Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon 'comfortable', believes he can be independent after donation to Labour's Kiri Allan revealed

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon has told Newshub he is "comfortable" with having donated and provided rent subsidies to Labour's Kiri Allan during her East Coast campaign at the 2020 election.

Speaking to Newshub on the phone on Friday, Foon said he can be independent despite the donation and has given money to political parties of different stripes in the past.

"Regardless of which role, it has been a family tradition to support left and right parties in our family. From the time of my parents to now."

Allan's electoral donation return for the 2020 election reveals "M and Y Foon" from Gisborne donated $1500 to her on June 15, 2020. An address for these donors is associated with a company that Foon is a director of.

The return also shows Triple Eight Investments provided $9185.04 in rent subsidies to Allan between August and September 2020. According to the Companies Register, Foon was a director of the now-deregistered company.

Allan was a backbench MP at the time, but is now the Justice Minister who recommends to the Governor-General who to appoint as Human Rights Commissioners.

Foon served as the Mayor of Gisborne between 2001 and 2019, when he took on the Race Relations Commissioner role, responsible for "promoting positive race relations" at the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission is a Crown entity independent to Government.

Asked if it was appropriate to donate money to Allan considering his role, Foon said: "It didn't cross my mind. It's just a thing that we do automatically".

He said he was "transparent" and could "absolutely" be independent. He expects "they are independent in who they choose because it's an independent process".

Foon said he didn't regret his support and "it's only a minor sum". Between the donation and rental subsidies, it's a total of more than $10,500.

The rental subsidies related to a shop that was his wife's business.

"The shop was empty. They approached us if they could use it. We still had to pay the rent to the landlord, so we didn't receive any money for it."

He told Newshub his family has donated to other East Coast electorate candidates, including National candidates. He said he gave money to Tania Tapsell, National's candidate during the 2020 election, but that isn't apparent on her electoral return - though that's only for donations over $1500.

Allan on Friday said she didn't "take any monetary donations from Meng Foon" - the return shows a $1500 donation.

"There was definitely rental subsidies provided through one of the properties his wife owned. Whether that was through Meng or through his wife, I can't recall, but he did provide an office space."

She said she felt "comfortable" and it was "well disclosed".

"It's his wife's shop. It was an empty shop that they owned on the main drag. We paid some nominal sum or a sum per week. That has all been declared."

She stressed she wasn't involved in the appointment of Foon.

"I had nothing to do with Meng Foon's appointment."

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Friday said he wasn't aware of the donations until now.

"Whether or not someone who holds those public advocacy roles should be donating politically and aligning themselves politically with the political party, that is probably something that I'd be a little uncomfortable about.

"I wasn't aware of it until you've just asked me about it right now. So I'd want to think about that a bit more, but I do think that people holding those roles need to be seen to be politically impartial."

Hipkins said in-kind contributions and cash contributions should be differentiated.

"Without knowing details of it and without having had the opportunity to consider the details of it, nothing that the Minister has just indicated provides me any cause for concern."

He said there was a "well-established process" for managing conflicts of interest.

"The conflict of interest process involving the Cabinet office does look at things like political donations for example, so that if someone who's made a political donation comes up for appointment, a minister who has a conflict would be excused from participating in that process."

The ACT Party's David Seymour said Foon needs to go immediately.

"Foon can't be independent if he's a Labour donor, not that he ever called out racism from the left anyway," Seymour said.

"Kiri Allan is now the Minister of Justice responsible for appointing the Commissioner. She didn't appoint Foon but would be responsible for his re-appointment."