The political influence of big business is often, and justly, maligned. But there are cases where the (theoretically) not-for-profit nature of certain large organizations gives them a political reach far in excess of what an equivalent for-profit company would have – and it’s an influence that has been used for unfortunate purposes.
Theoretically, I’m a member of the largest club in Victoria – the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, otherwise known as the RACV. For 60-odd dollars a year, they’ll assist if your car breaks down on the side of the road – something that happens increasingly rarely, but it’s still arguably a handy service. Oh, and I also get a monthly copy of RoyalAuto, which features endless road tests of Toyota Camries and “secret weekend driving holidays” to the “captivating Western District”. All it’s missing is a fashion section on the latest trends in cardigans.
But my nominal “membership” of the RACV, and the mouthpiece that RoyalAuto and the equivalent publications of the other state-based motoring associations, seems to give them the ear of governments state and federal.
So what do they do with their influence? For a start, the mainly NSW-based NRMA seem to be fans of conspiracy theories about the price of petrol. The RACV doesn’t go for this, but want big cuts in fuel excise. Then it’s endless screaming for more road funding. And all of this political lobbying funded out of “members” who, mainly, just want assistance if they break down. As the Wikipedia article on the NRMA notes, despite the demutualisation of the insurance business of 2000, the association continues to run an ever-growing range of commercial activities; the RACV has a similarly broad range.
So, through historical accident, we have multi-million dollar businesses, with nowhere to spend their profits other than political lobbying, with mouthpieces that reach hundreds of thousands of people every month (at least in the case of the RACV). They represent a substantial obstacle to sensible transport policy. Does anybody know of companies or organizations that provide similar services but don’t bundle free donations to the road lobby with their product?