3 Reasons For Which Lobbying Is Controversial
There are three reasons why lobbying remains controversial: (1) the size of corporate lobbying, (2) lack of transparency and (3) its potential link to corruption.
The employment figures underestimate the actual number of [PR] professionals
Moloney K. cited in Friends and Foe (2007)
It is very difficult to precisely estimate how many people work in lobbying, since there is no official registration and accurate list of working professionals. According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations there are approximately 48,000 people currently working in PR industry, while around 14,000 are directly involved in public affairs (CIPR cited in Friends and Foe, 2007). These statistics definitely do not take into account all professionals ultimately involved in lobbying activities, such as employees of law firms, investment banks, management consultancies, and thousands of lobbying professionals spread across other sectors. Perhaps voluntary registrations offered by the number of professional bodies help to specify the number of working professional; however, there is a clear confrontation between independent statistics published by different organisations. The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) claims to have 73 members and by that, to represent more than four-fifths of political consultancies working in the political sector (APPC, 2013). On the other hand, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency claims that as many as 4000 people currently work as lobbyists in the UK (Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, 2013). There is a lot of conflicting information available; therefore, it is not surprising that the lack of accurate registration of professionals may lead to the confusion about the number of people actively involved in lobbying, giving the impression that the industry is secretive and unstable.
The reform agenda has touched lobbying more than any other PR specialism
Kevin Moloney (2000) p.116
The reputation of the lobbying industry has been highly affected by a number of a high-profile scandals revolving around the world, which clearly contributed to the creation of a long-standing debate on the transparency of lobbying. Although there have been many attempts to regulate lobbyists and their activities, effective regulations are still yet to come. To date, lobbyists are not obligated to adopt and comply with any compulsory standards of conduct, unless they voluntary belong to the professional association, for example Association of Professional Political Consultants- APPC. Critics of lobbying, such as Alliance for Lobbying Transparency are calling for better transparency of lobbyists. In fact, the organisation campaigns for the lobbying register that would make public “the organisation lobbying, name of individual lobbyists, Information on any public office held by the lobbyist in the past five years (capturing the ‘revolving-door’), Public body being lobbied, Name of public official with whom contact has been made (senior civil servant and above), Summary of what is being lobbied on, whether legislation, regulation or policy, or government contract or grant, Amount of money spent on lobbying (a good faith estimate). Effective regulation would certainly improve an already jagged reputation of the industry.
The obvious attempts to secure transparency and accountability of lobbying activities have been undertaken by professional bodies, one of who is the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC)- a self-regulated body for UK public affairs professionals. The members of this organisation are obligated to comply with strict ethical framework; they are required to register all members of the organization who are paid for lobbying activities, to publish the entire list of names of their clients, and to strictly follow a Code of Conduct. Arguably, attempts to control lobbyists and their activities by the affiliation to APPC can be successful only in some degree. It certainly improved transparency of the lobbying industry to some extend, but it can be argued that the purpose of belonging to APPC is more commercial rather than ethical, as companies may think it will be in their commercial interest to become a member of such an organisation (Parvin P. 2007 p. 12). Consequently, trade body associations such as CIPR, PRCA or APPC undoubtedly help to improve transparency and general perception of the industry. Perhaps more need to be done by single individuals working in lobbying in order to improve transparency and accountability of the industry.
Ministers and MPs keep a close eye on each other’s activities.
Lionel Zetter (2008) p. 12
Each year there are approximately twenty to thirty major pieces of legalizations that pass through the UK government (Zetter, 2008). Those legalizations can have a dramatic impact on any activity of any organisation; therefore, this is not surprising that many of those corporations try to influence MPs and other policy-makers who have a power to “put you out of business overnight” (Zetter, 2008, p. 25). Morris and Goldsworthy (2012) noticed that politicians often lack funding during their elections campaigns and this is why they accept donations from wealthy individuals and corporations. In fact, being a sponsor of such a campaign may bring many private benefits, including access to private parties and other exclusive entries. Because it is relatively difficult to prove that any of those donations have a direct impact on the political decisions, there is a lot of controversy around this process. As George Monbiot noticed “…seizing powers previously invested in government and using them to distort public life to suit their own needs. The provision of hospitals, roads, and prisons in Britain has been deliberately tailored to meet corporate demands rather than public need” (cited in Friends and Foe, 2007). This is clearly a criticism of lobbyists who are regularly trying to influence policy makers, but also a criticism of politicians, who over and over again act upon suggestions of lobbyists. Looking at the lobbying activities around the world, it must be said that it is our democratic right to be able to talk to the politicians, and seek to influence their decisions; therefore there will always be criticism around lobbying and the debate shall be forever in the balance.
If you wish to find out more about the public affairs industry watch this detailed interview with Catherine Nicholls, Account Director at Tetra Strategy.
If you wish to find out why lobbying in the UK surrounds itself with negative connotations watch this great interview with Tamasin Cave director of SpinWatch.
Chartered Institute of Public Relations. (2010) PR in the UK. [online]
Moloney K. (2006) Rethinking Public Relations. Second Edition. Routlidge: New York.
Morris T., Goldsworthy S. (2010) PR Today. Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire.
Parvin P. (2007). Friend and Foe. Lobbying in British Democracy [online]. Hansard Society: London.
PR Week. (2010) Select Committee To Launch Lobbying Inquiry Amid Fresh Calls For Register. [online]
Spinwatch (2010) Up to 90% of lobbyists shun new transparency register [online].
The Guardian. (2010) Front: One in five staff passholders in Lords linked to lobbying: Lobbyists who hold staff passes to Lords [online]
The Telegraph. (2011). Liam Fox affair: David Cameron warned over tighter controls for lobbyists [online]
Zetter. L. (2008) Lobbying. Harriman House Ltd: Hampshire.