Lobbying for more transparency
A growing number of states are adopting registers as a way of cleaning up the image of how policy is formed and what goes on between politicians and interested parties, writes JUDITH CROSBIE
WHEN MINISTER for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin sits down to decide what kind of lobbyists register Ireland should get, he will have a few examples from around the world to choose from.
After submissions from various organisations last month giving their views on a register, a policy paper is currently being drawn up by the department, which will be discussed at a conference probably late next month. A Bill is expected to be submitted before the Dáil no later than early next year.
A growing number of states are adopting registers as a way of cleaning up the image of how policy is formed and what goes on between politicians and interested parties, such as companies, public relations firms, law firms, financial advisory and accountancy businesses, and non-governmental organisations.
Examples range from the US system, where lobbyists who fail to give specific details every three months on their activities can face fines or jail, to the European Union, where the register is voluntary. Australia, Canada, France, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Taiwan have all adopted registers of lobbyists, with Austria, New Zealand and the UK planning such systems.
Raj Chari, a professor at Trinity College Dublin who has analysed systems around the world and who co-wrote the book Regulating Lobbying: A Global Comparison, says an effective register should have two main features:
- it should have an independent regulator overseeing it, and
- it should be mandatory.
He gives the example of Poland, where the regulator is based in the ministry of justice, posing doubts over its independence and ability to assess the effectiveness of the register.
Chari also questions the effectiveness of voluntary registers. Research he has carried out shows that, at best, just a third of Brussels-based lobbyists have signed up to the European Commission’s register, which has been in operation since 2008.
“It was doomed not to work well because it is not mandatory in nature,” he says.
Brussels vies with Washington for the capital with the most lobbying activity – with major companies, law firms, public relations consultants, trade associations, interest groups and non-government organisations trying to influence policy on such diverse issues as multi-million dollar competition law cases being ruled on by the commission to rules governing the conditions in which farm animals are kept.
MEPs and campaign groups have criticised some companies, law firms and others who lobby to influence policy in the EU but don’t feature on the register.
“It’s easy to say the big ones don’t register,” says Chari. “But if they’re not registered, it’s not their fault. The system is voluntary.”
A look at the EU register shows that major Irish companies with a stake in EU policy – such as Ryanair, CRH and Kerry Group – have not signed up.
Ryanair says it is affiliated to the European Low Fares Airlines Association, which lobbies the EU on its behalf. Despite having a former European commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, as a non-executive director on its board, the company insists it “does not use a lobbyist” in Brussels.
Irish interest groups with offices and full-time staff in Brussels, such as the Irish Farmers’ Association and Ibec, are also not on the register. Niall Madigan, spokesman for the IFA, says the group is affiliated with the European farmers’ body Copa.
“A decision was taken that, since we are part of Copa, there would be one submission to reflect our presence on the register,” he says.
Madigan says the IFA does carry out its own lobbying on behalf of its members.
But this means it should be on the register, says Erik Wesselius of Corporate Europe Observatory and Alter-EU, which campaign for greater transparency on lobbying in the EU. “The commission is expecting anybody doing lobbying in Brussels to be on the register,” he says, though he admits there are no repercussions for those who choose not to.
A more basic issue that arises with registers of lobbyists is who should be on them.
The UK is drafting plans to introduce a register of lobbyists, and a government paper last January suggested that only third parties who lobby on behalf of other groups should be forced to register – an idea that mirrors the Australian system.
This would include only dedicated public relations firms and exclude staff from companies, associations or non-governmental organisations themselves.
Tamasin Cave, who leads the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency says this would mean only 20 per cent of those lobbying would be registered.
“They are going to have to move significantly from this position because you can’t set up a statutory body with such little coverage,” she says.
Another issue is the level of detail that should be provided on a register. The US and EU systems require disclosures on the amount of money spent on lobbying while the Canadian system does not. Many systems also require public relations and law firms to state who they represent when lobbying, but such a requirement is open to abuse.
“Some firms round up the number of clients or round down the fees paid,” says Conor Foley, partner with Hume Brophy, a lobbying firm with offices in Brussels, London and Dublin and which has been on the EU register since it was set up.
“There are those who try to hide information and don’t declare clients and others who are listing clients they no longer work with – information two years out of date,” he says.
Such misinformation is less likely with the US system, which requires quarterly updates. The EU system only requires annual updates, meaning information can be as much as two years out of date.
Alter-EU has claimed some organisations under-report the amount of money they spend on lobbying in the EU. In one study, the group showed how BusinessEurope, of which Ibec is a member, declared it had spent a maximum of €600,000 on lobbying in 2010 despite having a staff of 45 in Brussels. BusinessEurope subsequently filed its 2011 information, showing a maximum spend of €4,250,000.
Prof Chari believes the minimalist approach taken by some firms on disclosure of lobbying activities is mistaken.
He says organisations should embrace registers of lobbyists as a way of detailing a legitimate activity. “It is a normal part of everyday life . . . It can add transparency and add light to the process,” he says.
LOBBYING SCANDALS: SOME RECENT CASES FROM ABROAD
Former UK defence secretary Liam Fox resigned on October 14th, 2011, over claims he had allowed his friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, access to his department and allowed him to attend official trips overseas.
Peter Cruddas resigned as Conservative Party co-treasurer in March after the Sunday Times claimed he had offered access to prime minister David Cameron in exchange for donations of between £100,000 and £250,000.
Last October lobbyist Kevin Ring was sentenced to 20 months in jail in the US over charges related to the Jack Abramoff scandal, which emerged in 2005. Abramoff was also jailed and 20 other people were found guilty. The scandal involved lobbyists overcharging clients from an Indian casino and giving gifts and campaign donations to politicians in return for support in passing certain laws.
LOBBYISTS WITH IRISH HQ ON THE EU REGISTER
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
AquaTT UETP Limited
Association of Nigerian Professionals in Ireland
Centre for Environmental Living Training (Celt) Ltd
Children’s Rights Alliance Ireland
Clann Credo – the Social Investment Fund
EcoSecurities International Limited
EIDD Design for All Europe
Epilepsy Advocacy Europe
European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN) Ireland
European Business School, Ireland
European Services Strategy Unit
Facebook Ireland Limited
Front Line Defenders – The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Grant Public Affairs Europe
Gweebarra Conservation Group
Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland
Institute of Public Administration
Irish Association of Muaykensan Martial Arts
Irish Co-operative Organisation Society Ltd
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association
Irish Ferries Limited
Irish Funds Industry Association
Irish International University | Ireland
Irish Pharmacy Union
Irish Wind Energy Association
Isles Internationale Université | Europa
Latin America Solidarity Centre
Mainstream Renewable Power
North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council
Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland
Phone Paid Services Association Limited
Private Security Investigators Associations
Professional Insurance Brokers Association
Smurfit Kappa Group
Support and Integration Centre Together-Razem
The Academy of Medical Laboratory Science
The Federation of Irish Fishermen
The Institute of Refrigeration Ireland
Trawling Conservation Consultants
Wild Deer Association of Ireland
Worldwide Muaykensan Martial Arts Federations