UNIT 09: LOBBYING: MONEY AND POWER (AND FRIENDS IN HIGH
After completing this unit, you should be able to:
• Assess the role and activities of lobbyists
• describe the principal features of the Lobbyists’ Registration Act and the Lobbyists’
Code of Conduct
• identify the weaknesses in the current rules and enforcement.
This week we will look at one of the dark sides of politics – lobbying and the influential
role played by professional lobbyists. Lobbying is sometimes described as the world’s
second oldest profession (after prostitution). Both professions have image problems.
Lobbying, however, is actually a government-regulated industry. As specified in the
federal Lobbying Act:
“A person is lobbying when he or she, for payment, on behalf of a person or organization,
communicates with a public office holder in respect of a matter of public policy or to set
up a meeting between a public office holder and another person.”
Mr. Justice John Gomery, in his second report on the Sponsorship Scandal, describes
lobbying as “a burgeoning part of our political system.”
Depending on one’s point of view, it may be seen as a cancer on the political system or a
benign, even useful, force in a smoothly functioning democracy.
Lobbyists are people who earn their living by making things happen. They open doors;
they introduce their clients to decision-makers; they write presentations; they advise on
strategy; they make sure decision-makers have all the information they need; and, if
necessary, they use political clout to get a favourable decision for their client.
There are no innocents in political lobbying. Access and influence are the currency of the
business. A lobbyist who get his client’s case in front of the right bureaucrat or politician
and persuades them to accept the client’s position can become very prosperous very
This not the Wild West, however. The federal government moved to rein in lobbyists
back in 1989 with the passage of the Lobbyists Registration Act(LRA).Now renamed
the Lobbying Act, the created a Lobbyists’ Registry administered by a Registrar of
Lobbyists. After 1989, anyone who wanted to lobby the federal government, its
politicians or bureaucrats, had to sign up. They had to say who they were, who they represented, what files or issues they were working on, and which people in the federal
government they were dealing with. The registry is public, creating a degree of
transparency that never before existed.
Between 1995 and 1997 amendments strengthened the act, required lobbyists to disclose
more detailed information, and established a Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. You will find
the code in your Unit 09 readings. In 2002-2003, the act was tightened again; lobbyists
were required to submit more information; and lobbying itself was more clearly defined.
The legislation had two purposes: to product the public from corrupt behind-the-scenes
wheeling and dealing; and to give the lobbying industry a professional status and
credibility it had not had previously. Sleazy players and marginal operators were
screened out. Those who remained – if not exactly bearing a Good Housekeeping seal of
approval – could at least claim the respectability of being registered. As respectable
participants in the process, they could attract clients, command higher fees and be treated
as being something better than prostitutes or parasites on the body politic.
As lobbyists themselves see it, their role is to make dealing with big government a more
manageable, predictable and productive exercise for their clients. Or, as Scott Proudfoot
of the Hillwatch lobbying firm puts it (see Unit 09 readings), the function is to level the
playing field so that David (the client) has a fair shot at Goliath (the government).
There are good lobbyists and bad ones. Good lobbyists bring relevant and important
information to the attention of decision-makers, encourage dialogue and promote
accommodation. Bad lobbyists sow confusion, inject contention and partisanship into
decision-making, and introduce corrupt practices (e.g. bribery, influence-peddling) into
Despite the respectability confer