Vested and public interests

Back in January, Wotif founder Graeme Wood attracted media attention for making the largest ever single donation to a political party, $1.6 million to the Greens:

Mr Wood said his donation was motivated by disappointment with Labor and Coalition policies on climate change and the environment.

“I didn’t think either of those parties were being effective,” he said. “They were being driven by people with vested interests.“(emphasis added)

But in an a story for the Weekend AFR (paywall) Wood says that he:

..saw the $1.6 million donation as a defensive move that saved him many millions of dollars.

“I was a bit concerned that if the Coalition got in a lot of my investments in environmental causes would have been down the plughole.”

Admittedly Wood’s environmental investments do not from this article seem highly oriented towards returning a profit. But what is a ‘vested’ interest and what a ‘public’ interest position is often not self-evident; those who face financial ruin from environmentalist causes would presumably see themselves as representing a public interest, and Wood’s desire to protect his investment in those causes as a vested interest.

2 Responses to “Vested and public interests

  • 1
    Rajat Sood
    August 1st, 2011 19:35

    Admittedly Wood’s environmental investments do not from this article seem highly oriented towards returning a profit.

    Well, he said himself that the donation saved him money. Whether that meant a higher profit or an avoided loss, he made the donation in the belief that it would have a pecuniary payoff for him. He’s not really any different from any other vested interest.

  • 2
    Andrew Norton
    August 2nd, 2011 05:13

    Wood himself believes he is acting in the public interest, which he thinks coincides with his environmental investments. My point is really just that in the campaign finance debate there is an implicit assumption that there is some clear ‘public interest’ that needs to be defended against ‘vested interests’ using money to manipulate the political system. In fact I think this is rarely the case, and the ‘public interest’ is a (temporary and contested) conclusion of the political process, and not something that exists prior to that process.