Lobbyists and Labour advisers in Government

Bryce Edwards has interesting coverage of the revolving door from lobbyist to Government to lobbyist again in Political Roundup: The Government’s revolving door for lobbyists

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.

…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?

The NBR’s Brent Edwards investigated yesterday, and he got a statement out of Thompson: “I took a leave of absence from the company while I worked in the Beehive. My time in the Beehive was always on a temporary basis and we took careful steps to manage it” – see: PM’s former staffer says he declared potential conflict of interest (paywalled).

Brent Edwards also reports: “Ministerial Services has not yet responded to questions from NBR on how the potential conflict of interest was handled. All lobbying firms make a point of promoting the political and public service experience of their staff, including how that gives them access to the political process not necessarily enjoyed by others.”

Plenty of questions remain about the situation. It is highly unusual to have a lobbyist become the Chief of Staff for a government, in the full knowledge and declaration that they will then swap immediately sides after the appointment. It certainly puts Thompson and his business in an extremely strong position. After all, Thompson had the role of recruiting a number of the new people staffing the Beehive. He will know the ins and outs of the staff he hired, as well as everything about the new administration generally.

As Laura Walters puts it in her article, “Thompson left his lobbying job to help set up the new government, before returning to his life in Auckland, meaning he has up-to-date knowledge of and contacts within government.”

This Government pledged more openness and transparency. This sort of morphing between Government adviser and lobbyist (paid money to influence Government) deserves a lot more  light and scrutiny.

(Thanks for pointing this out Maggy)

13 Comments

  1. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  February 21, 2018

    Yes, I missed it originally in the Herald.

    Someone posted a link to it on KB, but not much comment yet.

    I’m interested to see that Brent Edwards is working on this story. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more.

  2. Blazer

     /  February 22, 2018

    The biggest leap backwards in political influencers was of course,Keys black ops unit headed by Jason Ede,2 doors down from the… P.M’s office.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  February 22, 2018

      Wasn’t that more about influence coming FROM the Government?
      Do you have an opinion on the actual story above?

      • Blazer

         /  February 22, 2018

        No Ede was not officially part of Govt.The question of paid lobbyists accessing the ‘ear’ of Govt is one that needs to be dealt with.It wouldn’t be such a lucrative growth industry if it was not succeeding in its raison d’etre.Some quarantine period needs to be introduced regarding those like Thompson or Eagleson re access,although you can bet ,they will find ways around it.

        • High Flying Duck

           /  February 22, 2018

          Ede was an employee of the National Party and worked in the Prime Minister’s office. You’re being a bit cute saying that is not “part of the Government”.
          The accusations, such as they were, were that he fed information from the 9th Floor to Slater and other media.
          This is the exact opposite of what lobbyists do.

          • Blazer

             /  February 22, 2018

            I never described Ede as a lobbyist…black ops man…yes.

            • High Flying Duck

               /  February 22, 2018

              Apologies – I made the grievous error of thinking your comments were related to the post. I must stop doing that…

            • Blazer

               /  February 22, 2018

              as someone who wouldn’t know a speculator from, a parasite ,I accept,your apology.

          • PartisanZ

             /  February 22, 2018

            What could be worse … feeding information from Slater to the 9th Floor?

    • David

       /  February 22, 2018

      Given your viciousness towards Bishop and Barclay for working for tobacconists and similar hatred for Sky City gambling I am guessing you are outraged by the Thompson appointment given his connection there.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  February 23, 2018

        If Blazer doesn’t know the difference, as he has just admitted, why is is he talking about this issue ?

  3. PartisanZ

     /  February 22, 2018

    Vested interests and their lobbyists running government … !?

    NOOOO ….. NEVER!!!

    Who would have thought that up? When did this start to happen ‘big time’? What role does ‘Think Tank’ sophistry play …?

    https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/12-02-2018/meet-nzs-new-breed-of-political-lobbyists/

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