March 2, 2015 Print

It’s bad enough when people use their own money to lobby the government for money or special treatment. For years, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), an Atlas Network partner based in the United Kingdom, has written about an even more insidious problem — the widespread use of taxpayer funds to lobby for more self-serving privileges. Last week, the UK government’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) announced that it is joining the fight by “amending its grant agreements to include a new anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppet clause,” and urging other departments to follow suit.

“It is madness for the government to be giving taxpayers’ money to organisations which then proceed to lobby the government, often for more money,” said Christopher Snowdon, IEA’s director of lifestyle economics, in a press release. “Not only is it a waste of public funds, it is profoundly undemocratic. I'm delighted that DCLG is taking a stand against this sock-puppetry and I hope other departments will follow suit."

DCLG Secretary Eric Pickles echoed these views in a statement within his department’s press release, which also cited IEA’s work as instrumental in its decision to fight taxpayer-funded lobbying.

“Local enterprise partnerships should follow the principles that apply to government and local authorities, which prevents any expenditure incurred in retaining the services of lobbyists to influence public officials, Members of Parliament, political parties or the government,” Pickles said. “If local enterprise partnerships have any specific concerns or points they would like to put across to government then they can easily talk directly to myself, other ministers or officials. This will both be more effective, and ensure appropriate use of public funds.”

In a 2012 study illustrating the extent of the problem, IEA found that 27,000 charities in Britain are “dependent on the government for more than 75 per cent of their income and the ‘voluntary sector’ receives more money from the state than it receives in voluntary donations.”

Read IEA’s “Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why.”