Lobbyist – PM Chief of Staff – lobbyist

No matter how it was being managed, this looks questionable for Jacinda Ardern’s office.

The Spinoff (22 February 2018):  Conflict of interest concerns over lobbyist turned chief of Jacinda Ardern’s staff

The government lobbyist who served for several months as chief of staff to the prime minister as the new government took office says he didn’t do any work for the lobbying firm of which he is part-owner while working at the Beehive. Nor, he says, was he paid by the business.

In response to questions on potential conflicts of interest, GJ Thompson, who advised the prime minister for five months ending last Friday, told The Spinoff he “declared the potential conflict at the very outset” and that it was for the Department of Internal Affairs to manage any conflict.

Before taking on the leading Labour position he was a partner at Thompson Lewis, the lobbying firm he founded in 2016. Having left the role, he has returned to Auckland and his firm to continue as a lobbyist.

His time advising Ardern leads in his promotional bio on the front page of the firm’s website, which boasts: “He spent five months as chief of staff to prime minister Jacinda Ardern, assisting the new government transition into the Beehive.” The firm’s blurb advertises its “strong political networks” and its partners’ “significant time in senior roles in Government and Opposition”.

The Spinoff asked the prime minister’s office whether Thompson’s clients were disclosed to the prime minister, how any conflicts were managed, and whether the prime minister knew Thompson remained a director and shareholder of his firm while we was working as chief of staff.

The PM’s office said these were questions for Ministerial Services as Thompson’s employer.

The Spinoff asked Thompson about these circumstances and how any conflicts of interest were managed, including whether the disclosure was about his role at the firm generally, or relating to particular clients.

Thompson responded: “Your questions are best directed to DIA [the Department of Internal Affairs] given they were the employer. DIA manages any potential conflict of interest. I declared the potential conflict at the very outset of my short-term appointment.”

“While I was temporarily working as chief of staff, I took a leave of absence from Thompson Lewis and did not work for the business at all”, he said.

Less than a month ago he transferred shares in the firm to another lobbyist, Sifa Taumoepeau, who is now also a director. And very recently the firm announced a recruiting decision likely to have been made some time during Thompson’s five months as chief of staff: the appointment of Wayne Eagleson, former chief of staff to John Key and Bill English, as a consulting partner at the firm.

Lobbyists mingling with Government and political parties has raised eyebrows for years.

The guidance for state servants explains: “Any commercial activities, investments or other personal interests must not influence the work we do, and we must be open in declaring where our interests may potentially conflict with our responsibilities.”

It remains unclear from the answers provided by Thompson, the prime minister’s office, and the Department of Internal Affairs whether Thompson disclosed his clients’ identities or simply that he was involved in Thompson Lewis, though that question was put directly to all three.

Without knowing who Thompson’s clients are, it would have been challenging for the department and the prime minister’s office to decide what steps should be taken to mitigate potential conflicts of interest, such as what information Thompson should have had access to, and whether he should have resigned his directorship of the firm.

Risks of corruption aside, political scientist Bryce Edwards, speaking to RNZ about his coverage of Thompson’s appointment, explained why he was concerned about changes in the lobbying industry: “There is increasing suspicion about what is basically a political class.”

“A lot of people — in especially the Wellington circles — that work in government departments, work in ministers’ offices, or are politicians, then work in the media, they work in PR, they work in lobbying. It’s all a bit too close, I think. It’s a very cohesive political class.”

This sort of public/private intermingling looks unlikely to change if politicians see advantages in it for themselves.

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  23rd May 2019

    yes not a good look at..all.

    Never buy this ‘Chinese wall’….nonsense.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  23rd May 2019

      Oh dear, oh dear.

      Grimacing and nodding won’t get her out of this one.

      Reply
      • Maggy Wassilieff

         /  23rd May 2019

        Sure she will get out of it..
        The MSM aren’t going to run with anything that exposes her in a dodgy light.

        Reply
  2. Oh… oh… Time for another distraction, a family photo shoot and a puff piece or two about the First Family.

    Reply
  3. Oh… oh… Time for another distraction, a family photo shoot and a puff piece or two about the First Family.

    Reply
  4. lurcher1948

     /  23rd May 2019

    Settle petals,no one cares,dont get ulcers over something the public DONT CARE ABOUT….just saying

    Reply
  1. Lobbyist – PM Chief of Staff – lobbyist — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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