Thursday, February 10, 2011

What is the difference?

What are the morally relevant differences between (a) unlimited, publicly unaccountable lobbying and (b) bribery? Perhaps I'm overlooking something obvious, but I'm genuinely confused.


Michael Canaris said...

That between time and money?

Matheson said...

One is public, the other is not. At least in principle.

Anthony Douglas said...

Dogs and dalmatians. Bribery is a form of lobbying, but we should at least presume that it is possible for a lobbyist to be employed to discover and clearly express the most persuasive arguments towards some end.

Anonymous said...

Yes what is the difference?
In the various privatisations (theft) of former public assets, the rent seekers charge high fees or so called commissionsfor their services (to themselves and their their corporate friends) and inevitably recommend that the assets get sold to their corporate fellow travelers.
Sometimes in the form of public/private undertakings. The contractual conditions of which are always structured so that the rent-seeking smarties never ever lose, and/or manage to well and truly squeeze ever last cent of the deal. At the expense of me and you the ordinary tax-payer.

A certain Mac bank specializes in this process.

Jon said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "publicly unaccountable lobbying". Lobbying is part of democracy - anyone can go and see their MP and say what they want. I work for a number of advocacy organisations and they try to build up relationships with the minister for their field and be in constant dialogue about policy. The minister may or may not do what they suggest, it's just a way of letting him or her know their views. I can't really see this as bribery but perhaps its not what you mean. Then most of the groups I work for have neither power nor money and so have nothing to bribe with, we just rely on goodwill and the power of a good argument.

Bribery involves the politician or decision-maker accepting a personal benefit (money or otherwise) to make a decision which they would not otherwise have made and which may not be in the public interest - generally a decision which benefits the person giving the bribe.

There is also an "in between" area - for instance party donors having special access. The Minister doesn't get a direct personal benefit but it certainly helps him or her get re-elected. And then there's the recent Aussie mining tax debacle in which the big mining companies used their immense wealth to launch an advertising campaign which almost brought down the government. Not bribery because no politician got paid, but ethically pretty dodgy nonetheless.

byron smith said...

Yes, sorry for being unclear. By lobbying, I was referring to the payment of funds as a contribution to the election of an individual or party in order to gain access or influence.

byron smith said...

I don't mind citizens talking to politicians and putting forward a case - not at all! I do it myself quite regularly. It is particularly the effect that large monetary contributions have on this process that concerns me.

byron smith said...

I note that the Australian Greens call for "public funding of elections to eliminate private funding."

And the UK Greens (actually the Green Party England and Wales, since Scotland has its own Green Party) include this in their most recent manifesto (p.32):
• End the corrupting effects of big private and Trade Union donations to political parties, and bring in a fair system of state funding.
• Ensure that all lobbying, and in particular corporate lobbying, is registered and fully disclosed.

byron smith said...

Sorry - link to the first claim is here.

Jon said...

That makes more sense. There are currently systems in place in most Western nations for political donations to be declared publicly, and some like the US have limits on the amount from any one donor. However, where there's a law there's a loophole. If you ban political donations altogether, do you simply privelige rich people who can pay for their own campaigns?

byron smith said...

Jon - Yes, the US has limits, but only on "hard money". "Soft money" contributions from corporations have been thrown wide open by the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission last year.

If you ban political donations altogether, do you simply privelige rich people who can pay for their own campaigns?
"According to an analysis of financial disclosures by the Center for Responsive Politics, just under half of the US Senators and Representatives, 261 of 535, were millionaires in 2009, compared to 1 percent of the population at large. Fifty-five of these Congressmen have a net worth of greater than $10 million, and eight have fortunes estimated at over $100 million." (Source)
The rich are already running the place (in the UK, 23 of 29 members of cabinet are millionaries).

Banning contributions could also be accompanied by capping campaign spending and making public money the only legitimate source.

But as you point out, the details could be tricky and loopholes are ubiquitous. My post really arose from frustration with the distorting effects of money on democracies pretty much everywhere.

Alan Wood said...

Interesting that the Greens are keen to see expanded state funding of election campaigning. The funding status quo in Australia is for campaign funding to be affected by your share of the vote. IIRC, you get refunded (not funded) by a dollar amount per vote, once you crack a certain mark (5%? I can't remember).
There's an argument to be made that this has entrenched the major parties, who both are assured of a reasonably high primary vote b/c they are the 'safe' options. Even after NSW Labor gets its bottom paddled on 26 March, the Labor machine will collect State Electoral Office funding for the sake of its rusted-on supporters. Both majors get a half-life. This is to the exclusion of minors (including the Greens) and independents.
AFAIK, it's an unforeseen policy outcome, but who would legislate to change it?

Alan Wood said...

The other issue about election funding is that we vote in electorates that are typically much smaller than our media markets. Who would take out a full-page ad in the Sydney papers to try to win over Baulkham Hills? Who can afford to pay for airtime on NBN? Should I close my eyes now and say, 'The internet will change all this'?

byron smith said...

Alan - both good points. I don't know how funding reform will be possible when in most countries, it is those with most to lose who have the power to change it. It will really need a public groundswell, and I don't see that happening in the near future.

In other news, UK Tories get over 50% of funding from bankers.

byron smith said...

This is what I'm talking about. Watch it.