There was much hue and cry about that the Association of Community Retailers, a lobby group for small retailers who'd bear some costs from changes to tobacco display regulations, had some administrative support from the tobacco industry. Keith Ng did some nice investigative work there. But the total value of tobacco industry support would have been what, Glen Inwood's pay plus a bit for a PR firm? It's pretty hard to imagine it being more than $250k per year. Even if we assume that the whole thing was run by the tobacco industry, the total spend on it can't have been much.
David Farrar reports on government astroturf funding:
That's in addition to ample government funding of the Public Health Association, the SmokeFree Coalition and others. Read Farrar's whole piece; he reckons there's at least a million dollars a year going from government to the various anti-tobacco groups whose main purpose is building public support for ever more draconian anti-tobacco legislation.The current ASH contract allows it to “liaise with government and private health agencies, the media and any other appropriate organisations to raise public awareness of tobacco related issues and developments”. It says it will “prepare and distribute media briefings, commentary and releases on key tobacco issues. This will include maintaining relationships with key media.”
A quick look at the ASH website makes it clear it is a lobby group, but a lobby group that gets 89% of its funding from the taxpayer. I am all in favour of taxpayer funding quit smoking initiatives, but not funding a lobby group. One of its values is “A dedication to influencing public policy and social norms to tobacco related harm.” It has a page on its current campaigns, of which seven are about law changes, only one is actually about quitting smoking,
The current ASH contract provides for it to receive $578,000 p.a of taxpayer money in 2012. I’d say the vast majority of this goes on lobbying and media activities.
Government agencies are not allowed to contract with NGOs for lobbying. It violates Treasury guidelines; similar nonsense resulted in a State Services Commission investigation a decade ago. Again, read Farrar's whole post.
But I would bet against any SSC investigation this time around. Tony Ryall is Minister of Health and wouldn't put up with this kind of nonsense if it were under his bailiwick, but this is Tariana Turia's baby. She's the Associate Health Minister responsible for tobacco. When I wrote Ryall's office complaining of Turia's promotion of what I still regard as highly flawed tobacco costing figures, he punted it back to Turia; he seemed not to want to be involved in anything going on in the Associate Minister's office. SSC investigation would lead back to Turia's likely having signed off, and then the coalition agreement with the Maori Party would likely trump Treasury guidelines. And I'd expect the government to reckon it better not to have any SSC investigation than to get into that mess.
Things are little different in the UK either.
* Indoctrination...to keep you in your place.... [lyrics mildly NSFW]
** I thought the term was common knowledge, but Seamus was puzzled. Astroturf is the general term for a group that purports to be grassroots-based but is really corporate-sponsored. More effort seems to go into identifying corporate astroturf than government astroturf though; I call it part of the generalized problem of one-sided scepticism.