Wealthy political donor speaks on why his money has gone to National instead of Act

A wealthy Aucklander who donated $100,000 to the National Party says he switched his political philanthropy from Act because of the larger party’s ailing fortunes.

Chris Reeves, who started off farming in Kaikohe but now lives in Takapuna, told the Herald: “I’m a farmer. I feed out hay in the winter. I’ve stopped feeding out hay to the Act Party. I’ve started feeding it to the National Party.

“My view is you don’t feed hay out in the summer. I told David Seymour I was going to stop giving them money because they had lots of friends.”

Between July 2017 and July 2021, Electoral Commission records show Reeves, 73, donated $430,000 to the Act Party.

The latest donation declarations to the Commission show Reeves’ latest donation – through the company Tawata Farms Ltd – was $100,000 on August 25 to the National Party.

It comes as political polls show the National Party falling out of favour with voters with Judith Collins’ leadership facing increasing scrutiny, particularly as those polled show increasing support for Act leader David Seymour as preferred Prime Minister.

Reeves’ donation was made about the time of the National Party’s annual conference at which members voted on structural changes to the way it operated. The Herald has spoken to long-time members of the party who expressed frustration at the perceived distance between National’s traditional support base and the board.

Reeves said his motivation to donate came from a desire to see the centre-right of politics supported. Through that, he said, was the hope to “pass on” a New Zealand to his 10 grandchildren in which they could grow and find the freedom to succeed.

He said democracy needed a balance and he was providing that to the “right” of the political spectrum. While he was eager to see Act grow, Reeves wanted to see a measured expansion. “If Act grows too quickly it will explode and implode.”

Reeves said the National Party “needs some friends” currently, which had spurred him to donate.

Asked about National’s leadership, he said: “I’m sure cometh the hour, cometh the man. Or woman.”

Reeves said he started out as a farmer who was fortunate to have the support of a bank to buy farmland near Kaikohe. He said he was able to borrow 110 per cent of the farm’s value, later selling it in favour of farmland on Waiheke.

“I now have a very different life,” he said. Recognition of that came through quiet philanthropy with money put into schools in the Far North and around Bay of Plenty.

“There’s not many farmers left there,” he said of National, also contrasting the changing returns farmers were able to take from the land. “In 1953, when you sold a bale of wool you got a new car.” Now, he said, it earned $200 and was a struggle to get a return on costs.

Goodfellow did not take up the Herald’s request to be interviewed about the party’s direction and strategy. The request was made after interviews with members who expressed concern over changing party structures making it difficult for members from traditional areas to be heard by or have influence in the party.

The widening gulf, as they saw it, included frustration over fewer candidates rising through the party who were shaped by its values in favour of candidates talent-spotted for MPs’ roles. The party has had a run of disastrous candidates and MP exposures since 2017.

Act Party president Tim Jago said membership had tripled and donations had grown significantly in the last few years. Over that period, Act had gone from a single MP in Parliament – leader David Seymour – to now having 10 MPs.

Jago described Reeves as “one of a number of people who enjoy friendships with both parties” and understood that the right of politics needed two strong political parties.

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