As a follow up to a previous article, “What is a lobbyist and what do lobbyists do?,” let’s now dive a little deeper and discuss how do lobbyists influence government spending and decision making?
Lobbying in its various forms, including advocacy and other methods of influencing public policies, is a legitimate act of political participation. In the purest terms, lobbyists can bring valuable information to the policy debate, as well as insight on the respective issues. It gives stakeholders access to the development and implementation of public policies.
Do All Stakeholders Truly Have Access?
There is evidence that policy making is not always inclusive. There have been numerous situations where a monopoly of influence by the financially and politically powerful has exerted significant influence, at the expense of those with little or no resources.
Inequity in power and lobbying resources will intensify the disadvantages of groups lacking the capacity and capability to engage in formulating public policy.
What Tactics Do Lobbyists Use to Exert Their Influence?
Lobbyists tend to operate in the shadows, and it is usually by choice. As one lobbyist noted, “The influence of lobbyists increases when it goes mainly unnoticed by the public.” In other words, these lobbyists can do whatever they want without being scrutinized by the public or other oversight organizations.
Here are 10 tactics that lobbyists will use:
- Control the ground
- Spin the media
- Engineer a following
- Buy in credibility
- Sponsor a thinktank
- Consult your critics
- Neutralize the opposition
- Control the web
- Open the door
- And finally
Control the ground
Lobbyists succeed by owning the terms of the debate, by steering the conversation away from those they can’t win and on to those they can.
For example, a public discussion on a company’s environmental impact has a negative impact, the lobbyists will instead push to have a debate with politicians and the media on the hypothetical economic benefits of their ambitions. Once this narrative is framed and drives the conversation from that point forward, the dissenting voices will be marginalized and become irrelevant.
Related: What is the Importance of Environmental Law?
Spin the media
A lobbyist must know when to use the media and when to avoid them. The more noise there is, the less control the lobbyists have. The messaging must be carefully crafted. Instead of corporate greed or selfish profiting, the message must appear to align with the wider national interest, therefore the messaging becomes focused on economic growth and jobs.
Engineer a following
The messaging would be ineffective, if it is only being proposed by the company who hired the lobbyist. A good lobbyist would create or ‘engineer’ a massive following for wider impact.
Buy in credibility
Companies are typically the least credible source of information for the public, as they have a certain self-interest to promote their agenda. Therefore, they need authentic and on the surface people who appear to be independent, to help disseminate their message.
Sponsor a thinktank
Thinktanks can be brought in as another source of so called ‘independent’ experts, who can also assist with pushing the narrative, under the guise of external commentators.
Consult your critics
Think of this as a public relations exercise than truly consulting your critics. The lobbyist is hired to engage with these critics through community events, focus groups or exhibitions. The purpose of these activities is to flush out the critics or opposition and thus can manage the narrative.
Neutralize the opposition
Lobbyists view dealing with their opposition activists as a form of guerilla warfare, simply getting their hands dirty in the trenches. They accomplish this by dividing these activists into two groups, friends, or foes, then they will attempt to create a divide between these activists, and align with the ‘friends,’ while at the same time making it very difficult for the foes to continue their campaign.
Control the web
Today, the world is very tuned into everything digital, so much information is distributed via the internet on multiple social media platforms, whether accurate facts or misinformation, real or fake news. So, lobbyists will flood the internet with positive news or the specific narrative they want to push. This is accomplished by creating phony blogs and press releases and ensuring their content is recognized by the search engine algorithms and thus pushed to the top of search results and driving down the critics via the google rankings.
This is extremely effective.
Open the door
All lobbyists need access to the politicians. This access can be bought, not by bribes, but by investing in the relationship through building trust, offering help and favors. One method is to hire the politicians’ friends, former employees, or colleagues. This particular investment ensures an open-ended access to the politicians.
It may only be an appearance, but it is more likely a reality that certain government decisions might be influenced by the opportunity for future employment within the respective private sector. How often have you read where the former officials from the military or departments of health being hired by a defense contractor or a pharmaceutical company?
What is Being Done?
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international organization that works to build better policies for better lives. Their goal is to shape policies that will foster prosperity, equality, opportunity and wellbeing for all.
The OECD works together with policy makers, governments, and citizens, to inform public decision making and bring together its 38 member countries on key global issues. The OECD also produces independent analysis and statistics to promote policies that will improve the social well being across the globe.
In 2010, the OECD Council adopted the Recommendation on Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying. This was the first set of international guidelines for governments to address the risks of undue influence, as well as inequity in the power of influence. These principles were a part of a broader set of OECD initiatives kickstarted by the 2008 financial crisis, to establish standards and principles for a stronger, cleaner and fairer economy, as well as avoiding policy choices that only benefit the financially and politically powerful.
Key points of the OECD Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying
These principles were broken down into four separate buckets of activities.
Build an effective and fair framework for openness and access:
- Countries should provide a level playing field by granting all stakeholders fair and equitable access to the development and implementation of public policies.
- Rules and guidelines on lobbying should address the governance concerns related to lobbying practices and respect the socio-political and administrative contexts.
- Rules and guidelines on lobbying should be consistent with the wider policy and regulatory frameworks.
- Countries should clearly define the terms ‘lobbying’ and ‘lobbyist’ when they consider or develop rules and guidelines on lobbying.
- Countries should provide an adequate degree of transparency to ensure that public officials, citizens, and businesses can obtain sufficient information on lobbying activities.
- Countries should enable stakeholders, including civil society organizations, businesses, the media, and the general public, to scrutinize lobbying activities.
Fostering a culture of integrity:
- Countries should foster a culture of integrity in public organizations and decision making by providing clear rules and guidelines of conduct for public officials.
- Lobbyists should comply with standards of professionalism and transparency, share responsibility for fostering a culture of transparency and integrity in lobbying.
Mechanisms for effective implementation, compliance, and review:
- Countries should involve key actors in implementing a coherent spectrum of strategies and practices to achieve compliance.
- Countries should review the functioning of their rules and guidelines related to lobbying on a periodic basis and make the necessary adjustments in light of experience.
Report on the Progress
The OECD issued a report in 2014 on the progress of countries adopting these principles, and as expected the results were quite mixed.
The conclusion was that lobbying was receiving increased attention and some countries were adopting the relevant regulations or policies. However, granted these efforts resulted in greater awareness of the risks of lobbying practices and created more openness about these practices, unfortunately, a lot of the progress were driven by the pressure of public and political scandals.
In other words, if not for these scandals, there would probably have been minimal or no progress at all.
The report also mentioned that compliance with the regulations and policies were uneven. Finally, opening up access to the decision-making process, and not only to specific interests, but to all stakeholders, including the private sector and the public at large, still remained a difficult challenge.