Time for rules around lobbying

Wayne Eagleson

There is concern around the lobbying activities of two Labour-associated lobbyists and a former National staffer.

In many democracies, they call it the “revolving door” of influence – whereby political insiders shift easily between government jobs or positions and lobbying work in the private sector. It’s considered especially pernicious because it can cause conflicts of interest and inequalities of power in democracies. Essentially, lobbying firms and their clients have become more powerful in the political system because they are able to employ insiders who have all the contacts and valuable information on what is going on behind the scenes.

The situation has become so serious that some countries are trying to shut the “revolving door” – making it illegal for people to shift so quickly between these roles. It’s common now for officials and politicians to be subject to a “cooling down” period of six to 12 months before they can take up lobbying positions that might relate to the work they carried out in government.

No such rules exist here in New Zealand, but that doesn’t mean they’re not needed. This week a perfect example of the “revolving door” of government officials and lobbying has occurred. The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff has shifted from the Beehive to a lobbying firm. Lobbyist Gordon Jon Thompson, has been a political manager – or “spin doctor” – and lobbyist for a long time, and shifts between government and private sector jobs with apparent ease.

The story about Thompson was actually buried within an article by Laura Walters yesterday, which focused on another interesting – but less contentious – “revolving door” story about another former chief of staff, National’s Wayne Eagleson – see: Former National Party chief of staff joins firm of Labour’s top advisers.

Walters’ story is mainly about how Eagleson was Chief of Staff for National over the last nine years, first with John Key for eight years, and for the last year with Bill English. He has now joined a lobbying firm that is part owned by Thompson.

But the Thompson story is potentially much bigger, and certainly much more problematic. Thompson, who has been a lobbyist and PR professional for many years, worked with Jacinda Ardern last year, helping prepare her for the TV leaders debates. And then when she formed the new government she invited Thompson to be Labour’s Chief of Staff, despite the fact that he would remain a lobbyist and director of his Thompson Lewis firm.

Walters’ article states, “Thompson finished a four-month stint as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s acting chief of staff, while chief of staff Mike Munro was recovering from illness.” This means Thompson was made Chief of Staff by the Prime Minister, with the full knowledge that he would then return to his lobbying business, where he would be involved with clients with an interest on influencing the new government. Indeed, he finished work last Friday in his job as the number one adviser to Jacinda Ardern, and resumed his lobbying job yesterday.

The issue immediately raises issues about potential conflicts of interest. Many questions come to mind, including: Why did the Prime Minister agree to hire Thompson when she knew he was coming from a position in a lobbying firm, and that he would then be resuming as a lobbyist as soon as he finished in her office? Did she see this as problematic? Did Ministerial Service advise that this was OK? Was the Prime Minister made aware of which clients Thompson was working for? Who were these clients?

David Lewis

The word around town is that despite the claims to the contrary the two Labour flunkies, especially, have been touting their access to the ninth floor. Bear in mind that David Lewis is also deeply embedded in Phil Goff’s office.

If this was National lobbyists Labour would calling out corruption faster than you could even say the word. Strangely, they are justifying the appalling conflicts of interest.

I think there does need to be a stand-down period, but I don’t think we need to go as far as the idiot Greens who want to ban all lobbyists.

 

-NZ Herald


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

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