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WTO Corporates Pay $250,000 For Dinners

While upwards of 50,000 protesters are on the streets of Seattle demonstrating against the World Trade Organisation, the corporates are paying up to US$250,000 each to attend ceremonies and ministerial dinners. John Howard reports.

When news first broke of the Seattle Host Organisation's request for contributions, a controversy ensued over a promise that high donors would be able to attend a conference at which "the private sector will meet senior US trade officials to discuss priorities for the coming WTO round."

That offer drew a swift rebuke from the Office of the US Trade Representative and the promised conference was cancelled.

However, corporate contributors were not to be denied. Those donating at the Emerald Level, a US$250,000 contribution, are entitled to send five guest's to the WTO Host Organisation's opening and closing receptions and to attend an exclusive ministerial dinner.

They are also provided with briefing updates on the ministerial's progress, assistance with room reservations, media assistance and hospitality service.

Then there is corporate contributions at the Diamond Level ($150,000 to $249,999), the Platinum Level ($75,000 to $149,999), and the Gold Level ($25,000 to $74,999).

Perhaps the most important benefit of all is the opportunity to rub shoulders with policymakers and high ranking bureaucrats in a hyper-niche image market with a group of hundreds of policymakers as their target.

Which means in the world today you can buy anything you want with money - including power. What the corporates do is buy access and access provides an opportunity for influence.

Money is the bottom line. The formula is simple; access and money for political causes or campaigns develop political friendships. Sooner or later those "friends" come calling which means the donor's have more access to the politician than the ordinary voter.

Lobbyists are carefully chosen. They are assigned to a specific elected leader and they go to work on him or her. Everything they do, every expense they incur is simply an investment in the long-term goal. A lobbyist's candidate who wins an election is a successful investment in the eyes of the lobbyist's employer.

When it comes to lobbying, it's an equal opportunities affair. Often money is apportioned equally between opposing parties and that makes perfect sense from a business point of view. It doesn't matter who is in office as long as you get what you want.

It's human nature to like the treatment and lifestyle and the attention and the power. But the real power belongs to the lobbyist's They hold the keys to the doors the politicians want to open and that makes lobbyist's an essential, but unwanted, part of the political process as it exists today.

On the other hand, activists or demonstrators, are at a decided disadvantage. Activists don't make friends with politicians, they usually have an adversarial relationship rather than a friendly one with the elected leaders they are trying to influence.

Usually, if activists think they have proof and a good argument for their cause they will win. They think if they have enough public support they will win.

Wrong!

For example, just watch what happens to the two expensive referendum's we voted on at last Saturday's election. Even though there was overwhelming public support for the two propositions, the chances of them becoming law are almost zero, zip, zilch.

Indeed, just over 72 hour's since being elected, some politicians are already saying they won't support them in the Parliament. Democracy? Fat Chance!

I'm not interested whether the questions were too complicated, too involved, or should have been asked differently or seperated. What I'm interested in is democracy - i.e. the will of the people as expressed in Parliament.

Isn't it amazing that politicians will readily accept Saturday's vote for them as totally binding, but nothing else is. Doesn't anybody find that hypocritical and outrageous?

Clearly, citizens and activists alike are going to have to rethink their approach and they must be willing to compete with the lobbyist's in a way that has potential for success.

That way some politicians will have to again confront their betrayal of the public's trust - just 72 hours after being elected.

ends

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