SkyCity to Mr Banks' 2010 Mayoral campaign made? Cheque, bank deposit, or other means, was the donation made in person? Did SkyCity write to Mr Banks prior to the 2010 Auckland Mayoral election advising of your donation before, at the time or after the donation was made?
Did SkyCity intend for its donation to Mr Banks' Mayoral campaign to be anonymous?
Did any representative of SkyCity recommend to any signing authority within SkyCity who authorised the donation to Mr Banks 2010 Mayoral campaign recommend that the donation be made without any accompanying letter or other correspondence which would or otherwise the lack of which would render the donation potentially anonymous and is that standard practice for SkyCity?
Has any correspondence or other communication been received or engaged in with Mr Banks or any representative of Mr Banks' or other person associated with Mr Banks' 2010 Mayoral campaign that expresses thanks to SkyCity for a donation? If so, when and what was said?
During your campaign for the Auckland Mayoralty in 2010, did you ever meet with SkyCity?
During your campaign for the Auckland Mayoralty in 2010, did you ever discuss a potential international conference and convention centre with SkyCity?
During your campaign for the Auckland Mayoralty in 2010, did you discuss a potential international conference and convention centre with any parties other than SkyCity; if so, which?
Are you able to describe the method in which SkyCity made its donation to your campaign?
Did SkyCity communicate its donation to you in either in advance of the donation or afterwards, and if so, did it provide a reason for its donation?
Hamish McConnochie is a student at Victoria
University with a close interest in politics, he has a
column in Salient and in the interests of full disclosure
works part time for the Problem Gambling Foundation - You
can contact Hamish at firstname.lastname@example.org