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Shine some sunlight on lobbying

Written By: - Date published: 9:38 am, April 17th, 2012 - 17 comments
Categories: accountability, political alternatives - Tags: , , ,

When political lobbyists and campaign “donations” dominate the political process, is it really a democracy any more? Case in point, America, democracy or a plutocracy in Cartier drag?

Like most democracies, NZ is some way down that path. But The Greens have proposed taking at least one useful step back:

Greens’ bill rips veil off lobbying

Lobbyists who try to sway politicians behind closed doors could face tougher scrutiny under proposed legislation.

Activities such as dinners with the prime minister and watching rugby games from corporate boxes would need to be disclosed through registers proposed under the Green Party bill.

Searchable registers overseas mean it is easier to find out which New Zealand businesses have been bending the ears of politicians in Washington DC, Ottawa and Canberra, than at home.

Green Party MP Holly Walker’s Lobbying Disclosure Bill, modelled on the Canadian version, aims to bring transparency to MPs dealings with lobbyists.

Such transparency is a necessary part of a more open and democratic political process (though by no means sufficient of course, America apparently has similar legislation already in place). Anthony Hubbard has a good overview of the issues surrounding the new Bill and the range of opinion on it.

I would have expected the Nats to have rejected such a bill out of hand. I am pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong, at least so far:

Prime Minister John Key has thrown National’s support behind a move to force political lobbying out from the shadows and into the open. He says National will conditionally support the Greens’ bill to make lobbying more transparent. …

“I’m fundamentally not opposed to a bill that might register what lobbyists are up to,” says Prime Minister John Key.
A Green Party bill will soon go before Parliament seeking to have paid lobbyists register which MPs they meet and what they are talking about.

National’s support is conditional to the select committee stage only.

“We are an outlier,” says Mr Key. “Most other countries have some kind of disclosure regime and we don’t. It’s worth looking at.” …

If National carries on and continues to support the bill, then credit where it’s due, I will be impressed. How about we then take the logical next step, and clean up money in politics? Of course that would mean the Nats doing away with the trusts that launder their donations. How about it John?

17 comments on “Shine some sunlight on lobbying”

  1. Kotahi Tane Huna 1

    If the National Party stops soliciting and receiving bribes, how will they cope with abandoning their entire philosophy?

  2. alex 2

    I wrote about this a few days ago here:
    http://afinetale.blogspot.co.nz/2012/04/how-many-parties-will-sign-up-to-this.html
    When it seemed like National would not sign up to this. It isn’t really in their interests to have more transparency around money in politics, they were by far the biggest spenders at the last election. However I’m glad they look like doing something in the interests of voters for a change.

    • muzza 2.1

      “I’m glad they look like doing something in the interests of voters for a change”

      – “Look like” – Its only about manageing the perception, nothing more than that!

  3. felix 3

    I note that Matthew Hooten, a prominent lobbyist, is very supportive of this bill.

    • That’s because it only requires registration of lobbying and doesn’t actually restrict it- from his view it sanitises his business with only the minor extra cost of dealing with the regulation.

      So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves- this is only good news from National if they support it all the way through. Still, they’re likely to get plenty of input, so that’s certainly possible if some stumbling block doesn’t emerge.

    • Lanthanide 3.2

      Probably just so he can keep tabs on his opposition.

  4. Bored 4

    I see the Cameron scandal where the Vice Chancellor sold his time to lobbyists has been quietly “media managed” from the spotlight.

  5. Tangled up in blue 5

    If probably looks better if National at least let the Bill go before Parliament rather than declaring a premature veto.

  6. vto 6

    Good move by the Greens. Lobbying in many of its guises is simply a minor form of corruption.

    It should also extend to past Members and especially past Ministers. These people should not be able to use their contacts and knowledge and etc of the system to personally advance themselves post-MP status. For example, Simon Power at Westpac. How much will his previous and current roles overlap and to what purpose are they being applied?

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      Society is social and hierarchical and success is more about who you know than what you know. Those who don’t socialise well or socialise with the wrong people will forever be “unsuccessful” no matter how hard they work.

    • If they’re being paid, they’ll be covered. If they’re not being paid to lobby, then I’m not sure how you could cover them without getting into situations where interest groups and ordinary citizens would be required to file paperwork for lobbying too, which is getting slightly ridiculous. If you cover ex-MPs the same way you cover current MPs, you’re wading into murky territory, as we have thousands of ex-MPs at any one time- do you propose that everyone from business who has a discussion with one of them should need to register?

      What’s really important is extending this to cover officials as well as sitting MPs, because often lobbyists will go directly to the people providing advice or doing the policy drafts.

  7. Great idea.
    Looking forward to seeing the lists of people involved in Lobbying Parliamentarians.
    Assume it will include Commercial Lobby groups, Trade Unionists, Greenpeace and their associates, Mainstream Media – eg TV channels, Newspapers and Magazines. Grey Power.
    University Hierarchy. Maori Iwi – or will they be excluded ?
    Sure can think of others later but this will be a start.

    • Kotahi Tane Huna 7.1

      Yep – and then the National Party will have to explain why it represents the desires of the tiny minority (commercial lobby) groups against organisations with democratic structures and/or large membership numbers.

    • mike e 7.2

      footrot 99% of the lobbyists are from big business .They have swipe cards which allows them unfettered access to parliament.
      None of the groups you name above have said access!

  8. burt 8

    It’s an excellent proposal. Now get it past the dinosaur major parties…. Key’s comments quoted above are sufficiently loose for him to take any stance as this progresses. Typical PM slippery speak.

    Oh, and has anyone got any links to anything Winston Peters has said about this?

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