In his NBR column a few weeks ago (subscriber-only) Matthew Hooton made a passing reference to David Farrar getting rich off National Party polling.
Shortly after that Fran O’Sullivan ran a piece about Farrar’s company impression polling on a couple of National’s front-benchers.
At the time I didn’t see it as a biggie. Everyone knows David is National’s pollster and that he’s the one that does their sensitive polling and has a lot of influence with National’s leadership. He claims he doesn’t but in a PR-driven government like this one the idea that the main pollster has no sway is so absurd as to be insulting.
So like I said, no biggie, but that’s National Party polling. Sure the taxpayer might have to foot the bill through parliamentary services but I’d rather that than have parties even more beholden to private funders than they already are.
But then I was told by a reliable source that it’s not just National Party contracts David’s getting rich on. It turns out his company, Curia, has also been paid around $9300 to poll on the issue of super city governance for internal affairs. That’s work that was not tendered out but handed to David without competition.
To be fair there is no legal requirement to tender work under $10k but when the company getting the contract is the same one that is the primary polling outfit for the reigning party and is wholly owned and operated by a high-profile party-political activist then a greater degree of transparency would be nice.
Add to that the fact that David was also likely to be running political polling on the issue for National and was engaged in spinning the Supercity on his high profile blog and certain questions of conflict of interest start to arise.
It was only by random chance that I found out this contract. It’s quite likely that David is doing other sub $10k polling for other ministries. He may well also be using the results of this polling to help hone the National Party’s spin on issues such as the Supercity.
In short David is analysing data gathered on the public sector’s dime and related to significant political issues while helping the National party develop strategy. Short of brain-wiping himself after every public sector poll I can’t see how he can avoid a conflict of interest.
I should also note that I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of outing David’s financial affairs until I remembered his claims that Paula Bennett was right to release the financial information of two solo mothers because they were gaining from taxpayer money, had made themselves public political actors and had already spoken out on the issue at hand. Turns out David’s ticked all three boxes himself on this one. Go figure.