Lobbying. An indicator for democratic governance?

Essay 2013 8 Pages

Politics - Political Systems - General and Comparisons



Accessibility of the policy-making processes for third party agent’s increases countries level of democratic governance. Ideally chances to influence officials should not depend on wealth of the interest group. However common ways to impact government decisions include professional lobbying (Rowbottom, 2010, p.79). Professional lobbyists are accused of influencing public policy formation for self-serving purposes by means of not only knowledge transfer but also offering financial support to the targeted government official or political party. Government officials choose which people to meet with and receive advice from. This subjective choice gives varying opportunities that result in decision-making power to different interest groups (Rowbottom, 2010, p. 78). The public’s confidence in how public policies are being formatted has been shaken by repeated reports on lobbyist’s corruption. In recent years the regulation of lobbying has become a major challenge for modern liberal democracies world-wide. Democracies, relying on trust and support of their citizenry are threatened to loose legitimacy due to professional lobbying.

The question this paper examines is in how far lobbying needs to be recognized as an indicator for democratic governance and whether it is measurable as such. At first characteristics and the scope of lobbying shall be defined to provide the necessary framework for further discussion of the topic. Second, when assessing democratic governance empirical measures for indicators are essential components of analysis. Therefore the measurability of lobbying shall be addressed in the second part of the paper. Third, approaches to regulate lobbyist profession to ensure higher levels of democratic governance shall be examined. Lastly, the case of the European Union shall be analyzed to exemplify successes and loop-holes of the existing regulatory measures and conclude about the importance of lobbying as an indicator when examining the democratic process.

Definition and Scope

Lobbying as means to influence government decisions in favor of specific interest groups is not a new phenomenon. Techniques to influence government officials through communication, oral or written, have existed for centuries (European Commission, 2006, p. 1). However, as explained by Baumgartner and Leech (1998) “the word lobbying’ has seldom been used the same way twice by those studying the topic.” (Baumgartner and Leech, 1998, p. 33). While an elementary definition would merely state that lobbying is an act to influence others ( Bouetiez, 2006) Milbarth (1963) offers a more precise, yet broad, account of the term. According to him lobbying is:

“The stimulation and transmission of communications, by someone other than a citizen acting on his own behalf, directed to a governmental decision-maker with the hope of influencing his decision.” (Milbarth, 1963, p. 7)

Not only can lobbying be an attempt to influence different levels of government (local, national, regional, international) or different branches (legislative, executive or judicial) but also is it pursued by many different actors, such as corporate lobbyists, contract lobbyists or non-for-profit lobbyists (OECD, 2012, p. 23). In recent years there has been an increase in the number and spending’s on lobbying. The U.S. Center for Responsive Politics counted a total of 12.398 active and registered lobbyists in 2012. The total costs allocated for lobbying activities increased from $1.56 billion in 2000 to $3.30billion in 2012 (Center for responsive Politics, 2013). Factors that led to the increase in lobbying as a professional activity could be: First, the sheer rise of pressure groups that seek to influence the government. Second, the decline of corporatism and emergent formalization of relations between the government and major interest groups, which made it necessary for the latter to engage in other activities to maintain or gain influence (Rowbottom, 2010, p. 78). Third, awareness about the complexity of the concept of lobbying as well as some factors that led to increase in professional lobbying is essential when analyzing the different proposals for measuring and regulating professional lobbying.

Measuring lobbying

When assessing lobbying as an indicator for the level of democratic governance of countries it is important to identify measures to retrieve empirical evidence. However, the secretive nature of lobbying leads to difficulties when measuring its relevance for the democratic process. First, the highly intransparent network of lobbyists, their clients and the financial assets involved in influencing decision-making processes limits the ability to capture the effects lobbying has on a country’s legislative. Second, it is difficult to measure to what extend officials action can be identified as a result of lobbyists effort to influence their decision. Third, it is hard to distinguish between unethical lobbying, i.e. if money and personal benefits are involved in the exchange of expertise, or exercise of citizen’s right to communicate with the government (Rowbottom, 2010, p.79). Despite these difficulties some empirical evidence for lobbying can be retrieved from efforts to increase integrity and transparency in the field. Examples are lobbyists registers that give accounts of lobbyists, clients and expenditure on lobbying processes and other regulatory measures.

Proposals for Regulation of the lobbying sector

Threats to government legitimacy are those lobbyists who are well paid to advocate for special interest groups. In public perception the reputation of lobbyists has decreased significantly. A study conducted by the OECD in 2012 showed that 90% of the lobbyists in OECD countries are aware of their profession’s negative reputation (OECD, 2012, p. 67). The majority of participants (76%) ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that some level of transparency might help to ease problems of inappropriate influence-peddling by lobbyists (OECD, 2012, p. 75). It is interesting that despite the conviction of many that transparency would alleviate problems of lobbying; only 26.5% of the lobbyists that participated in the study are in favor of governmental regulations to increase transparency and accountability in the field (OECD, 2012, p. 67).


Awareness about the profession’s negative reputation has led to self-regulation among lobbyists. Lobbyists’ associations are trying to introduce self-regulating measures. Suggestions to enhance transparency and accountability of lobbying are mainly targeted at the promotion of an code of conduct that recommends specific ethic and behavioral principals lobbyists should adhere to. The code of conduct can for example create awareness and restrict lobbyists and government officials from engaging in the exchange of gifts (OECD, 2012, p. 15). Further lobbying associations may offer mandatory ethics training as a condition for membership to ensure adherence to the code of conduct among lobbyists. Lobbying associations can assure adherence to ethical practices in the profession by establishing an independent, cross associational, investigative panel. Additionally, online publication of association-run lobbyist registers, offering insight in the field to the public through the internet, can promote transparency (OECD, 2012, p. 15).



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Title: Lobbying. An indicator for democratic governance?