A former deputy director of the Nationals and a key lobbyist for the tobacco industry and Adani has emerged as one of the biggest donors to One Nation in the last six months.
Strategic Political Counsel, a Sydney-based lobbying firm headed by Michael Kauter, has donated $30,000 to the far-right party’s Queensland branch since November.
The sum makes him the single largest donor in that period, and represents about 35% of the branch’s total donor income during that period.
Strategic Political Counsel’s clients include British American Tobacco and its e-cigarette offshoot Nicoventures, Adani, gas pipeline company APA Group and the Australian Lotteries and Newsagents Association.
The tobacco industry has been pushing to overturn Australia’s ban on vaping. Last month British American Tobacco fronted a Western Australian parliamentary committee assessing whether their use should be made legal in the state.
One Nation has been a key supporter of the push. Last October the party’s WA senator, Peter Georgiou, gave a speech in the federal parliament calling on Australia to “give vaping a go”.
But despite saying his firm had been targeting the crossbench as a lobbyist, Kauter said Strategic Political Counsel’s donations to the party were not linked to his lobbying activities.
“No, not at all. Money doesn’t open doors but relationships do and I have a relationship with One Nation as well as others on the crossbench,” he said.
“I hadn’t given anything to One Nation and my husband and I had Pauline over for dinner.
“I just have a soft spot for Pauline Hanson, and I’ve been trying to carve out a niche for Strategic Political Counsel as a crossbench lobbyist.
“Over the last few years I’ve found the crossbench really really sort of useful, getting good policy through, and with all the uncertainty, it’s more than likely there will be more crossbenchers elected, and it makes sense to take them seriously.”
Guardian Australia revealed on Thursday that One Nation was funding the bulk of its New South Wales state campaign through loans from the party’s national executive in Queensland.
Since August, One Nation in NSW has declared $177,494 in loans from Queensland, more than 80% of the party’s war chest for the election campaign, according to disclosed records.
While the practice is legal as long as the loans are repaid, it raised questions about whether One Nation was complying with NSW’s strict campaign finance laws.
In Queensland the party is able to accept donations from the tobacco, gambling and liquor industries, but the same donors are banned from contributing to campaigns in NSW. Donations in NSW are also capped at $6,300, but no cap exists in Queensland.
One Nation did not directly answer questions about how it quarantined money from prohibited donors from its NSW campaign.
But a spokeswoman said in a statement the party had complied with the disclosure requirements from the NSW Electoral Commission “at every stage”.
“Nine months ago NSW One Nation sought advice from the NSW Electoral Commission regarding receiving a loan from our Federal Party to the State Party for campaign purposes,” she said.
“The written advice to us was that such a loan was permissible and we have fully complied with the NSW Electoral Commission in receipt of that loan and the arrangements by which it must be repaid.”
Kauter’s $30,000 contribution to One Nation specifies the money is for the national branch of the party, though he said he didn’t know whether any of that money could have found its way into the party’s NSW election campaign loan.
“How they spend their money is up to them,” he said. “I’m interested to see how they go in NSW but that money is for the federal party to use. I personally don’t mind, I don’t know where it goes, I’m sure my money just goes into a pool [and] I don’t know how they use it.”
Kauter previously had a high-profile falling out with NSW Nationals boss Ross Cadell over a sponsorship for the party’s 2017 state conference in Broken Hill.
While that relationship remains on bad terms Kauter said he still supported the party.
However his decision to expand his financial support to One Nation from the major conservative parties appears to be part of a pattern.
On Monday Alan Jones emerged as a backer of the One Nation’s campaign in NSW, with the broadcaster and his company Belford Productions donating $10,000 in February.
Jones has previously given financial support to the Liberal party, donating $15,000 in 2014-15, according to disclosures lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission.
The Sydney company Sixmilebridge, which has been a major donor to the Coalition and donated $25,000 to the Liberal party in the last financial year and $36,800 in 2015-2016, also donated $6,000 to One Nation in February.