Leading National Party figures received correspondence in May 2005 telling them the Exclusive Brethren were planning a major election pamphlet campaign, investigative author Nicky Hager’s new book says.
Hager also revealed he fed information to media from emails obtained for his book “so that the public might know more about Don Brash before they voted”.
In his book, released today after a gagging order was lifted by the outgoing National leader, Mr Hager says the documents included emails and faxes showing that Brash, “who was being presented to the electorate as a mild centrist politician”, had been helped into the leadership by a “surprising network of people”.
National Party emails were leaked in the final weeks of the election campaign revealing Dr Brash’s links with the ACT Party and the New Zealand Business Roundtable.
While those links were not surprising it raises questions about the motives of Mr Hager’s sources, who he has described as senior figures within National.
His book, The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception created a furore after it was revealed a gagging order on Dr Brash’s private emails was sought just days before its planned release.
Dr Brash resigned as National Party leader yesterday but denied the timing had anything to do with the book’s release.
The book canvasses National Party sources of funding, campaign strategy and its links to the Exclusive Brethren.
A key chapter in the book deals with the party’s Exclusive Brethren ties, including claims that on May 24 the Brethren outlined plans for a $1 million campaign to Dr Brash and finance spokesman John Key.
Dr Brash has said the first he knew of a Brethren pamphlet campaign was in August last year.
Mr Hager said Dr Brash himself forwarded the email to then campaign manager Stephen Joyce.
Another claim is that Business Roundtable vice chairwoman Diane Foreman – alleged to have had an affair with Dr Brash – was also involved in third party campaigning on behalf of National.
Mr Key has denied having knowledge of the Brethren’s pamphlet campaign and said he only had limited contact with the sect ahead of last year’s election.
The book also refers to a little publicised campaign by the Exclusive Brethren in April 2005 attacking Labour’s defence and anti-nuclear policies.
“The ads would be saying things that many senior National Party people privately believed, but which they could not say openly without losing public support,” Mr Hager writes.
“Only the National party campaign strategy team (and possibly the right-wing ACT party) had received prior warning of the advertising and knew who was behind it”.
The campaign involved delivery of about a million pamphlets to homes around the country and large advertisements in major newspapers.
They called for repeal of the nuclear ships ban, said the Iraq War was just and accused the Prime Minister of reducing defence spending.
The book claims that former National Party chief of staff Richard long had arranged with the Brethren that they would have a consistent line in the event of media questions about National’s prior knowledge of the advertising.
In a letter to Dr Brash and Mr Brownlee, Mr Long wrote: “To other questions, on whether they consulted us, the Brethren have agreed to say that they have advised all political parties”.
If asked, MPs should say “simply that it is a church campaign,” Mr Long allegedly wrote.
In another memo, Mr Long wrote: “Don, just a reminder that the Brethren adverts start tomorrow….in case you get questions. Suggestion: I understand this is a campaign by members of the Brethren Church. My staff and other political parties were, I understand, informed in advance that it was planned.”
Questions were never asked, however, Mr Hager says.
The book has been caught in three days of legal wrangling, but today Dr Brash applied to have his injunction lifted.
National is keen to get the book and its media coverage out of the way before its special caucus meeting on Monday where it will elect a new leader.
Mr Hager today said he was happy the legal wrangling was over and people would now have a chance to read his book.
“I’m relieved. When you spend all this time writing a book you want people to read it. I’m rapt.”
Billed as an expose of the National Party’s inner workings, the book said the party broke election spending laws.
As well, Dr Brash is said to have misled the public about the party’s links to the Exclusive Brethren and American neo-conservatives.
Dr Brash has said he wanted the book out so he could issue a “major rebuttal” of its claims.
He has said Hager has a “conspiracy view of the world” and has called the book’s claims “crap” and “total garbage”.
The book showed Dr Brash’s former chief of staff Richard Long in in April emailed Dr Brash, Gerry Brownlee and other senior MPs saying: “It might pay the caucus to know that the Brethren advertising campaign to repair defence links (bring back the ships) will start this Friday”.
Long said the Brethren had “agreed today to publicly take ownership of the campaign to avoid conspiracy theories and to prevent the finger being pointed at us”.
Long wrote to Dr Brash and Mr Brownlee to say the Brethren had agreed to say they had advised all political parties about the advertising campaign.
He also offered lines Dr Brash could give in response to any questions about the campaign.
In a May 24 letter to Dr Brash and Mr Key, which Dr Brash forwarded to Stephen Joyce, Exclusive Brethren members made clear they were planning “a total of seven nationally distributed flyers”.
In June, there were other exchanges with Dr Brash’s key adviser Bryan Sinclair also about Exclusive Brethren involvement.
Hager has also said the book included:
• The political strategies behind Dr Brash’s 2004 Orewa race-relations speech;
• National’s links to American neo-conservatives and their input into the party’s election campaign;
• Hidden links with industry groups that helped write policy speeches;
• National’s big donors and their relations with the party;
• Election strategies and techniques advised by Australian strategy consultants Crosby/Textor;
• A range of possible breaches of election finance laws and parliamentary spending rules.