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Labour MP Shane Jones' party leadership bid was part-funded by a cash donation from Sir Wira Gardiner, husband of National Party Cabinet minister Hekia Parata.
Mr Jones revealed to the Herald that Sir Wira gave $1000 and NZ Oil and Gas board member Rodger Finlay also donated money to help the MP to pay for his campaign to win the Labour leadership last September.
Ms Parata did not learn about the donation until last night.
Sir Wira told the Herald he was still a "paid-up Tory", but wanted to encourage Maori leadership.
Mr Jones said both men approached him offering donations, which were to have remained confidential until it was realised that donations of more than $500 had to be revealed in the MPs' register of pecuniary interests, due out next month.
Mr Jones said he was "a little surprised" to get money from Sir Wira, who has longstanding links with the National Party.
He briefly paused before accepting because of how it might look to the public and the Labour Party.
"But after a nanosecond, I never gave it any more thought. I'm sure it will raise a few eyebrows, but that's Maoris and parties for you."
He and Sir Wira were not close friends, although they they had served together on the Fisheries Commission for a short time.
He did not know if Ms Parata knew about the donation.
"I think Wira has always had peripheral vision and he's always been pro-Maori in all his endeavours. Although that makes him, for a brief period of time, a benefactor, it doesn't mean Hekia is in any way my benefactrix."
Prime Minister John Key was taken by surprise when told last night of Sir Wira's donation, initially responding, "You're joking".
"I'm somewhere between surprised and shocked," he said.
"Sir Wira has had a long-term desire to see Maori succeed into leadership positions.
"I can only guess that was his motivation, rather than support for the Labour Party."
Sir Wira told the Herald he gave the money because he believed it was important to encourage Maori leadership. His support for National had not changed.
He had not told Ms Parata about the donation and she found out about it only last night. It had caused some upset to her and he had apologised.
"I gave it from a Maori context and I didn't think, 'Shane is going for the Labour leadership, or is opposed to National or he's an opponent of my wife's in the House'.
"I did what I've always done, and that is support Maori leadership.
"While I'm a political animal in the sense I'm a National Party supporter, I'm more driven by kaupapa Maori. I know what campaigns cost and it's not a cheap thing to do. So I just decided to do it and I did it."
Mr Jones is known for his strong pro-mining stance in Labour but said he had never met Mr Finlay before his cash offer.
He is now Labour's economic development spokesman and has a leading role in forming the party's mining policy. He denied the donation would have any effect on that or that it had prompted his attacks on the Green Party, saying his views on mining were longstanding and he had always been critical of the Greens' position.
Mr Finlay had not indicated he had any expectations.
"The thing he mostly spoke to me about was the importance of biculturalism, and someone who could be straight up and talk about Pakeha things to Maori and Maori things to Pakeha."
Mr Jones said money left over from his campaign totalled more than $1000, and was given to the Labour Party, as required by its rules.
The MPs' annual register of pecuniary interests is to be released next month and Labour leader David Cunliffe's entry is expected to include leadership campaign donations made to the trust he used to take donations to avoid disclosing them to the party.
Shane Jones' backers:
Sir Wira Gardiner: donated $1000
* Husband of National Party Cabinet minister Hekia Parata
* Former National Party Maori vice-president, and ran for president in 2009
* Fix-it man for National and Labour governments
* Labour used him for the foreshore and seabed hui and as facilitator for the Treelords settlement.
* National used him to lead hui on its assets-sale programme
* Knighted in 2008 for services to Maori.
Rodger Finlay: donated an unspecified amount.
* South Island-resident company director and investor
* Directorships include NZ Oil and Gas, the Public Trust, PGG Wrightsons, Agritech, Moeraki Ltd.
* NZ Oil and Gas is working the Tui and Kupe oil and gas fields
* The company also has interests in several mining exploration permits.
- Claire Trevett of the New Zealand Herald