Fisking Sue Kedgley

June 29th, 2013 at 9:07 am by David Farrar

Former Green MP Sue Kedgley wrote an article about MPs in the UK taking money to ask questions on behalf of various groups. She said that this could happen here.

I was going to fisk her article, but Andrew Geddis has helpfully done it for us. He points out that while there is not a document called a code of ethics, such an action would probably be a contempt of Parliament under standing  orders, and also corruption under the Crimes Act.

Geddis concludes:

So I’m not necessary saying that Sue Kedgley is wrong to call for greater regulation of lobbying activities in New Zealand. But any concern that there is nothing in place to stop New Zealand’s parliamentarians replicating the worst excesses of their British counterparts is misplaced. 

Kedgley wrote the bill that Holly Walker introduced last year about regulation of lobbyists. It was so incompetently drafted that its impact on free speech would be monumental. If I responded to a tweet fron an MP on a copyright issue, then I could face a large fine if I didn’t notify the Auditor-General of that tweet!

I think there would be benefits in having a register of lobbyists and clients. This can of course be done without legislation, either voluntarily or through Standing Orders.

Kedgley’s bill is so over-reaching that for it to proceed, it would need such drastic surgery as to effectively be a new bill.

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Will they eat their own dogfood?

June 7th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Russel Norman said:

We will close the door to lobbyists and special interests. We will keep politics honest by restoring public input to law making.

This prompted a reader to make this suggestion for how the Greens could implement their pledge:

Greens to cut ties with Environmental Groups and Trade Unions

Given that the Greens like open Government then they will have to “close the door ” to all lobbyists won’t they. Forest and Bird and all the anti mining groups will be blacklisted,the cycling groups will get no entry into the Minister of Transports office and all the child poverty action groups will be shut out,along with the Trade Unions  .Climate Change Scientists,anti-frackers,safe food activists ,clean rivers scientists , opponents of deep sea drilling,animal welfare advocates,light rail supporters ,problem gambling workers ,Keep our Assets Campaigners   and  even rainbow policy activists-None of these people will be allowed access to Green Ministers under a Green Coalition Government .

I look forward to the Greens closing their doors to lobbyists and special interests!

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My submission on the Lobbying Disclosure Bill

October 5th, 2012 at 2:10 pm by David Farrar

SUBMISSION OF DAVID FARRAR ON THE
LOBBYING DISCLOSURE BILL TO THE GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE

 About the Submitter

  1. This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.
  2. I frequently communicate with MPs and staff on political, policy and legislative issues. The views expressed are always my own, yet under this legislation in some circumstances I would face large fines unless I I filed a return listing every tweet, e-mail, text message, oral conversation I have with an MP or staff member or a political issue. This would even apply to if an MP asks me for my view on an issue in passing at say a social function or Koru Club.
  3. I chair the Policy Advisory Group of InternetNZ, and get paid a small fee ($1,000 a month) for chairing the group, and working with staff on Internet policy issues. Under the proposed legislation, this would make me a paid lobbyist. I do not regard myself as that, as I only advocate for what I personally believe in, and am not paid to advocate the views of InternetNZ. However the definition in the proposed law would define me as a paid lobbyist.

Background to Bill

  1. This bill seems to be based on a genuine desire to avoid lobbying practices of the type seen overseas, primarily in the United States. I share that desire.
  2. It is important to understand how massively different lobbying in the United States is, compared to New Zealand. In the US lobbying often consists of lobby groups meeting individual representatives and offering them large sums of moneys to help finance their primary or general election campaigns if they vote the desired way on issues. Such funding may often be indirect such as via Political Action Committees or PACs.
  3. Lobbying in New Zealand does not work that way, and due to our laws and culture basically can’t work that way. First of all, political parties tend to vote as a bloc on all but conscience issues. Decisions are taken collectively by a caucus or Cabinet. In the US a political party is more a label, than a formal organization. There is almost no method to impose discipline or expel wayward members. Hence lobbying is about influencing individual members and helping them win elections – the one way they can be “disciplined”.
  4. In New Zealand we have very good transparency requirements around MPs, parties, and money. The Electoral Act requires disclosure of any donation over $1,500 to a candidate of $15,000 to a party. The Register of MPs Pecuniary Interests requires disclosure of any gifts over $500. The Cabinet Manual has similar requirements. Ministers and their staffs disclose under the OIA ridiculously trivial gifts such as tickets to sporting games. So we already have excellent (not perfect) laws and policies in place when it comes to politicians and money.
  5. I also have to say I have never heard of US-style lobbying when an organization or individual has tried to persuade an MP to vote a certain way, because of money which will flow to them. All the lobbying I have ever observed is based on advocacy around what is good for New Zealand, good for a particular affected organization, will a policy actually achieve it aims etc.
  6. So I think we should be very clear that the legal and political framework that exists in New Zealand is critically different to the United States, and this is unlikely to change.

Transparency

  1. Transparency generally is a very good thing in politics. This is why we have the Official Information Act. That is why Parliament meets in open to make laws. We have seen useful extra transparency such as televised sittings of Parliament, online listings of submissions to select committees, disclosure of MPs expenses and the like.
  2. But it is obviously transparency has its limits. Otherwise we would require every MP to have a webcam attached to them that broadcasts video and audio of all their activities. This might make for a very enjoyable reality TV show, but would not be a very good system of Government.
  3. Beyond the Official Information Act, there is no obligation for disclosure of what is discussed at caucus meetings, at cabinet meetings, at select committee meetings when considering legislation amendments, of meetings between MPs and staff, of meetings of political party governing bodies and policy committees, of cross-party parliamentary meetings, of the business committee of Parliament etc etc. These are all very important and powerful forums and discussions.
  4. Transparency is focused on the actual decisions taken by MPs and parties, whom the public holds accountable for them. They are judged by voters based on how they vote, not whom they met with.
  5. As the Attorney-General has pointed out the proposed law, as currently worded, would massively discourage people from communicating with MPs on political issues – with a risk of large fines if they do. I generally believe we want to encourage more people to communicate with MPs on political issues, not discourage them.
  6. I also note that such legislation often has unforeseen consequences. The history of electoral finance legislation in the United States is that the more regulations they impose (and the US is much more heavily regulated than NZ), the more it deters “Joe Average” from involvement, but those determined to be involved just fund loopholes such as PACs.
  7. I believe the bill, in its current form, would be extremely detrimental to New Zealand democracy.

Defining a Lobbyist

  1. The bill defines a lobbyist as someone who engages, for payment, on behalf of any individual or organization on any legislative, policy, funding or contractual issue with any MP or parliamentary staff member. This can include shareholders, directors, officers, contractors and staff.
  2. Some have suggested that unions be exempted from definition as a lobbyist. I oppose that. It would be very uneven if only business groups lobbying on industrial relations issue had to register and disclose, but unions did not.
  3. Some have said that such a regime should apply to professional lobbying firms only, of which NZ has around half a dozen to a dozen. However all that is likely to do is encourage people not to use those firms, even though it may lead to better outcomes if they do. Organisations would simply use their own staff more.
  4. Others have said that the regime should apply only to businesses, as they are motivated by profit. So for example a mining company would have to disclose its lobbying activity, but Greenpeace would not have to. Again I think this is very unbalanced. NGOs can benefit just as much from political decisions as businesses. Staff for NGOs could have employment agreements where they get bonuses if they achieve certain outcomes. Some NGOs such as unions stand to gain millions of dollars from legislative changes that benefit them. Restricting the definition to companies would be unfair.
  5. Such a restriction is also likely to lead to US style PACs. NGOs could be set up and funded to lobby for outcomes, to avoid having to register as lobbyists. Ironically this bill could then see more US style politics, not less.
  6. If there is to be mandatory registration of lobbyists, then the definition must include NGOs, not just businesses.
  7. However I would argue there is an alternative to mandatory registration, and that is a voluntary registration system, without fear of prosecutions and fines if you get it wrong.
  8. It should be noted that we don’t really have a great current problem with transparency of who represents who. If a Telecom staff member meets with MPs, it is clear they are representing Telecom. Likewise when Greenpeace meets with MPs, you know they are Greenpeace. You do not need a register to tell you this. With professional lobbying firms, the argument is you may not know whom they represent when they advocate on an issue. In my experience no lobbying firm has ever advocated on an issue in their own right. They have always stated to MPs and staff which client they represent. Many list them on their website in fact.
  9. So bearing in mind there is no defined current problem with practice, it seems overkill to go all the way to a mandatory registration system with large fines for non-compliance. I would advocate a halfway house.
  10. I propose that as an alternative, a register of lobbyists be set up by the Office of the Speaker and/or the Clerk of the House. Allow organisations and individuals who self-identify as lobbyists to register on it. They could be asked to list their clients, the policy areas of interest to them, and any specific bills they are interested in. This list could be published on the parliamentary website. You could even give an asterisk to those with swipe cards!
  11. As an individual who has a certain degree of experience in lobbying MPs, I would have no problem with going onto a register, both in areas where I do have a financial tie (Internet issues) and those where I have no financial interest (Keep It 18 campaign and Marriage Equality). What I don’t want though is to be risking prosecution and fines. As it happens, I tend to disclose prominently on my blog the issues I take an interest in, and groups I am involved in.
  12. Some may say with no risk of prosecution and fines, such a register would be toothless. I disagree. I think the power of public pressure can be considerable. If prominent individuals or organisations did not register, the media and others could well highlight this to their disadvantage.
  13. An organization that generally is not involved in the parliamentary process such as say the Red Cross shouldn’t feel a need to register just because they may chat about aid issues occasionally to their local MP. But a more political organization such as say Greenpeace would be expected. But rather than scare groups such as Red Cross off with risk of fines, just have an opt in self-recognition system. Have some trust in the public, the media, and even new media to expose any blatant cases of groups not registered who should be. This is preferable to trying to reach a definition of lobbyist that isn’t either unfairly exclusive or so inclusive it deters communications with MPs.

Defining Communications

  1. Defining what counts as a lobbying communication is also very problematic,
  2. The current definition of effectively all communications on a political or policy issues would cover tweets, e-mails, informal chats at functions, letters, formal meetings, phone calls, text messages.
  3. Unlike some countries, our MPs engage all the time with many New Zealanders – including those who may be considered a “lobbyist”. This engagement is far more than sit down meetings in Parliament Buildings. MPs attend scores of meetings and functions where people talk to them on political issues
  4. Speaking personally, I talk to and engage with a number of MPs (from many parties) many times a week. Often we chat socially Sometimes we discuss current events. Sometimes we discuss legislation and policy. The thought that I have to disclose every single discussion I have with MPs (let alone parliamentary staffers) on say Internet related issues (as I am technically a lobbyist for InternetNZ, as this bill is defined) is horrifying. It would be like working for one of those awful law firms where you have to account for every six minutes of your time.
  5. You could restrict the law to be face to face meetings in Parliament only. But then you’ll provide incentives for those not wanting their every discussion with an MP disclosed to avoid face to face meetings and use other mediums.
  6. How do you draw a line where an e-mailed communication is counted as lobbying, but a tweet is not? I think it is mission impossible.
  7. I note that Ministers are already obliged to release their ministerial diaries under the OIA, if requested. We already have transparency with Ministers. They can be asked written or oral questions about whom they meet with or talk to, as well as the OIA.
  8. If there is a desire for greater transparency around meetings with opposition MPs and backbench MPs, then that could be achieved by having them release their diaries also by extending the OIA to Parliamentary Service. That nature of diaries is it will tend to capture planned scheduled meetings, but not ad hoc conversations.
  9. The media can also of course ask MPs about any meetings they have had, and there are political consequences related to refusal to answer.

Summary

  1. I propose that it should not be an offence to communicate with MPs if you are an unregistered “lobbyist”. That is too grievous a restriction on freedom of speech.
  2. I propose that the Select Committee recommend that the Speaker and Office of the Clark establish a Register of Lobbyists, as detailed above. It could be given some formality through Standing Orders if necessary.
  3. I propose that the requirement for reporting all communications between lobbyists and MPs be dropped as unworkable.
  4. As an alternative I propose that MPs diaries be made official information under the Official Information Act, as is the case for Ministers. Note this would still allow deletion of sensitive information as defined under the OIA.

Thank you for considering this submission. I would like to make an oral submission also, and look forward to appearing.

 

David Farrar

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Read between the lines

September 28th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Kate Chapman at Stuff reports:

Trade unions do not want to be exempted from a potential lobbying register, despite Labour’s attempts to have them excluded.

Green MP Holly Walker has a member’s bill that would create a register of lobbyists and require them to follow a code of ethics.

The bill passed its first reading with unanimous support, but Labour has since suggested an amendment that would exempt trade unions.

Fairfax Media can now reveal that the unions have not asked for that and say it would not be practical.

In a draft submission, the Council of Trade Unions expressed concern about the proposed regime.

“Lobbying is a core activity of trade unions, but the consequences on trade unions and NGOs from this bill if it were to proceed have not been sufficiently considered.”

There were practical difficulties in establishing which staff within a union would have to be registered and the reporting requirements and penalties were “particularly burdensome”.

But it did not ask to be exempted from the scheme “on the basis of being unions”.

Rather, the CTU sought different reporting requirements for unions and non-governmental organisations.

Effectively they are still asking for an exemption, or at least reduced requirements. They’re just saying all non-businesses should be exempt or have reduced transparency requirements.

“The CTU has concerns about the increasing influence of corporate lobbying and the influential impact of professional and secret lobbying.”

Translation: Lobbying by businesses is bad and evil, and lobbying by unions and NGOs is good and lovely.

“The bill in its current form treats all lobbyists as if they are equal when lobbyists’ power and influence is very unequal.”

Unions are very powerful lobbyists. If Labour MPs get offside with unions, they risk losing selection battles or being demoted down the list. The next Leader will be 20% elevated by unions, and unions are a primary source of funds and campaign activists for Labour.

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Protecting their overlords

September 27th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Kate Chapman at Stuff reports:

Labour wants trade unions excluded from a potential lobbying register and blames the MP who drafted the plan for including them in the first place.

Green MP Holly Walker’s member’s bill would require those who lobby politicians to be registered and adhere to a code of ethics.

It passed its first reading with unanimous support from all parties, but Labour has since put forward an amendment that would exclude trade unions.

The unions are major backers of the Labour Party.

More than just backers. They

  • get to write industrial relations and other policies
  • have an influential role in list ranking
  • are major funders
  • can tip electorate selections to a preferred candidate
  • will soon have 20% of the vote for future leaders
  • provide a major source of campaign workers

So it is no surprise Labour are desperate to exclude them.

Labour MP Trevor Mallard said the bill was a “bad piece of work” and should have been tidied up before going to select committee.

It would currently capture a union official who rang him to help with a constituent’s housing problem, or a foodbank that wanted assistance getting a client welfare entitlements, he said.

It would also capture an employer that rang him on the same issues. Is Trevor proposing an exemption for businesses? Of course not.

The exemptions should be on what types of activities count as lobbying, not on protecting your union overlords.

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Chauvel on the union exemption from lobbying transparency

July 31st, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald reports:

His amendment would exempt unions and labour organisations, as well as groups such as charities, non-governmental organisations, community groups, churches and sports bodies.

Five trade unions are affiliated to the Labour Party and donate to it, but Mr Chauvel said he had put in the amendment off his own bat. He said the unions were relaxed about the bill, but he believed they were in a similar position to philanthropic, voluntary organisations which were not-for-profit.

“When trade unions came up, it seemed to me that they fell on the not- quite-so-sinister-and-behind-the-scenes side of things.”

He said corporate lobbying had the power to change policy, and was often done on the quiet.

What an incredible argument. Is he saying unions do not have the power to change policy? The CTU has actually written policy adopted by Labour. The unions have huge influence on parliamentary policy.

Ministers are obliged under the OIA to disclose any meetings, if asked. Opposition MPs are not, so any lobbying done on the quiet is of opposition MPs, but of Ministers.

“There is a big public interest in knowing what corporates are doing because they can afford heft lobbying and hospitality, and research and all the rest,” Mr Chauvel said.

I blogged on this some years ago, but be assured that the unions have far greater funds and assets than the business groups such as Business NZ and the Chambers of Commerce.

And is Charles arguing that it is a bad thing for research to be provided to MPs?

Ms Walker said changes were needed to ensure the bill did not cover everyone who spoke to an MP. However, she believed trade unions should be covered by the bill despite Labour’s stance.

Good. The current definition is problematic, and the solutions are not obvious. But one thing I can tell you is that an argument for unions to be exempt is a self-serving one that flies in the face of any claims to actually want transparency.

UPDATE: The Waikato Times editorial is excellent:

Labour’s Charles Chauvel says the bill can be made more workable by exempting the community and voluntary sector from a major burden. He has the gall to include trade unions in that group. This attempt to confine the bill’s scope to commercial organisations, as one commentator observed, would introduce “loopholes you could drive a busload of lobbyists through” while undermining the bill’s objectives.

Wanting to flush National’s business mates into the open but allow Labour’s union mates to continue lobbying covertly is shamefully unprincipled. More perplexing, it would expose a well-intentioned bill to a partisan buffeting that would threaten to sink it.

It is shamefully unprincipled indeed.

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Lobbyist access cards

July 27th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald reported:

Speaker Lockwood Smith has buckled to pressure and named the lobbyists and other frequent visitors at Parliament who have security access cards.

The list of 15 “approved visitors” includes lobbyists from Saunders Unsworth, the Council of Trade Unions, Sky TV, Business NZ and Vector. There are also lawyers, two spouses of former MPs and a pastor who leads a prayer group at Parliament.

The Speaker has also set a new condition that those who get the cards must agree to have their names made public.

The Green Party had strongly objected to lobbyists having access cards and called for the list to be made public, saying it gave some lobbyists privileges to visit MPs under the cloak of secrecy.

There should be more people with access cards, not less. The last thing we want is Parliament less accessible. Three important points people should know.

  1. There are not just 15 “outside” people with parliamentary access cards. There are literally hundreds and hundreds. Half the youth wings of each political party have them, I’ve had one since I left in 2004. Any MP or parliamentary party can arrange an access card for any person. Anyone who is even a semi-regular visitor tends to have one.
  2. Access cards are not about “Who is allowed to see an MP”. That’s what staff are for. An access card does not mean you can bypass MPs secretaries (you could try, but only if you like a short life). All they mean is you can don’t need to go through the metal detector (as you are a known person) and don’t have to wait at the main reception for someone to let you up, but can go through to the MPs specific reception.
  3. We actually (post 9/11) have stricter security access to our MPs than in Wahsington DC. A few years ago I was in DC, and ran into a friend whose father was a Congressman (Jim Sessenbrenner) and he suggested we see his father’s office. While one did have to go through a metal detector, that was it in terms of security. No calling to the office to see if you had an appointment and were expected, you could just walk through the corridors unimpeded. No swipe cards needed.

I firmly believe more people should have swipe cards, not fewer. Any citizen who has a good reasons to visit Parliament on a semi-regular basis should have one, so long as they comply with the rules and do not abuse the privilege. I certainly find it immensely useful, as often when you are there to see an MP (and don’t have your swipe card), the secretary may be out of the office doing a job for the MP, and you have to wait ages for someone to authorise you in, which actually just wastes both their time and yours.

 

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Lobbyists

June 14th, 2011 at 2:30 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Legislation to set up a lobbyists register has been put forward by the Green Party.

Green MP Sue Kedgley today released a copy of Lobbying Disclosure Bill, which she said would go on to the member’s ballot at the next opportunity.

Well thanks to Labour filibustering, there won’t be an opportunity before the election, and as Sue is retiring it means the proposed bill will never be drawn unless another MP adopts it after the election. Its a good reminder of how Labour’s tactics are depriving all other backbenchers from having their bills considered.

Turning to the substance:

The bill would set up a register and a code of conduct for lobbyists.

As in Canada and other western countries, lobbyists would have to publicly notify all meetings with MPs.

I’m not entirely sure what problem this bill seeks to solve. All meetings are discoverable under the OIA. Do you need a law when an e-mail every six months will achieve the same with regard to meetings.

The proposed law also requires lobbyists to disclose their clients. Now look I’m not saying there is a problem with having a register, but it is already pretty well known who represents whom.  And some firms, such as Saunders Unsworth, actually list their clients on their website.

I’m not aware of any behaviour when a lobbyist has not disclosed whom they are acting on behalf of.

So while I’m not against a register of lobbyists, I don’t think it is the most pressing issue facing the country. but members bills are about backbench MPs proposing what they see as important, so Sue has done that.

”The public has no way of knowing who is lobbying their politicians or what they are being lobbied about. There is also no information available on which lobbyists have special access to Parliament granted to them by the Speaker,” Kedgley said.

This fixation with special access to Parliament mystifies me. Hundreds of non parliamentarians have ID cards for Parliament. Dozens of party office holders have them, as do dozens of the youth wings who often come in to volunteer. Family members have them, as do hundreds of govt officials.

We have security at Parliament not to make it hard for people to see MPs, but to stop terrorists coming in and blowing the place up. My view is that anyone who is a regular visitor to Parliament (say more than 2-3 times a year) should be able to get a ID card so long as someone will vouch for them.

I’ve had an ID card since 1996. I was staff from 1996 to 2004 and after I left I’ve kept a card as I usually come into Parliament once ever couple of months or so and it is handly to avoid going through the metal detectors.

In the last few months, most of my visits have actually been to meet Labour, Green and ACT MPs over the copyright and telecommunications bills (where I have in fact been lobbying for them to support changes that National was against), plus been attending meetings about the reporting of suicides chaired by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.

If there is a register of lobbyists, a key issue will be how you define lobbyists. 90% of lobbying is done directly by staff working for corporates. I would suggest they should be listed, not just the external lobbying firms.

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.

As I said at the beginning, thanks to Labour this bill will never see light of day. If it ever gets adopted by another MP in future, then a very interesting issue will be that definition of a lobbyist.

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