Lobbying Regulation and Ethics: Current Issues and Future Prospects

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Beyond the issue of legitimacy, the industry of lobbying has given rise to heated debates on whether regulation is adequate or necessary in the field. Washington has the strictest rules on lobbying worldwide. The first legislation on lobbying was passed there as soon as WWII ended (1946). In UK there are four lobbying self-regulating organisations. There is no legislation to regulate lobbying in Great Britain. Civil servants and politicians in UK must observe a distinct set of rules. Politicians, for instance, are bound to declare all gifts and material benefits in the Register of Members' Interests. British public officers abide by the Civil Service Code; public office is specifically regulated with regard to interaction with lobbyists by the code designed by the Nolan Committee, also known as the "Seven Principles of Public Life", making up a set of rules that all politicians and public officers must abide by in Great Britain. As regards the Brussels level, it reached a compromise between the self-regulating concept governing lobbying in Great Britain and the tendency towards strict regulation manifest in the United States. In November 2010, the Commission and the Parliament issued a "Draft Joint Agreement of the Commission and the European Parliament on a Transparency Register". As for individual European states, the only countries that adopted lobby legislation are countries from Central and Eastern Europe: Georgia (1998), Lithuania (2000), Poland (2005), Hungary (a lobby act was passed in 2006 and then repelled in 2011), Macedonia (2008), and Slovenia (2010). Countries in Western Europe do not have specific lobby legislation.

Great Britain is a classical illustration of lobbying self-regulation. The very membership in one of the professional lobbying organisations stands for commitment with the codes of conducts observed by those organisations. In Romania, 1995 saw the establishment of the first lobbying firm, Central Europe Consulting Government Relations. Five years later the PNTCD MP Ulm Spineanu initiated the first draft lobbying act. The legislation was never passed, similar to all later draft legislation tabled until 2012. Draft legislation failed on various grounds: unclear definition of the lobbying profession, highly restrictive criteria on lobbying, unrealistic disclosure requirements on the interests of the clients the lobbyists represent.

However, in our opinion, lobbying needs no special legislation in Romania at the time, because: 1. there already are legislative requirements in Romania that can thoroughly apply to this field, namely: the citizens' constitutional right to submit complaints and related legislation, the constitutional right of freedom of expression, the law on transparency in decision-making, the citizens' right to information; 2. specific legislation may be perceived as overregulation in Romania, where the profession is still underdeveloped, with only few lobbyist firms and a growing number of NGO's that embark on lobbying now on again; 3. that would lead to the perception that lobbyists make up a privileged class of people, unlike ordinary citizens who are denied the right to participate in the design of legislation.

Debates on lobbying regulation in Romania has generally borne poor results, despite various actions aimed at rendering lobbying activities more transparent. Both politicians and lobbyists should be concerned with the identification of functional levers that would build minimum transparency into the lobbying exercise. Abidance by professional ethics is one of the lobbyists' most important objectives. Only professional ethics can do away with any confusion between lobbying and influence peddling.

Keywords: Lobby/Lobbying; Public Affairs; Lobbying legislation; Lobbying codes of conduct; Lobbyists

1. Background

Lobbying can be defined in the plainest and also most comprehensive terms as the art of persuading politicians. It consists of a set of tools and strategies instrumental to a broader concept, otherwise known as public affairs. …