ACT Party leader David Seymour says his party will not return a donation from Mike Allen, a Christchurch businessman who sells mock “Make America Great Again” hats to fund advertising for far-right Facebook pages and who threatened in a since-deleted Facebook post to “destroy mosque after mosque till I am taken out”.
Allen asked Seymour to sign the hat and then auctioned it off on TradeMe in August, originally to raise funds for the Kidsline charity.
Seymour told Newsroom that he worried the auction would politicise the charity, which he supports as a local MP, and asked Allen to change the recipient of the funds to ACT.
When the auction was relisted on Trade Me, it was labelled “MAGA hat – ACT FUN [sic] RAISER”.
The original auction was at $178 when it was cancelled and Seymour said he didn’t know how much the donation to ACT ended up being.
Seymour defends donation
Seymour reiterated to Newsroom that “obviously ACT denounces the comments that have subsequently been made by the gentlemen”.
“However, we also are highly disappointed that Newsroom would try to associate ACT with those comments because the same person had me sign a hat and auction it off,” Seymour said.
“The standards Newsroom would require of politicians is that they couldn’t interact with anyone – take a selfie, sign something, raise money – unless they fully vetted everybody they met for a political hygiene test and that’s not a standard Newsroom could sincerely hold.”
Seymour denied that the auction was a fundraiser for ACT. “What do you mean by a fundraiser? Auctioning one hat is not a fundraiser,” he said.
Seymour said he had no intent to return the donation. “You are trying to conflate something perfectly innocent – auctioning off an amusing hat – with somebody who made some distasteful comments later and there’s no connection,” he said.
Precedent for returning contributions
There is precedent for declining or returning donations based on the person who made the contribution. In the United States, politicians regularly swear off donations from industries they disagree with.
In the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, then-Senator Barack Obama refused to accept donations from federally-registered lobbyists for his 2008 presidential campaign.
For the 2020 presidential election, most Democratic candidates have declined donations from fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and lobbying executives.
After infamous pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli donated to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, the senator passed the money on to a health clinic instead.
In New Zealand in July, Victim Support rejected a donation from Martin Sellner, a far-right Austrian activist who had corresponded with the alleged Christchurch mosque shooter.
If Sellner didn’t take back the money, Victim Support said it would donate the funds to a “suitable anti-racism charity”.
Donation came from far-right extremist
Allen has repeatedly posted far-right messages on his Facebook pages, including threats of violence. Linking to an article about an acid attack in England, Allen wrote that “if this happens to my daughter I am destroying mosque after mosque till I am taken out”.
Subsequent images posted to the since-deleted page show that Facebook deleted this post for violating its community standards.
However, Allen told Newsroom that he had written it “after a couple of beers. It was wrong and I deleted it”.
In the comments on that post, users joked about the alleged Christchurch shooter. “Let him out for another go,” one wrote.
Allen also wrote on a post about Zahra Hussaini, a Muslim woman running for Christchurch City Council, that “Islam is the problem”. He told Newsroom that he stands by that comment.
When Newsroom asked Mike Allen about the donation on Tuesday, he hung up.