Olivia Wensley sole mayoral candidate with declared big backer

by Kim Bowden - Sep 12, 2022

There’s six candidates vying to be mayor of the Queenstown Lakes District Council, and all of them are, officially, standing independently.

None of them are endorsed by a New Zealand political party or a residents and ratepayers group.

It’s not like that everywhere - up in Auckland, for example, voters know the right-leaning Communities and Ratepayers has endorsed mayoral candidate Viv Beck, while both the Labour and Green Party have endorsed rival runner Efeso Collins.

But, does the lack of an official endorsement necessarily equal independence?

Each Queenstown Lakes mayoral candidate can spend up to $30,000 on their campaign.

After the elections, they’re required to file a return to the council’s electoral officer detailing all their expenses as well as any campaign donations that have exceeded $1,500.

There’s the option for these significant contributors to the mayoral election campaigns to be named or to remain anonymous. 

Crux has approached each of the local would-be mayors, seeking to find out if they have any such significant backers.

And, if they do, they’ve been invited to share details about their relationship with them.

Olivia Wensley is the only candidate for mayor who says she has had two donations above the $1,500 threshold – $2,000 from tech billionaire Rod Drury and $3,333 from a cousin.

Her biggest financial backer? Herself, she says.

The remaining candidates – Al Angus, Glyn Lewers, Jon Mitchell, Daniel Shand and Neeta Shetty all say they have no financial backers that exceed $1,500.

Here’s how all the candidates answered the question, in their own words: 

Al Angus

“I am now, and always have been, completely self-funded.

“I have no affiliation with any contractor, consultant or business.

“I was a member of protect Wanaka from the outset and am also an early member of Groundswell because, although I'm not comfortable with some farming practices, I reject completely the impossible to operate under legislation being forced on the farming community. I would estimate farmers are 98 percent environmentally responsible and think in generations, not instant gratification.”

Glyn Lewers 

“I have no financial backing meeting the $1500 threshold. 

“I do have a very supportive team around me that is spreading the word on my behalf, which I greatly appreciate.

“Any interests of mine can be found publicly on the QLDC register of interests as I am a sitting councillor."

Neeta Shetty

“I can say unequivocally that I haven't taken any donations or kind from individuals, companies, businesses and/or groups.

“I am funding this entirely on my own.

“I have been offered donations from individuals, friends, groups and businesses but I have declined them.

“I have chosen to do it with my own funding so I can say with conviction that my only vested interest is as a community member.”

Jon Mitchell

Mr Mitchell directed Crux to a transparency statement on his campaign Facebook page. Here’s some of the sections that address the questions we put to him: 

“I and my campaign have no connection to any political party and certainly no funding or staff support from current or past political party staff on my campaign team.

“I am running a very tightly managed electoral campaign, with the objective of spending well below the $30k limit for the electoral period, being not even halfway to that point at this stage. I spent not one cent on my campaign prior to the electoral period, consistent with conventional practice.

“I have received modest contributions to support my campaign and am not actively seeking further financial support at this stage, but welcome it when it is offered from individuals that I am comfortable with receiving it from. There are several I have had to decline.

“This certainly isn't a competition to out-spend other people's money.

“Suggesting that there is no connection between significant campaign or personal financial support and the nature of a particular campaign or the policies of a candidate, during the election or in office, is naive at best. Clear public perception of conflicts of interest immediately become actual conflicts of interest, both in the eyes of the community and, in many cases, legally. We all have to manage any such perceived conflicts. Attempting to hide them only makes them worse.

Daniel Shand

I'm covering the costs myself from my savings. 

“I'm an independent representative.” 

Olivia Wensley
“I'm still in the process of fundraising (it never stops!).

“I'm delighted to have the support of Rod Drury and Jonathan Gurnsey, as my nominees (note - Mr Gurnsey is not listed as a significant financial contributor to Ms Wensley's campaign). 

“In terms of relationship, Rod is a very good friend, and mentor. This town needs vision, we need big thinkers, this town needs people that can get things done. Rod knows I've got the skills to deliver on this. We need people with big ideas and networks that can deliver solutions.

“Jonathan Gurnsey and I are both passionate about charity work - in the eight years I've known him, he's done amazing things for the community.

“The biggest contributor to my campaign is myself. I have put in a lot of cash, and unpaid leave. 

“So far I've had 60-plus contributions from my grassroots supporters. From $100 upwards.

“Campaigns are expensive, but I firmly believe that the people in Queenstown Lakes deserve a good campaign - there's a mood for change and that's why people are backing me."

Read more: Exclusive interview

The man backing Olivia Wensley - Rod Drury wants 'a new type of mayor for NZ'


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