The Exclusive Brethren church has been backing the National Party, taking out newspaper advertisements and visiting National Party MPs to discuss election issues, author Ngaire Thomas says.
Mrs Thomas, a former member of the church who has written the book Behind Closed Doors about her time there, today said the Exclusive Brethren had stepped up its efforts to get a change of government, and had a lot of money to do it.
The Green Party says it has discovered five people behind a “smear” leaflet campaign against Labour and the Greens are members of the secretive Exclusive Brethren church.
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Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said she found this strange, as she understood the church had a strict rule that it did not get involved in politics and that its members were not even allowed to vote.
But Mrs Thomas today told NZPA the church had been increasing its political efforts.
“Up until the last election all they did was hold lots of prayer meetings to pray the government into power. They’ve always supported a conservative government all over the world but this is the first election where they’ve become quite so vocal about it.”
The Exclusive Brethren had backed the re-election of United States president George W Bush and Australian prime minister John Howard but was now getting involved in getting National into power in New Zealand, she said.
US newspaper reports in January said the Thanksgiving 2004 Committee, whose members were Exclusive Brethren, spent more than $US500,000 ($NZ713,500) on newspaper advertisements.
In April the church had taken out two half-page “wake up New Zealand” advertisements in all the major newspapers in New Zealand.
These ads had called for a change of government, and despite Exclusive Brethren being “conscientious objectors” had promoted a stronger defence force.
The church had then done a letterbox drop of leaflets to follow up the ads, encouraging New Zealanders to vote National.
“They don’t vote themselves, of course, but the wanted the country to vote National because they want to increase our defence force,” Mrs Thomas says.
The money on advertisements was a “drop in the bucket” for the Exclusive Brethren.
“They’re a very wealthy group. They can well afford to.”
She could remember as a small child being told to pray for a National government.
The whole group in New Zealand – which the church had estimated at between 10,000 to 12,000 members – would be behind the campaign to get National into power.
National would “certainly” be aware the church was supporting it.
“The Exclusive Brethren have been visiting members of the National Party for months.
“But maybe the National Party don’t realise what an insidious group this is.”
Members wrote letters to the editors of newspapers supporting the church’s “wake up New Zealand” campaign.
She had also heard young Exclusive Brethren were doing telephone campaigning to canvass votes for the National Party.
Church members were “so out of touch with reality” they would not realise their actions might be hurting the National Party or that its leaflet drops would be seen as smear campaign.
“They would be saying that it’s God telling them to do it, that it’s God’s will.”
She said the National Party must be “tickled pink” the church was supporting it because it had so much money it did not know what to do with it.
National MP Simon Power and National Party candidate for Palmerston North Malcolm Plimmer have told the Manawatu Evening Standard that Exclusive Brethren church members have approached them to offer campaign support.
But both said they had not received money from the church.
Mr Power said he was offered assistance by church members, “which I politely declined”.
Mr Plimmer said he had private meetings with Exclusive Brethren church members to discuss election issues.
“There was no suggestion of any money, but we were definitely on the same wavelength…the civil union was one (issue) in particular.”
National has repeatedly said it had nothing to do with the leaflet campaign.
“We haven’t written that thing at all, we haven’t sponsored it, we haven’t financed it, we totally had nothing to do with it,” National leader Don Brash has said.
National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said today his party had “no relationship” with the Exclusive Brethren church.
But he said he welcomed the support of anybody who wanted a change of government.