Transparency International states:
“Lobbying is an integral part of a healthy democracy, closely related to universal values such as freedom of speech and the right to petition of government. It allows for various interest groups to present their views on public decisions that may come to affect them. It also has the potential to enhance the quality of decision-making by providing channels for the input of expertise on increasingly technical issues to legislators and decision makers. According to a 2013 survey of 600 European parliamentarians and officials, 89 per cent agreed that, “ethical and transparent lobbying helps policy development”.
This is the link to TI’s report where they make the statement: https://transparency.ch/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2015_LobbyingInEurope_EN.pdf
I do not agree with TI. I do not believe lobbying is an integral part of a healthy democracy. It may be an inevitable part but it is not healthy.
The reasons are obvious; lobbying is a way for interest groups to push their agendas by directly influencing elected politicians. By this influence lobbies expect the politician to pay special attention to the interests of the lobby. By definition, the interests of the lobby are not the interests of the public in general. If that was the case lobbyists would leave the politicians alone to govern for the people as best they see fit.
But the lobby is not interested in that because lobbies pursue interests of groups, not the general interest.
A business lobby may be interested in allowing massive immigration because if more people compete for jobs labour will be cheaper. A labour lobby may want the opposite, even if excessive restrictions of immigration make wages excessively high and products too costly for other wage earners.
A professional lobby may want the government to pass legislation to make it very difficult for qualified professionals from other countries to immigrate and practice their profession. The formal reason may be “to protect the public”, the real reason may be: “to protect our excellent incomes”.
I understand the desire of business, unions, professional groups, etc., to help their members. The reality is that lobbies are interested in the “common good”, as they understand it.
In representative democracy lobbies have a tremendous advantage; the can work on the politicians every day. They can have face to face meetings with elected representatives, their staff, presentations, tours, etc., all year round. The average voter can not do that because in most cases he or she does not have the time, the means and the expertise.
The voter elected the representative. At voting time the voter has a lot of power, but just for one day. From then on the lobbies have the upper hand.
Transparency International also says lobbies are good because lobbying “allows for various interest groups to present their views on public decisions that may come to affect them”.
Interest groups need lobbies to present their views on public decisions that may come to affect them but, how about the average voter? Is he or she not affected by the public decisions? Why should he or she not have a voice? Obviously, if lobbies can speak to the politicians in depth, so should everybody else.
OK, it is not practical; the politicians and their staff would do nothing else but meet people if every voter participated.
This is where direct democracy, again! tackles the problem.
In direct democracy, lobbies can lobby as much as they want, politicians can listen to them and pass laws taking into account the concerns of the lobbies. All of this is important, but much less important than in representative democracy.
In direct democracy anyone, with the help of a small group of people and a relatively small amount of money, can set up a challenge to whatever law the politicians pass. The challenge normally takes the form of binding referendum. All eligible voters will vote on acceptance or rejection of the law and the government hast to comply with the result.
Because there are plenty of people, political parties and others, who follow the passage of new laws. Pretty soon they will raise the alarm if the law seems flawed. They will trigger a debate which may end up with the collection of the required number of signatures, 1% of eligible voters, for example. Once they have the signatures, the government has no option but to call for a referendum to decide if the law will be passed or killed.
Over the years, the politicians in direct democracy and the lobbies have learned it only makes sense to pass laws that will not be rejected by the people.
In Switzerland, the lobbyists know that. In direct democracies they have to lobby far more gently.
In other words, to control lobbies the trick is not to put the emphasis on controlling how the lobbies lobby but to control the outcome. There is no better method to control the lobbies than the people by means of referendums.
In another report AI also speaks of Swiss lobbies being poorly regulated. I do not think regulation and formal rules to control lobbyists is the answer. The answer lies in giving the people the power to approve or reject the results of what the politicians want to do, lobbies or no lobbies, by means of citizen-initiated binding referendums. I do not understand why TI does not promote this solution.
In the United States lobbying is highly regulated but there is no comparison between the US and Switzerland on the negative influence lobbies have on democracy; corruption, laws to help private interests, pork barrel politics, etc. All that is a far worse problem in the US than in Switzerland.
Switzerland ranks 4th in TI corruption index, the US ranks 23rd.
A few years ago, an article in the American business magazine Forbes stated: “Con men, swindlers and cheaters pay bribes. Sophisticates hire lobbyists because lobbyists get better, more lasting results while only rarely landing in the slammer”.
Transparency International does a great job in other areas; with lobbying they goofed. I wonder why TI defends lobbying…
Direct democracy in your country will be a more effective way to reduce the influence of lobbies.
The fact that 89% of elected representative politicians in the European Parliament say: “ethical and transparent lobbying helps policy development”, should raise alarms in European voters.
TI also says: “It (lobbying) also has the potential to enhance the quality of decision-making by providing channels for the input of expertise on increasingly technical issues to legislators and decision makers”.
There is no need for lobbies to do that. Inviting any interested parties to participate in open transparent hearings, debates, etc., will provide decision makers with the input and expertise they need. At the same time, the public will see what is going on; much better than lobby regulation.
Making lobbies “transparent” may be better than nothing, but it does not address the root problem. The root problem is too much power in the hands of elected politicians and too little power in the hands of voters. In other words, the final decision makers have to be the voters, not the usual decision makers.