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Taxpayers funded Key's Letterman appearance

Published: 5:01PM Monday August 01, 2011 Source: ONE News

Prime Minister John Key's appearance on Late Show with David Letterman may have cost taxpayers up to $10,000.

Key confirmed today that Tourism New Zealand paid a public relations company to arrange his appearance on the show in 2009.

But he denied any direct payment was made to producers.

"There was no payment made to Letterman," Key said said at a media conference today.

"I've been informed that Tourism New Zealand have a PR company. They're on a retainer. They pay them every month, irrelevant of what I do."

"Apparently, when the Letterman show was on, that was one of the projects they worked on. They would have made the payment whether I was there or not."

ONE News understands the company was paid about $10,000 to organise the appearance.

Tourism NZ also lobbied the Letterman show for at least six months ahead of Key's appearance.

After getting nowhere, it employed international public relations consultants Hill and Knowlton two months before the September appearance, and Key put together an audition tape.

"There was a sort of joke tape if you like that was done in my office," Key said.

When questioned two years ago, Tourism NZ said no costs were incurred. ONE News got the same answer two weeks ago when making enquiries.

But now the organisation admits it paid Hill and Knowlton to pitch the idea to the show's producers and broker the deal.

Tourism NZ Chief Executive Kevin Bowler said its records did not show the payments.

"We've looked a lot further, we think that there was some cost as part of the retainer but they certainly weren't significant," Bowler said.

Key said it was money well spent.

"As Minister of Tourism, it was a good thing to do. In my view, it promoted New Zealand."