Lobbying & Democratic Process

by chuckgaowestminster

Despite its negative reputation, lobbying is an important vehicle for ensuring citizen participation in the democratic process, allowing a vibrant and participatory democracy.

According to Lionel Zetter,  “lobbying is the process of seeking to influence government and its institutions by informing the public policy agenda. It is also, of course, the art of political persuasion”(2008). As a matter of fact, Most of time when journalists talk about lobbying, they usually frame their comments in a negative fashion. “This is partly because some lobbyists have behaved inappropriately in the past, and these usually minor scandals are retrieved from the morgues and given a fresh airing every time a journalist pens a piece on the subject. It may also be because journalist feel that only they should have a direct influence on the public policy agenda, and they may be jealous of the influence which lobbyist can do exert”(Lionel Zetter, 2008).

I then looked at the history of lobbying, “Public policy is not made in vacuum behind closed doors. Public affairs specialists play a vital role in this process”(Sharif Rangnekar, 2012). Lobbying has been going on since time immemorial, and there is certainly a case for saying that lobbying is one of the world’s oldest professions, whenever an individual, or group of individuals, wields power over society, there will be other individuals or groups of individuals who will have tried to persuade them to exercise that power in a particular way. Therefore we can argue that lobbying is both natural and inevitable.

In fact the first recognised UK lobbyist was Commander Christopher Powell, who did not set up shop until just before the second world war. Commander Powell’s firm, Watney and Powell, was bought in the 1960s by another ex-military man, ormer Royal Marine Commando Professor Tim Traverse-Healy OBE.

Traverse-Healy traces the true origins of the lobbying industry in the UK to the landslide victory which Labour won in 1945. Clement Attlee set about transforming the UK political scene, setting up the National Health Service and seeking to nationalise whole swathes of British industry. It was the Labour government’s attempt to nationalise the British sugar industry which prompted the launch of what Traverse-Healy refers to as the UK’s first political public relations campaign – with its Mr Cube figurehead successfully fending off the government’s nationalisation ambitions.

The Labour victory in 1945 firmly established that party as the alternative government in the United Kingdom. If the Conservatives were not the government, then it would be formed by Labour and not the Liberals, who were in long-term decline. This persuaded big business in the UK to organise in order to defend itself against future nationalisation plans, and against higher Part One – Introduction To Lobbying 7 taxes and tighter regulation. The result was the formation of such bodies as the Economic League and Aims of Industry – and the emergence of a recognisable lobbying industry in the United Kingdom.

Democracy enables the realization of two values: First, it expands the autonomy of individuals to the sphere of collective decision-making, it enables collective self-determination (Jean Rousseau, 2006). Second, democracy embodies the value of equality among individuals. When individuals living in a community cannot agree how to manage their lives in a polity, the right of equal say for every individual acknowledges the equal value of every person and recognizes the fact that every individual’s good and every person’s interest must be considered (Peter Singer, 1999). According to pluralistic theory of democracy, which views democracy as an arena in which interest groups struggle to attain the utmost realization of their interests.  “A proper democratic process exists when the struggle among interest groups is conducted fairly. The product of such a process is arrangements that constitute a compromise reflecting the inter-group power relations, i.e., how many citizens have a certain preference and to what degree of intensity. (ROBERT DAHL, 1959)” It seems that for the pluralists lobbying is a desirable phenomenon. It enables groups to clarify their interests to the elected representatives and constitutes part of the normal democratic process of attempting to influence outcomes, along with means such as participation in the public discourse or contribution of funds to political parties and election candidates.

Lobbying programme can be divided into four types, which are profile raising, contract programme, policy shaping and legislation changing (Lionel Zetter, 2008). EU and the US built a good-sized industry with government affairs and public affairs experts. There are more than 34,000 lobbyists in the US. In EU, some 3,000 interest groups and 300-odd companies are involved in public affairs and over 100 management companies work in this space, employing some 15,000 persons. In India, estimates suggest there are more than 20 large- to mid-sized public relations firms offering public affairs expertise. There are also a few stand-alone government affairs consultancies following structured processes. The number of single-man agents, think tanks, NGOs and in-house practitioners is hard to count. (Sharif Rangnekar, 2012)

With the help of lobbying, we has seen how many changes have been made for America, The UK, or Europe Union, the significant changes have had, and continuously having impacts on many aspect of citizen’s life, from food safety laws, intellectual property, the opening up of insurance, banking, aviation and many other sectors, reduction of duties, raising of voices for farmers and human rights, and changes in laws and individual taxation, to give a few examples.

As EPACA suggests, a democracy must recognize lobbying regardless of whether it is carried out by individual citizens or companies, think tanks, governments and other groups. To realize the positive potential of this activity, there is a definite need to recognize this profession so that distinctions between fixing, preferential treatment or crony capitalism are clear.

Admittedly, there are three flaws in the democratic process resulting from lobbying: personal corruption (the ‘revolving door’ phenomenon and the dependence of representatives on campaign financing); unequal power of influence resulting in the distortion of the public agenda; and niche lobbying without competitive counter lobbying.

While the onus lies on the lobbying industry, its existence has more to do with the ethos of a democracy and the belief of plurality and evolution. The industry with its skills perhaps needs to develop a strategy to push forward, acquire greater visibility and be held accountable. It needs to work with government, politicians and the media in reaching what is a balance between visibility and confidentiality. Else, what is not seen or known will always be feared and speculated about.

However, I convinced that democratic process could not possibly live without lobbying. And I would like to suggest expand the scope of the transparency requirements in the law, by requiring lobbyists to publish online all written material transmitted to politicians and to list all areas of lobbying activity.

 

References:

Sharif D. Rangnekar (2012). Lobbying, a democratic essential, Available: http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/dBMnAq6vIyunw5CvRddEXI/Lobbying-a-democratic-essential.html. Last accessed 10th Feb 2014.

Jean Rousseal  (2006), the social contract book 1, ch. 6.

Peter Singer (1973), democracy and disobedience. Jeremy Waldron, LAW AND DISAGREEMENT ch. 5.

Robert Dahl (1959), a preface to democratic theory; HELD, supra note 23

Lionel Zetter (2008). Lobbying : the art of political persuasion. Harriman House: Petersfield.

Luigi Graziano (2001). Lobbying, pluralism and democracy. Palgrave: Basingstoke.

Stuart Thomson Steve John (2001). Public affairs in practice a practical guide to lobbying. london: Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

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