Is Political Lobbying Really Corrupt? 

Is Political Lobbying Really Corrupt?

The greatest crime of political lobbyists is their failure to educate the public on its benefits and how at its best  it can be tool to help individuals improve the world we live in

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Sinister is a word a lot of people feel epitomizes political lobbying as it has a bad reputation in the majority of countries and is associated with political corruption and immorality. While this claim does have some foundation it is actually extremely limited in terms of truth. Lobbying is at its best and simplest an efficient communicative mechanism which allows citizens to have their voices heard. 

Lobbying plays a vital part in any functioning democracy - that's not to say that there are not problems with lobbying in its current form. Today I intend to give a true reflection of what political lobbying is, reveal its imperfections and present the case that perhaps it is not as detrimental to society as we would like to believe.

Often the mention of a 'political lobbyist' conjurers up the image in one's mind of a male elitist, an inheritor of their father's job, who was conditioned from birth to ignore his conscience in order to achieve success; whatever that is. Although this may be an exaggeration it is not an immense distance off the reality of the public's perception of lobbying. It has long been acknowledged that lobbying has played a vital part in bringing about societal change - some positive, some negative. But the fact remains that without lobbying society would not have developed anywhere near as much as it has.

In 2010 lobbying in the UK reached an all time low, this should act as some sort of consolidation for those skeptical of the powerful influence lobbying can have on our elected officials.

 However it is often the case that it is not the amount of lobbying that is important but instead the level of  influence is all that matters.

In order to be a successful lobbyist you must have certain facilities and characteristics. The first and the most important is access to those you intend to lobby. This may seem as a big deal but it really varies from country to country. In Ireland for example you will have no problem bumping into a person with the correct planing and contacts, however the situation in the US is extremely different - perhaps that is why in the US access to people of power is generally restricted to those with enough name recognition to grant them a meeting.

The second characteristic needed is a persuasive personality. This may seem as inferred but it is important to state that the only real personality requirement needed to become a lobbyist is having the ability to persuade. Ethical behaviour and high levels of morality can be perceived as weakness in the political world especially when it comes to corporate matters, because at its core a country is like a business, so no a moral vision and philosophy is certainly not required.

Finally in order to achieve in the lobbying business you often need money. Again, monetary backing is more important to some politicians and in some countries but examples show that the bigger the amount of money you have at your disposal the higher your chances are of having a real influence on political decisions. In June of this year $125 million was spent by secretive donors on backing climate denial groups. Not only is this proof that corporations lack the integrity to be preachers of truth but also that if you have enough money politicians become your puppet to manipulate and confuse to your heart's desire.

index  Another example can be found in the UK when in 2010 three former Labour      Party Ministers were filmed without their prior knowledge or consensus showing their willingness to lobby on the behalf of an American firm for cash. One such Minister, Stephen Byers, was quoted of saying , "I'm like a cab for hire for 5000£". You can see that video here. No wonder average citizens across the world are so disillusioned and disenfranchised with the political process and the political class that are supposed to represent them but often instead represent big business who are more forthcoming in terms of money.

However the point I am trying to make is that these are minority cases, this is not the daily going-ons in parliaments across the world because if it was we would have a lot less freedom and liberty than we currently have. All we can do is hope that when politicians are eventually presented with the task from large corporations to limit specific citizen rights and freedoms that they will have the political integrity and moral strength to reject it.

Where many people miss the fundamental point about lobbying is that not all lobbyists are lobbying on the behalf of rich and powerful corporations. Many have concerns and issues with modern day society as we do and avail of the service of lobbying to express these views.  Lobbying not only involves companies looking for financial gain but also representative bodies, unions, charities and others making their views known. The fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of individuality involved in lobbying: it is a case of what the lobbyist aims to achieve from lobbying the lobbyist will get. Some people will exploit the lack of transparency in the system to further their own agenda while others will utilize the service and try to bring about productive change.

Many lobbyists are principled people to the contrary of media  image and public perception. Nearly every PR firm now has a public affairs division and agencies have sophisticated departments specifically for lobbying - how can nearly every single PR firm and NGO have a negative agenda. That argument simply has no basis, so no not all lobbying has negative consequences.

The greatest crime of political lobbyists is their failure to educate the public on its benefits and how at its best  it can be tool to help individuals improve the world we live in. It is the fault of the principled lobbyists for not being bothered about the growing disdain the public feel towards their occupation. There are mechanisms for making lobbying more open and transparent - the most effective one is an involuntary register. Essentially what a register does is it allows citizens to see who is lobbying who and what their motivations are. Very soon such a register will be put in place online in Ireland and I welcome that change.

I personally will never blame lobbyists for the problems regarding corruption in modern society - I blame the system.


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