Lobbying & influence

Register your interest in this issue

Does your organisation take a responsible approach to lobbying and influence?

Question collaborators: Spinwatch, InfluenceMap

EXCELLENT Answers

No EXCELLENT answers have been published for this question.

POOR Answers

No POOR answers have been published for this question.

Free and open access to government is an important matter of public interest. In democratic societies, citizens have the right to express their interests and concerns to elected or appointed government officials at national, regional and local levels. While corporate access is also permitted - and in many cases welcomed - this should not extend buying influence or otherwise gaining private advantages through lobbying activity, especially when it could be detrimental to the public interest.

Business has a critical role to play to inform public policy and help create fair and robust legislative frameworks. Indeed, when legislating, politicians and government officials need technical expertise - knowledge and experience which often lies solely within business. The challenge to businesses which are in conversation with government is to ensure that they balance the furthering of their own private interests with those of their stakeholders and of the public at large.

As Transparency International explains, the means by which interests are expressed can be open to abuse. Public perceptions of this activity are often negative with many assuming that abuse is commonplace, that businesses use their influence for their own ends and direct their financial resources to unduly affect public decision-making. Such undue influence could affect policy formulation, or create favourable regulatory regimes or, more crudely, result in awarding of contracts or other favours, sidestepping fair competition. Indeed when organisations have large public sector contracts and also engage in lobbying, questions are raised about the potential for abuse of the public purse. For example pharmaceutical companies who lobby NICE and fund studies into the efficacy of their products have often been accused of unscrupulous practice.

Making donations to political parties can give small groups of individuals the ability to sway political outcomes. Indeed in the UK, the Conservative Party are heavily reliant on corporate donors, whereas the Labour Party takes most of its donations from Trade Unions. Theories as to new means and new technologies for powerful people and organisations to sway elections and interfere with the very mechanics of democracy are rife, and in particular surrounding the election of Trump in 2016 and the Brexit vote earlier in the same year.

Bell Pottinger’s dramatic fall from grace and their subsequent expulsion from the PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) provides a clear illustration of the costs of behaving differently overseas, and indeed getting lobbying and influencing fundamentally wrong. The company not only suffered reputational damage, it actually failed as a business when its partners, clients and investors fled. Accused of stirring up racial tensions in South Africa on behalf of the Gupta family, a scandal erupted, and clients such as Waitrose, Richemont, Investec, HSBC, TalkTalk and the Clydesdale Banking Group promptly cut their ties with the agency. It subsequently went into administration after its second-biggest shareholder, Chime, owned by the US firm Providence and Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP, had handed back its 27% stake for free to escape the scandal.

From food safety and labelling, to destruction of the rainforest, to marketing unsafe pharmaceuticals, to blocking health and safety practices in the workplace, time and again examples show companies have lobbied to continue to be able to negatively impact society and the environment and exploit vulnerable people in the pursuit of profit. The potential reputational damage of this is even greater when the business portrays itself as responsible, while inwardly it pursues anti-social and environmentally harmful practices. Influence Map was created by former CDP executives who discovered that many businesses scored well on their carbon emissions and associated disclosures, while at the same time lobbying against measures to enact more ambitious requirements to reduce GHGs further and even funding climate change denial groups.

Lastly, undue influence and private and corporate gain are feared to flow from the “revolving doors” which appear to exist between business and government. There are undoubtedly practical and universal benefits when individuals move between posts in government and related jobs in commerce and industry. When done conscientiously, this may enable the two sides to better understand each other and bring practical experience to policy making, with benefits to wider society. Yet there is suspicion that these revolving doors between the public and private sectors may result in networks of former colleagues being used for private business advantage and/or individual gain.

The UK government’s ACOBA (Advisory Committee on Business Appointments) was set up to advise former ministers on new appointments. However ACOBA has been branded a ‘toothless regulator’ which does little to prevent the use and abuse of political contacts. In July 2017 a National Audit Office report found that rules intended to stop civil servants abusing their contacts and knowledge in the private sector are not being consistently applied or monitored.

The Association of Professional Political Consultants estimates that professional lobbyists make up only 1% of those who engage in lobbying in the UK. The UK’s 2014 Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administrative Act, requires only consultant lobbyists to register. This mandatory register lists only 148 organisations. Since the vast majority of corporate lobbying is done in house, or by membership organisations, with further lobbying by NGOs and campaign groups, this activity remains largely unregulated by UK legislation.

The Act has also faced controversy around stifling the free speech of charities and campaigning groups. Currently, any organisation that spends over £20,000 (£10,000 in Wales) on activity that could ‘reasonably be regarded’ as intended to influence voters in England and Wales within a year of a general election is required to register with the Electoral Commission. Charities have claimed this places an insurmountable burden on small organisations, with 122 organisations stating that it essentially gags them. The 2017 UK snap general election caused many to declare this unfeasible. Greenpeace has become the first organisation to be reprimanded by being fined £30,000, after it refused to register.

The Scottish 2016 Lobbying Act is more comprehensive. An organisation that lobbies MSPs, Scottish Government Ministers, Special Advisers, or the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, about government or parliamentary functions must register these activities on the register run by the Scottish Parliament. This applies to any lobbying that takes place face to face, orally or via video conferencing. Lobbyists are to register before meeting politicians, and are then to submit returns detailing the nature of these meetings. Ireland’s open register lists all meetings had between organisations with more than 10 employees and designated public officials, leading to far greater transparency on lobbying than in England and Wales.

A variety of organisations, including charities, NGOs and trade associations as well as businesses, engage in lobbying for many reasons, with varying levels of success and influence. As Georg Kell, executive director of the UN Global Compact, has written on responsible lobbying, "ensuring that lobbying doesn’t undercut corporate responsibility is of great importance... But probably more important is the question whether and how lobbying can become a positive force to support, or even expand, a commitment to responsible business."

To this end, a constructive dialogue between business and government will likely conform with these key UN principles detailed in the UN Caring for the Climate Report:

  • Legitimacy: Is the company’s lobby on this policy issue legitimate? Is it fair and democratic? Or is it shady and viewed as illegitimate by the general public? Is it reasonable for this company to lobby government on this issue? Should it be doing it in the first place? Is the company competent in engaging in dialogue on this policy area?
  • Opportunity: How is the company able to influence on this issue? How does it have access to public officials, and how can it influence public opinion? What are the available channels of influence it can use, and does the use of any such channel present ethical dilemmas of any kind?
  • Consistency: Is the company’s point of view backed up by science? Do they have evidence for what they’re arguing and do they argue the same way in public and private interactions with policymakers?
  • Accountability: Is the engagement aligned with the company’s responsibilities to all its stakeholders? Are the long term interests of employees, shareholders, wider society and the environment considered and protected?
  • Transparency: Does the company make clear disclosures of its positions, interests, influence and the policy outcomes that are likely to affect it? Is it clear to the media, the general public, employees, shareholders and policymakers how the company is trying to influence policy and why?

Even in the absence of adequate or effective government regulation, businesses can take steps to ensure their lobbying is responsible, which might include:

  • Setting out guidelines regarding hiring lobbyists or donating to interest groups whose functions include lobbying (including policy think-tanks and campaigning groups, e.g. on environmental and human rights issues)
  • Being transparent about financial support for politicians, political organisations and campaigns
  • Making public the briefing materials and consultation responses provided to public bodies or officials
  • Recording and restricting the amounts of spending on receptions, meals, gifts etc.
  • Setting out circumstances where a 'conflict of interest' might arise and implementing guidelines for actions and steps to deal with the problem
  • Publicly stating the issues on which they work to engage and influence decision makers
  • Putting in place comprehensive whistleblowing procedures, so staff can report irresponsible behaviour
  • Aligning their lobbying activity with their business interests with the public interest and the interests of the environment.
Astroturfing

'Astroturfing' is when companies or individuals make it appear as if a grassroots movement is putting forward their view, when in fact, they’ve orchestrated the appearance of a movement themselves. This can be done by using misinformation in the media, or by paying people to publicly buy their product or advocate for a specific position. Astroturfing is used to generate publicity and sway public opinion.

Lobbying

'Lobbying' is the practice of seeking to influence the opinions and/or decisions of members of government, politicians or public officials. Methods of lobbying vary. They can range from individuals sending letters to their elected representatives, to businesses and trade associations making presentations, providing briefing material to decision-makers, networking with decision-makers and using personal contacts to extend influence and access to decision makers or government officials. Methods of indirect lobbying include donating to campaign groups and funding think-tanks.

Public Official

A 'Public Official' is any individual with decision-making power (and their advisors), who are elected, appointed or employed within the executive or legislative branches of power at national, sub-national, or supranational levels; within private bodies performing public functions; within private bodies performing public functions; and within public international organisations.

Revolving Door

The 'revolving door' refers to the movement of staff between the public and private sector, bringing with them contacts and influence, or between public procurement, regulatory, executive and/or legislative roles and organisation(s) that are affected by such regulation, legislation or decisions.

Think Tank

A body of experts that provide advice and ideas on political or economic issues. 'Think tanks' can be used by lobbyists to gain access to public figures at events. Unscrupulous think tanks sometimes offer to write reports with pre-set conclusions for cash and others are merely fronts to allow corporates or other organisations to or promote their interests and gain access to public officials.

Trade Association

A 'trade association', also known as an industry trade group, business association, sector association or industry body, is an organisation founded and funded by businesses that operate in a specific industry. Trade associations aim to promote the interests of the sector, rather than a specific organisation. However trade associations may disproportionately represent a few big players in their sector rather than smaller organisations that may have differing interests.

Answering YES

All Businesses MUST

Describe how they balance the furthering of their own private interests with those of their stakeholders and of the public at large

Indicate the proportion of their business or contracts that are with the public sector

Describe any issues on which they seek to lobby or influence, and explain why these issues have been identified

Describe how they engage with the law-makers and elected or appointed government officials, including through trade associations or membership bodies

Confirm that all information provided to decision makers is wholly truthful, and that the sources of this information are transparent

All Businesses MAY

Explain any philosophy or values which underpin their lobbying and influence practices

Describe any issues they champion that have no clear connection to their business interests

Describe any policies they have which inform engagements with public officials

Confirm that they make clear their interests when engaging with public officials

Confirm they do not make misleading, exaggerated or extravagant claims either in the media to influence public opinion or directly to public officials

Describe how they employ or work with current or former public officials (including Local Authority Councillors) or civil servants and how they manage conflicts of interest

Describe how they publicise any engagements with any public officials

Describe any interactions they have with political parties (contracts, donations, support)

Confirm they have met all legal requirements in terms of registering lobbying activity

Explain whether they engage specialist lobbying consultants/companies, indicating their reasons for doing so

Describe any future intentions regarding this issue

Large and Multinational Corporations (MNCs) MAY

Explain how their practices and policies on lobbying differ across different legal jurisdictions

Explain if and how they seek to lobby foreign governments

Answering NO

All Businesses MUST

Explain why they do not or cannot answer YES to this question and list the business reasons, any mitigating circumstances or any other reasons that apply

All Businesses MAY

List any responsible lobbying practices they pursue which are relevant, but not sufficient to answer YES to this question

Mention any future intentions regarding this issue

Answering NOT APPLICABLE

All Businesses MUST

Confirm that they do not engage in any lobbying activity and do not seek to influence public figures directly or indirectly

All Businesses MAY

List any practices related to the MUST answering requirements for answering YES

State any philosophies, values or beliefs which relate to lobbying and influence

Provide any other relevant information

DON'T KNOW is not a permissible answer to this question

Version 2

To receive a score of 'Excellent'

The business balances the furthering of its own private interests and those of its stakeholders and the public and large when lobbying. This is of fundamental importance. The business is transparent and accountable on its lobbying activity with rigorous policies and practices in place

Examples of policies and practices which may support an EXCELLENT statement (not all must be observed, enough should be evidenced to give comfort that the statement is the best of the four for the business being scored):

  1. Statement of philosophy or values
  2. Public commitment to political engagement is stated. This engagement is consistent
  3. Clearly established parameters for engagement with law-makers and elected or appointed government officials
  4. Policies and practices disseminated across workforce, suppliers and stakeholders
  5. Training on this issue consistently provided for relevant employees
  6. Effectiveness of policies and practices regularly reviewed and evaluated
  7. Fully transparent on all lobbying activities, including employment of professional lobbyists, publication of consultation documents and briefings produced
  8. Publishes a record of which officials a company, or a lobbyist acting for that company, have met with and/ or lobbied and the topics discussed
  9. Always adheres to the highest standards of in the arguments and information it puts forward, even if this benefits competitors
  10. Does not make political contributions, engage in corporate hospitality or use financial resources directly or indirectly for the purposes of distorting the political process (by funding parties, or factions within parties)
  11. Engages with outside organisations to improve business practice on lobbying and influence
  12. Lobbying aims to positively impact some aspects of society and the environment and is rarely to the detriment of others
  13. Systems are in place to ensure all lobbying and influencing has a positive environmental and social impact, alongside supporting the interests of the organisation
  14. The organisation takes into account the interests of all stakeholders when lobbying
  15. The organisation engages with stakeholders whenever their interests are impacted by its lobbying
  16. The organisation works to positively influence any membership or trade associations in its sector
  17. Whistleblowing systems are in place to allow employees to report irresponsible lobbying
  18. Channels are open to any stakeholder to express opinions on method or aim of any lobbying activity
  19. Board level accountability for political engagement
  20. If applicable, is a member of an organisation such as the APPC or PRCA and abides by their codes of conduct, and works to positively influence the sector through these organisations
To receive a score of 'Good'

The business demonstrates a commitment to responsible lobbying and influence and has clear and robust practices in place

Examples of policies and practices which may support an GOOD statement (not all must be observed, enough should be evidenced to give comfort that the statement is the best of the four for the business being scored)::

  1. Statement of philosophy or values
  2. Clearly established parameters for engagement with lawmakers and elected or appointed government officials
  3. Policies and practices disseminated across workforce and stakeholders
  4. Effectiveness of policies and practices regularly reviewed
  5. Publication of consultative documents and briefings
  6. Lobbying activities are listed on voluntary registers
  7. Does not attempt to suppress information, even when this is not in the company’s best interests
  8. If the company works with one political party, it works with all
  9. Does not make political contributions
  10. Systems are in place to ensure the organisation’s lobbying activities are aligned with its stated social, ethical and environmental principles
  11. The organisation shows proper regard for the public interest
  12. If applicable, is a member of an organisation such as the APPC or PRCA and abides by their codes of conduct
To receive a score of 'Okay'

The business recognises that responsible approaches to lobbying and influence are important and pursues good practices on an ad hoc basis OR it has some relevant policies and practices but the issue is not a priority for the business OR the issue is not relevant to the business

Examples of policies and practices which may support an OKAY statement (not all must be observed, enough should be evidenced to give comfort that the statement is the best of the four for the business being scored):

  1. Some clear parameters for engagement with lawmakers and elected or appointed government officials
  2. Accurate and truthful statement that a company has no contact with public officials and makes no attempt to influence public policy or the decisions of public bodies
  3. Keeps up to date with and adheres to legislation in all jurisdictions
  4. Transparency on what it works to influence
  5. Follows the law regarding lobbying registers and transparency
  6. Does not attempt to mislead the public, legislators, or regulators
  7. Ensures that information it spreads is accurate and complete
  8. No evidence of lobbying that is extremely harmful to society and the environment (e.g. if a company were to lobby against uncontroversial, important environmental measures for short term gain)
  9. When employees do move between the public and private sector, these arrangements are not created by the company to gain influence in the public sector
  10. Whilst the company’s interests are prioritised, the company does not lobby to allow itself to offload costs onto society or the environment
  11. Evidence of whistleblowing policies
  12. Does not make financial contributions that distort the political process (e.g. making significant contributions to parties, or factions within parties)
To receive a score of 'Poor'

The business acknowledges poor performance, there is no evidence of appropriate policies or practices nor any statement regarding the issue OR its lobbying activity lacks transparency and/or is dishonest, or aims to advance private interests that are contrary to the best interests of society or the environment

Examples of policies and practices which may support an POOR statement (not all must be observed, enough should be evidenced to give comfort that the statement is the best of the four for the business being scored):

  1. Statement of future intent to improve
  2. Informal relationships with government and officials, no ethical parameters set out for such engagement
  3. Makes payments to public officials or their associates to influence decisions
  4. Regularly and intentionally seeks out influence through ‘revolving doors’
  5. Little to no transparency on lobbying
  6. Misleads policy makers or the public about the harm caused by specific proposals to the environment or society
  7. Places false information in the media
  8. Ignores or seeks to cast doubt on scientific evidence
  9. Secretly funds citizen groups or campaigns that lobby for its private interests (astroturfing)
  10. Funds think tanks and uses them to promote false information
  11. Funds political parties or candidates to influence policy in the future
  12. Lobbying has an adverse effect on society and/or the environment
  13. Lobbying only promotes the organisation’s short term goals, or the short term goals of a few individuals within it
  14. Deliberately sites activities in countries where it is likely to have success in lobbying the government contrary to the interests of society and the environment (Multinational organisations only)