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Jami-Lee Ross on the phone to Tex (Photo: Elements of Truth)
Jami-Lee Ross on the phone to Tex (Photo: Elements of Truth)

PoliticsFebruary 23, 2023

Jami-Lee Ross, ‘Tex’, and the $30,000 Advance NZ donation

Jami-Lee Ross on the phone to Tex (Photo: Elements of Truth)
Jami-Lee Ross on the phone to Tex (Photo: Elements of Truth)

Elements of Truth, the new documentary following Jami-Lee Ross during the 2020 election campaign, reveals a phone call with a mysterious potential donor. But who is Tex? And what happened to his donation?

When Jami-Lee Ross and Billy Te Kahika joined forces ahead of the 2020 election, it was fairly apparent which of the pair was the political brain behind the Advance NZ movement. TK had a profile within conspiracy theorist circles and a small but devoted following, bolstered by anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination sentiment. But Ross, by 2020, already had a decade of parliamentary experience. As a senior National MP, Ross was something of a “fixer” for former party leader Simon Bridges. He was responsible for keeping the party’s MPs in line as senior whip and helped bring in donations for the election war chest. And it was these skills that he brought to the co-leadership of Advance NZ.

Ross became the party’s co-leader following a well-documented falling out from the National Party in 2018. After lobbing accusations that Bridges was aware of an illegally split-up $100,000 donation to the National Party, Ross was expelled. Those accusations ultimately backfired, with Ross – and not Bridges – charged by the Serious Fraud Office. He was acquitted last year.

Now, in Elements of Truth, a new documentary streaming on The Spinoff which follows Ross during the 2020 campaign, Ross is seen being asked to split up a large donation, only this time it’s to Advance NZ.

In a phone call shown in the documentary, Ross is told by Te Kahika that a donor, named only as “Tex”, is set to give $30,000 to Advance NZ to help the party fund some last minute advertising in the NZ Herald. 

But in extra footage, which did not make the final cut, Ross expresses concern that Te Kahika and the mysterious donor may not be aware of New Zealand’s strict electoral laws pertaining to donations. “Hey, um, just important,” Ross says to TK. “Electoral Act disclosure – [Tex] will be publicised as having made a donation. Did you let him know that?” Te Kahika says he was unaware of this and Tex had not been informed. “I should probably call him,” Ross said. “This stuff is kind of important… I also need to ask him what the source of his funds are.”

The Spinoff understands that “Tex” is Tex Hill, a representative of the group Himalaya NZ that has strong links to conspiracy theorist groups in New Zealand. In 2020, he was seen at an Advance NZ rally in central Auckland. He was also responsible for getting the alternative media network Counterspin off the ground. It’s been reported that Hill approached Kelvyn Alp and Hannah Spierer, the faces of Counterspin, about starting the show and organised a studio for them to use in 2021. He also appeared as the first commentator on the media network himself. 

David Farrier, writing for his Webworm Substack, explained that Himalaya NZ has links to both the Trump administration, via Breitbart founder Steve Bannon, and overseas conspiracy theorists.

In the unreleased footage, Ross tells Te Kahika he’ll take the lead on the $30,000 donation and gets Hill on the phone to discuss how New Zealand electoral laws operate. “Billy said you were very generous and wish to make a donation to Advance NZ?” Ross says, adding that the party has a bank account that deposits can be made into.

“I do have to let you know a few things. Billy told me you wanted to donate quite a significant amount of money?” Under the law, as it stood in 2020, any donation over $15,000 had to be publicly disclosed, meaning the name of the donor would be revealed. Tex tells Ross that he’s aware of the rules, before suggesting he could “split up” the donation. “No,” says Ross. “That is illegal. That can’t happen.”

He adds: “Tex, whoever is making the donation – that’s the person that gets recorded. For example, even if your association is the organisation that transfers the money, if that money has come from someone else, like yourself, then that person where the money originated for is the donor.” [sic]

The conversation ultimately concludes with Tex telling Ross the donation will be provided legally, though Ross, speaking directly to the camera, seems unconvinced. “When they say ‘we’ll work it out’… we’ll just make sure the law is followed to the letter. I don’t like ‘we’ll work it out’.”

An advert for Advance NZ appeared on page 11 of the Herald on October 14. Other ads – later deemed misleading – appeared in a number of papers in the run-up to election day.

There is no evidence that Hill ever followed through on the promise of donating to Advance NZ. According to the party’s annual returns from 2020, just 10 donations were disclosed. That totals to about $155,000 in donations. As was reported at the time, a donation of about $65,000 from a company set up in Te Kahika’s name was the second largest political donation of 2020. In total, including anonymous donations under the threshold, Advance NZ received just over $250,000 in 2020. 

However, none of the disclosed donations to Advance NZ are from Tex Hill and none of them are to the value of $30,000. There are also no donations that appear to be from Hill’s Himalaya NZ group. Advance NZ proclaimed during the election campaign that it would be following through on an “open and transparent approach” to donations. 

In 2021, Te Kahika was charged with filing false electoral donations. These charges remain before the court.

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