yesterday i wrote a post at the hand mirror about kim dotcom, and the effects of a lack of transparency on the stability of our political system.
today, i want to continue talking about money and politics. this was the front page story in the waikato times today:
A Hamilton businessman is bankrolling a campaign to bring down the city council.
Ray Stark, executive chairman and sole shareholder of interactive messaging company Talkingtech, which has operations in London, New York, Los Angeles and around the world, has confirmed he is "Concerned Citizen".
as with mr banks, i wouldn't be sad to see the last of many of these city councillors. i think they made appalling decisions regarding the v8, and i wrote a few posts around november last year about their lack of due diligence and the allegedly criminal behaviour of michael redman.
what makes matters worse is that these self-same councillors, who basically abdicated their responsibilities, then made the decision not to pursue a court case against mr redman. i don't know how that is even allowed: that very interested parties can have the power to make a decision like this. they claimed it was because of the cost, but the imminent danger of their own actions coming into the public arena in a way that would be extremely detrimental to themselves must surely have played a part in that decision? it's a huge conflict of interest, and a decision they should not have been allowed to make. only two councillors were against the decision not to proceed with a case, one of those being martin gallagher.
so yes, i think they've done an extremely poor job. they've made decisions that have put the city into significant debt for very little or no gain. they've spent on capital projects and now want to cut important services to pay for that, regardless of the fact that people in the city did not support said projects.
but even so, i find it deeply concerning that a citizen who obviously has money to spare, is able to influence the election of city councillors in this way. we are not talking about free speech here. we are talking about paid speech - paid advertising - which the majority of citizens in this city simply can not afford. most of us couldn't possibly go around putting up billboards across the city, and it appears that mr stark is planning to do this in other cities as well.
while it looks like he is on the side of the people against a hugely unpopular council, there is the underlying question of which councillors he will be supporting. if they are councillors that support big businesses at the expense of the rest of the people in this city, then that is just wrong. but even if that's not the case, he shouldn't have the ability to influence the outcomes of elections in this way.
if he restricted his campaign to his website (although these too can cost quite a bit of money, depending on how technical they are), and to social media, or to drumming up a group of volunteers who waved signs at street corners, then i would probably support that campaign. i might even volunteer to wave the signs. but paid advertising is another matter altogether, and i don't think it's right that one individual with a lot of money should be able to have this kind of influence.