Under legislation proposed by Green MP Ms Ms Holly Walker, people who receive pay for lobbying MPs about laws or policies and who fail to register with the Attorney-General as paid lobbyists, could face criminal charges. The Lobbying Disclosure Bill, drawn from the parliamentary ballot on 21 April 2012, seeks to bring transparency to the activities of all paid lobbyists who attempt to sway and influence legislative processes by communicating with MPs. The bill proposes that the Auditor-General be empowered to investigate any alleged breaches of a Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, which all paid lobbyists must agree to and sign, before they can lawfully engage in the lobbying of MPs. The Auditor-General will also be empowered to remove or suspend persons from a Register of Lobbyists if they breach the Code of Conduct.
Ms Walker wants regular statistics to be gathered on all paid lobbyists and the data regularly collated and reviewed, so the public, government officials and a host of enforcement agencies can closely scrutinise all their activities.
If her proposed bill, as drafted, passes into law, charities registered with the Charities Commission, such the the New Zealand Aids Foundation (NZAF), that are heavily engaged in political advocacy and lobbying AND receive significant government funding (see below); will need to have all and every one of their paid lobbyists sign a Lobbyists’ Code of [ethical] Conduct and register their personal details on the Register of Lobbyists.
Failure to do so prior to watching a rugby match from a NZAF-sponsored corporate box, or watching a NZAF-sponsored modelling pageant, alongside any MP or MPs, regardless of their gender, age, race, religion, political affiliation or sexuality; might lead to an unauthorised NZAF lobbyist having criminal charges being laid against him or her. Such unauthorised lobbyists attending a Big Gay Out event or a Hero Parade, who might be photographed or filmed arm-in-arm with an MP, whilst indulging in “political advocacy,” may face the prospect of being charged with criminal activity (lobbying).
Once charged, the NZAF charity worker accused would be required in make a credible defence to the Attorney-General, disclosing the range of presumably “gay” friendly legislative issues discussed with the friendly MP, and the methods used in the lobbying campaign, if any.
Authorised NZAF lobbyists who face charges over alleged breaches of the Code will have to rely on the official records made of their lobbying encounters as recorded by the friendly MPs as well as their own diary records and any corroborating evidence provided by Big Gay-Out/Hero Parade participants/witnesses.
(NZAF, a registered charity [CC22230], which received $4,112,376 in government funding/contracts, and $342,029 in other grants/sponsorship in the financial year ending 30 June 2011, has “40-something staff throughout the country” according to one NZAF official. No figures have been provided as to how many of these are paid lobbyists. $2,564,846 was spent by NZAF on salaries/wages in 2010/2011. See www.charities.govt.nz ).
The Auditor-General would need to scrutinise the lobbying activities of registered charities like NZAF, if the latter’s paid staff were charged with unlawful lobbying, and refer offending paid charity workers to the police if they breached the new law. The Bill requires a report on any suspended or deregistered paid lobbyist to be reported to Parliament, as well as all investigations of such breaches to be undertaken.
Given that the Auditor-General is an MP, he or she will have to be very, very, careful in all dealings with undercover paid lobbyists, particularly when attending highly-visible social events, if the bill passes into law.
Reference: Lobbying Disclosure Bill. In the name of Green Party MP, Ms Holly Walker.