The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government
It’s likely that you won’t learn anything shockingly new here, but it’s still fascinating to listen to Bob Kaiser, the long time correspondent and associate editor of the Washington Post trace the rising influence of the multi-billion dollar lobbyist industry in recent decades.
The rest of the interview can be viewed here and here (or see the whole thing at the PBS website).
Hypocrisy. What did you think I was going to say?
Way back in the distant mists of time — 2006 to be precise — newly minted prime minister Stephen Harper proudly rolled out his very first piece of legislation — the much touted and ballyhooed, cleaner-than-clean, whiter-than-white Federal Accountability Act:
“The FAA will change the system. It won’t make government perfect because people are not perfect. But it will provide stronger and clearer rules for governments to follow, and enforce corrections and consequences when things go wrong. The Federal Accountability Act contains a series of exhaustive measures to clean up government and undertake a real spring-cleaning in Ottawa. Once it is implemented the FAA will: Prevent former ministers, ministerial staff and senior officials from using their political relationships to profit from their public service…”
I’m not sure who was actually dumb enough to think that it would actually “change the system”… Could such fantastically naïve, hopelessly stupid creatures possibly exist on planet Earth? Methinks not! Oh wait.
Anyway, never mind that. Fast-forward to the amazing world of just yesterday where we learn that:
Ian Brodie, who was Stephen Harper’s chief of staff between January of 2006 and July of this year, will be joining the offices of Hill & Knowlton in Ottawa next month as a senior counsel.
His new job comes three years after the Tories vowed to stop the revolving door between the federal government and the lobbying industry.
The 2006 Accountability Act will prevent Mr. Brodie from directly lobbying government officials, but he will be working with clients on “government relations” at the provincial, federal and international levels, according to Hill & Knowlton.
I know, I know but it’s “different”… Oh, and “The Liberals did it too!” There really has to be a breaking point at which that feeble excuse ceases to fly anymore. Personally, I think it ceased to be even remotely valid when the Conservatives finally dropped the silly “New” branding whenever referring to the government. Your mileage however may vary.
In one of his recent musings on the pre-election stump, Stephen Harper referred to the current parliament as being “dysfunctional” — a dubious assertion by most objective measures such as the number of bills passed and so on, but perhaps one that’s not altogether without credence as illustrated by a story reported by the Canadian Press today about a serious flaw in government’s vaunted “Accountability Act” that became law at the beginning of July.
According to the CP, it’s just now come to light that the federal Lobbying Act has a “trucksize” loophole in a clause involving the reporting of arranged meetings that would effectively allow for an owner or director of a private firm to lobby the government without ever having to report it. Incredibly, this loophole passed completely unnoticed at every stage on its way to becoming legislation by those responsible for vetting it; namely, Opposition MPs and the Senate. What makes that totally inexcusable is that the loophole is made completely obvious in a government interpretation bulletin and is actually being used as one of the five examples in materials explaining the new law to the industry.
The exception to the rule seriously undercuts the “transparency” that the government purports to be striving for and could easily be subject to abuse. If the CP’s report that the loophole “took even lobbyists by surprise” is to be taken seriously, then would it be fair to suggest that this is yet another example of poorly drafted legislation being put forward by the Harper government? If that’s the case, the parliament truly is “dysfunctional” because everyone responsible will have dropped the ball here from start to finish.
According to NDP MP Pat Martin “any reasonable person” would consider the example in question be a reportable activity, adding that he couldn’t remember it being discussed “because who could conceive of something so ridiculous?” Good question. Who indeed?