State funded lobbyists

August 6th, 2009 at 12:30 pm by David Farrar

I have blogged a bit in the past about how the Government sometimes funds lobby groups to then lobby the Government. One example was the Obesity Action Coalition whose funding has now been stopped.

I do not know how big the problem is in New Zealand, but the UK Taxpayers Alliance has discovered that around NZ$100 million a year is spent by the Government on lobbying the Government. Some examples:

  • Nearly £1.8 million is spent on health policy campaigns, including £515,000 paid to Alcohol Concern, £191,000 paid to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and £130,000 paid to the Family Planning Association.
  • Environmental policy campaigns received over £6.7 million, including funding for the Sustainable Development Commission, Friends of the Earth, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and numerous other groups.

Those who wish to change or defend government policy should not have the Government funding that advocacy. Can be okay to fund them for genuine services but not for advocacy.

Hat Tip: Fairfacts Media

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23 Responses to “State funded lobbyists”

  1. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    Put the Police at the top of the list, followed by MoT and MoH.

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  2. Repton (769 comments) says:

    TFA says a disadvantage of public funding of such groups is:

    It distorts the public policy process in favour of the interests and perspectives of a narrow political elite.

    One might argue that leaving it up to private groups only distorts the policy process in favour of the interests and perspectives of wealthy business elite.
    (although i suppose this site is in full support of wealthy business elite anyway)

    [DPF: Good God how dare wealthy people have an opinion. Let's shoot them all. And yes let the people's Government spend taxpayers money on lobbying the very same people's Government to keep doing what they are doing.

    Seriously if you really advocate that the Government should fund lobby groups to lobby the Government, where do you draw the line? Why have elections? Let the Government just tell everyone what to do]

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  3. peterwn (3,271 comments) says:

    The 1990’sNational government stopped funding for lobbying and advocacy and insisted funding was used to deliver services. I think they may have partially relented when funds were used to raise general awareness of an issue as distinct from lobbying activities.

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  4. andrei (2,651 comments) says:

    State funded lobby groups?

    So the parasitic class grows and suffocates the few remaining folk who do real work with tangible, measurable outputs – like diary farmers producing milk to turn into cheese perhaps

    I am forgetting of course such people are selfish greedy planet destroyers or so various lobby groups keep informing me.

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  5. Sam Buchanan (501 comments) says:

    The UK report looks pretty vague – they seem to just count any government money going to a group that does lobbying as being spent for that purpose. For example one of the environmental groups they cite is funded to provide “training and support to groups of women growing food in urban areas.” Right or wrong it’s hardly correct to call it ‘political lobbying’.

    “Good God how dare wealthy people have an opinion. Let’s shoot them all.”

    Along with the actors, perhaps?

    “like diary farmers”

    I’ve run across a few of these in Wellington – hopping from meeting to meeting and reaping where they have never sown!

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  6. Jeff83 (745 comments) says:

    Here is the thing though, you create a group / taskforce to look at a certain problem that society deems itself to have, be it “obesity” under labour or “productivity” under national. You then tell that group “help us solve ‘obesity’ / ‘productivity’. The group / taskforce goes away and goes lets solve the problem through “x” and then goes to parliament do “x”. Now both will go directly, both will potentially lobby, the group maybe more directly and the ‘taskforce’ through passing on their findings to interested parties i.e. ‘the Business Roundtable’ (resisting heavily past vice joke).

    Personally I see both are trying to solve a problem that we have, both then advocate for that solution, so where is the difference that you can support one (productivity) but not the other?

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  7. big bruv (13,887 comments) says:

    Does Toad qualify as a state funded lobbyist?

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  8. James (1,338 comments) says:

    Just what business is it of the States that there is obesity,smoking,drinking etc etc anyway? What do these have to do with its soul legitimate function of individual rights protection?

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  9. Bryce Edwards (248 comments) says:

    DPF has probably covered this in the past, but this latest state funded lobbyist issue reminds me of the fact that the anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was, according the 2001 research of Deborah Coddington, allegedly ‘funded by taxpayers to lobby government to introduce anti-smoking laws’. Similarly, Nicky Hager documented in 1999 the details of the pro-logging citizens of the South Island West Coast allegedly using the resources and expertise of state-owned enterprise Timberlands West Coast to establish the pressure group Coast Action Network. Among other partisan activities, the Network paid for full-page advertisements in the Coromandel electorate attacking the Green, Labour and Alliance parties. To me, this all reflects the fact that interest groups are building up relationships with organs of the state in lieu of any solid ties with political parties. Similarly, political parties are increasingly substituting their relationships with interest groups with state institutions. The whole interest group game has changed.

    Bryce
    http://www.liberation.org.nz

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  10. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Alan Wilkinson notes:

    Put the Police at the top of the list, followed by MoT and MoH.

    Excellent point, Alan. Government departments – and particularly those with direct power over citizens – have become extremely adept at lobbying and it’s all with public money. We pay them to advocate the reduction of our freedoms.

    The function of a bureaucrat is to implement government policy, not to influence it. Nonetheless they have insidiously opened a number of avenues to do just that – seconding staff to the Minister’s office, for instance, or employing armies of “policy analysts” to churn out reports and statistics often designed to baffle decision-makers (and the media) and lead them towards a conclusion the bureaucrat wants them to form.

    The public have no such tools available. We try to cobble together something in our own time, at our own expense, and take time off work to appear before a Select Committee. Then when we’ve had our say, the Minister is surrounded by Ministry bureaucrats who’ll tell him or her just how ignorant we are if we’ve dared deviate from the Ministry’s Truth.

    Yet not content with merely this advantage, they’re constantly in the media, always seeking more power. When was the last time you heard a bureaucrat advocate for greater freedom? (Other than for themselves, of course).

    The next time one of our employees is seen preening before the cameras and saying they need more power – almost always the power to discpline or restrict us in some way – we need to raise our voices as one, and tell them to get back to doing the job they’re paid to do!

    And instead of just the regular stories on how many people work for the government in “communications” roles, the media need to start documenting the number of secondments, policy analysts and other people whose sole or major function is to ensure that bureaucrats influence public policy.

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  11. Sam Buchanan (501 comments) says:

    Another example in The Wellingtonian today – the council-owned water services company Capacity has been spending ratepayer’s money preparing an unsought presentation for the regional council to lobby for becoming a new monopoly company controlling the region’s bulk water supply. They also want the new company to bwe run by unelected directors to ensure there is no democratic oversight.

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  12. Crampton (215 comments) says:

    Seconding Bryce, especially as regards “public health” lobbies. ALAC in particular is funded straight out of excise tax revenues. Any chance they’d ever support reducing such taxes, or even just holding them constant?

    I especially, of course, worry about the commissioning of cost-only studies, which even their authors admit are useless for policy purposes without a corresponding measure of benefits: they’re useless for sound policy, but useful in mobilizing support for bad policy.

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  13. Straight Shooter (135 comments) says:

    DPF, you’ve heard of the term astroturf. I have a new term for you – the turfweed.

    A turfweed is a professional who infiltrates a grass roots organisation (usually an industry group) to give advice but ends up creating work for themselves and their mates. They end up lodging themselves between a lobby group and the government body to make a problem worse.

    The classic method for turfweeds is to create some PR for themselves to represent an issue while they are buddying up to some bureaucrats. Then they create an issue that did not previously exist which makes the bureaucrats panic to respond. The turfweed then moves in on the industry group to assist with the problem. The solution is often technocrat based and the process is drawn out.

    The turfweed usually shows its head in economic droughts to feed on those who are struggling.

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  14. Sam Buchanan (501 comments) says:

    “Just what business is it of the States that there is obesity,smoking,drinking etc etc anyway? What do these have to do with its soul legitimate function of individual rights protection?”

    Ahhh yes, a state which does nothing but protect the individual’s rights. What’s 5000 years of world history when weighed up against this recurring fairy tale?

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  15. TripeWryter (716 comments) says:

    Friends of the Earth!!! The same Friends of the Earth LIMITED?
    (Yes, they don’t shout the ‘limited’ very loudly …)

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  16. salt (133 comments) says:

    ha, yes that’s right rex. The people who work in the public service aren’t real people, passionate about health, or social development, or whatever, who might want to influence the government toward a better way of thinking about their specialist subject matter. No, no. They are armies of living robots, bred from birth to do nothing but seek power for their Ministry.

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  17. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    salt, they have every right and opportunity to influence the government through their Minister.

    Where I draw the line is bureaucrats using public funds to influence the public in ways that benefit themselves.

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  18. Chuck Bird (4,883 comments) says:

    I am surprised no one has mentioned how the government is funding groups such as Plunket and Barnardos to encourage people to vote YES in the coming referendum. I could accept the government funding advertising to encourage parents to use other forms of discipline but using taxpayers money to influence the referendum is outrageous.

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  19. burt (8,269 comments) says:

    Remember, under a socialist govt the state provides all. The services, the funding and the delivery, the marketing and the complaints dept.

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  20. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Salt… okay I’ll grant you there might be some in health “passionate” about the topic, though usually that passion leads to the advocacy of some restriction or other – like control over what gets sold in school tuck shops.

    But let’s set that aside. I’ll grant that there are people in the MoH keen to make a positive difference. I’ve even worked alongside some of them.

    But what, precisely, are the police and MoT (Alan’s other two examples) “passionate” about? All I ever see the Police and MoT lobbying for is more power, by definition at the expense of our freedoms, on the basis that the rest of us are stupid / dangerous / incapable of making rational choices.

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  21. Repton (769 comments) says:

    @DPF: I didn’t say wealthy people shouldn’t have an opinion, or shouldn’t be able to lobby the government. I said that wealthy people (or, more likely, wealthy businesses) shouldn’t be the _only_ people able to lobby the government.

    It seems to me to be a bit like the justice system. In trials, we have (effectively) opposing lobbiests who try to convince the judge (or jury) of their cause. When governments are setting policy, they need to hear all relevant points of view. It may be that the most cost-efficient way to achieve that is to pay someone (or some group) to advocate a particular perspective.

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  22. KiwiGreg (3,255 comments) says:

    @ Repton that’s a policy analyst’s job. They already get paid to do that, paying lobbyists is just goofy.

    And while it’s apparently cool to demonise “wealthy businesses” a crap load of paid lobbying is done by organised labour and its various fronts (just look at campaign donations).

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