The Lobbying Disclosure Bill

April 11th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

One of the bills drawn out of the ballot last week was the Disclosure Bill in the name of , bur originally drafted by Sue Kedgley.

The Herald had a headline “Long time lobbyist lobbies against lobby law”, but in fact the substance of the story was quite different:

One of the country’s longest standing lobbyists says a bill which would force lobbyists to register and disclose their clients and meetings with Government ministers is not necessary in New Zealand.

Mark Unsworth, a partner of government relations firm Saunders Unsworth, said he was not against the proposals in a Green Party bill which will soon go before Parliament but did not believe it was necessary.

I would suggest that this bill is a solution looking for a problem. But as no one wants to be seen as against transparency, it will probably proceed. Like Mark Unsworth, I have no problem in principle with the intent, but people should be aware of how far reaching the bill may be.

The Dom Post editorial is in favour of the bill, as is the Herald.

The proposed bill makes it an offence for any person to engage in lobbying activity, unless they are registered with the Auditor-General. The definition in the bill of lobbying is very wide. I blogged last year:

Arguably I could be regarded as a lobbyist for InternetNZ. For many years I chaired their Public Policy Committee as Vice-President of InternetNZ. As VP I had a small honorarium of $12,000 a year. I’ve retired as VP, but still chair the now titled Policy Advisory Group. This involves literally chairing the monthly meetings, but also meeting with policy staff regularly to help develop submissions, pro-actively identifying policy issues etc. I am now technically a contractor, as I am no longer an officer, and still get $12,000 a year for it.

Now for the last seven years or so, I’ve been one of the InternetNZ people who speaks to our submissions at select committees, and meets with MPs to advocate for what we regard as good for the Internet.

One could argue I am a paid lobbyist for InternetNZ in my current role. I don’t quite see it like that because my advocacy is based on my beliefs of what is good for the Internet, which coincide with InternetNZ. But under the proposed law, I might be classified as a lobbyist. Now that doesn’t worry me at all, but it seems strange to me as I’m not like a lawyer or lobbyist who will argue for a client regardless of their own beliefs. If ever INZ adopted a policy position I disagreed with, I would not take part in the advocacy around it.

Now depending on how you define a lobbyist, my advocacy on behalf of InternetNZ might be deemed lobbying in my role as a contractor to them, but how about when I was their Vice-President? I was doing much the same then, as I was today. I would argue you should say that if I am deemed a lobbyist as a contractor, I am also a lobbyist as an office holder.

Now if you do take that definition, then just be aware that an awfully large number of people will now be classified as lobbyists. I’d suspect 1,000+ people would fall into that definition.

Now if I am classified as a lobbyist for InternetNZ, then under this bill I’d say I’d have to report any tweets I direct towards MPs on Internet related issues.

At Kiwi Foo Camp there was a roundtable discussion with David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Clare Curran on innovation. I’m pretty sure we discussed some Internet issues there, so does that have to be disclosed even though there were 40 people in the room?

What if I go to a Meet the Candidates meeting and ask MPs a question on copyright issues, mentioning my own views on them? Do I face a $10,000 fine for not including that?

How about my blog posts? I know many MPs read this blog. Does that count as a communication towards them, that must be disclosed?

The bill should be supported at first reading. Its intent is worthy. However I think a select committee will have to very carefully consider it to ensure it doesn’t become a bureaucratic monster where (for example) every discussion between a Greenpeace activist and a Green MP doesn’t require forms in triplicate.

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13 Responses to “The Lobbying Disclosure Bill”

  1. Daigotsu (484 comments) says:

    “As VP I had a small honorarium of $12,000 a year.”

    Just a trifling sum, of no consequence really.

    [DPF: For the 20 or so hours a week, it is less than the minimum wage, so yeah]

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  2. lastmanstanding (1,372 comments) says:

    I am and always have been against big government form filling and all the crapola that goes with it.

    But I am also for good governance. Two of the principles of good governance are

    1. Disclosure
    2. Transperancey.

    I want to know who is lobbying who on what issues. History shows that given a chance human beings are suspectible to bribes.

    Thankfully as far as I know we have a low level of bribery and corruption compared to most other countries.

    But only eternal vigilance will ensure it remains so.

    Give the bastards an inch and well you know the rest.

    So I would support a Register of Lobbyists. This would contain the names of those who received cash or kind for lobbying and the details of who they acted for the nature of the lobbying.

    Sunshine is a great cleanser

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  3. Scott Chris (6,451 comments) says:

    I would suggest that this bill is a solution looking for a problem.

    I disagree. Having to disclose meetings is problematic and unenforceable but I’d say forcing lobbyists to register and disclose their clients would be simple to comply with and would result in more political transparency.

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  4. nzclassicalliberal (34 comments) says:

    Scott,

    Having to disclose meetings is problematic and unenforceable but I’d say forcing lobbyists to register and disclose their clients would be simple to comply with and would result in more political transparency.

    I agree with the first clause of your sentence entirely, and with the second clause in principle. However, I think that the first clause of your sentence means that the second clause may have unintended (and negative) consequences.

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  5. adamsmith1922 (727 comments) says:

    It just might be the case that The Greens wish to effectively stop lobbying, so that only their misinformation is aired

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  6. freedom101 (555 comments) says:

    Who has been lobbying the Greens for this bill? This will turn into a huge boondoggle of bureaucracy. What will be the complaints and review process? When is a meeting a lobbying meeting and when not? We will have to employ a state agency to police this with salaries, reports, reviews etc. What a load of nonsense.

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  7. s.russell (1,724 comments) says:

    I think this whole thing is ridiculous. Lobbyists – like anyone else – should be able to say whatever they like to MPs and what they say is no-one else’s business. The idea that everything Phil O’Reilly or Helen Kelly says to an MP at a cocktail party must be notified is absurd.

    If people give significant money, goods or services, that should be disclosed (if someone gives the PM a free cupcake at a market stall I have no problem with this not being notified). But words are free, and MPs are free to ignore them (as they mostly do).

    Holly Walker seems to have confused the concepts of buying dinner for the PM and buying the PM for a dinner.

    If this goes ahead it would have a very damaging effect on free speech and the ability of MPs to have free and frank discussions with people. That ability is actually really important in a free society and should be protected instead of thrown away out of fear that MPs are so dim-witted they will be corrupted merely by listening to people.

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  8. RRM (10,873 comments) says:

    However I think a select committee will have to very carefully consider it to ensure it doesn’t become a bureaucratic monster where (for example) every discussion between a Greenpeace activist and a Green MP doesn’t require forms in triplicate.

    How are we supposed to grow the civil service, if we don’t make any new “work” for them to do?

    And I like your stuff article. I would have thought that anyone getting paid is a lobbyist, anyone talking to their MP in their own time is just a citizen talking to his MP, but you are right there probably needs to be more subtlety than that…

    But surely the whole reason we have first, second and third readings of bills in the House, and Select Committee hearings, is so that it doesn’t really matter what evil capitalist bastard suggests a new piece of law in the first place? And therefore there’s no real need to register political lobbyists?

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  9. freedom101 (555 comments) says:

    Every year new requirements, reporting, agencies, rules, regulatiions, reviews etc accummulate. This insidious trend has the inevitable consequence of making like impossible as the state pries into every nook and cranny and taxes us to death in order to supervise us and report on us.

    The cost of having an activist Green Party, or socialists in general, in parliament is incalculable.

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  10. alwyn (468 comments) says:

    I would be a great deal more interested in what was said and given to the MPs by anyone outside the MP’s own caucus than by who the paid lobbyists are.
    Perhaps we could introduce a protocol such as the following. I am sure the Green MPs will be only to pleased to carry it out for the remainder of the term so we can see how it works. The other parties don’t have to bother at the present time.
    The content of a conversation by any member of the public with an MP must be recorded and made available on the internet.
    Conversations that are exclusively between MPs in the same party are excluded.
    All written material provided to an MP by anyone other than a same-caucus MP must be published.
    Any provision of goods and services that are provided to an MP at other than a fully priced, arms-length basis must be immediately reported. This would even include a free cup of coffee.
    Any donations of money or time, no matter how low-value, must be reported, giving the name of the provider and value of the service.
    etc, etc, etc.
    Any breach of any of these requirements, no matter how trivial, shall result in the immediate expulsion of the MP from Parlaiament.
    Draconian and unworkable? Of course it is. The Greens on the other hand appear to think all politicians on the other side of the fence are corrupt. I may think of course that they might be and I want evidence of all their actions.

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  11. awb (311 comments) says:

    All they are trying to do is create a register of lobbyist meetings with politicians, it is really very simple and works in Canada. The assumption is not that politicians are corrupt, just that democracy is better served by openness and accountability. I hope that all parties realise it is in their interest to support this bill to help restore public faith in elected representatives. http://afinetale.blogspot.co.nz/2012/04/how-many-parties-will-sign-up-to-this.html

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  12. Lloyd (125 comments) says:

    This does not remove the problem which occurs when the lobbyists are hired ‘in-house’, as Helen Clark did, hiring the Forest & Bird folk to be on her staff, or Labour appointing Claire Curran to the Environment Ministry to subvert process there!

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  13. backster (2,302 comments) says:

    There should be as few rules and regulations as possible. Before a new statute are introduced an existing one should be repealed.. Government should be a simple process.

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