Israel inches toward lobbying reform

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Lobbying reform has grabbed the attention of several of the world’s parliaments in the last few months. Earlier this summer, a lobbying reform bill that strengthens disclosure and improves transparency was introduced to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. While the bill is not without flaws, it is an encouraging step in the right direction.

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Photo by Flickr user jstreetdotorg

Israel is one of the few countries in the world that regulates lobbying. And like many of those countries, Israel’s regulations are relatively toothless while its disclosure process is incomplete. Lobbyists that seek to influence the Knesset have the option of registering and publicly disclosing information, but they are not mandated to do so by law. The voluntary nature of the register limits its reach and allows major players to remain hidden, leaving the public with a limited understanding of how lobbying shapes government decisionmaking. Additionally, only lobbyists who are active in the parliament must register, and not those who target other branches of government, like the executive.

Movement towards a new, more transparent lobbying regulation system started last winter. In January, the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) published a report in which they recommended several key changes to lobbying regulation. The report states that a new lobbying law should cover in-house lobbyists, or those who lobby for their employer, and expand the definition of lobbying targets, or the government officials lobbyists try to influence, to include branches of government other than the parliament. With the support of Knesset Speaker Rivlin, a bill reflecting some of these recommendations was presented to the parliament this June. The bill is currently awaiting a committee hearing and IDI is optimistic that a hearing will happen soon.

The bill has some important strengths. To some degree, it would expand the coverage of lobbying regulation by including certain in-house lobbyists and those who lobby outside parliamentary buildings. Most importantly, however, lobbyists would be required to submit annual activity reports, focusing specifically on the issues the lobbyists focuses on and the interests or organizations represented. Ideally, lobbyists would report on their activities more frequently, but annual activity reporting would be a welcome improvement to Israel’s current disclosure requirements.

As was the case in France, however, the lobbying reform bill takes a step in the right direction but does not go far enough. There are a number of critical weaknesses in the draft bill. First, the bill does not cover lobbying activities that target the executive branch. Second, it fails to cover in-house lobbyists for whom lobbying is not a central part of their job description. Third, the new law requires that registered lobbyists apply for entry each time they wish to visit the parliament, which provides a strong incentive to remain unregistered. And finally, the Speaker and two deputies would be required to oversee and manage the disclosure process. For lobbying disclosure to be most effective, it should be managed and overseen by an independent government entity. These weaknesses are significant, and will need to be addressed for lobbying to be sufficiently transparent.

Sunlight is becoming increasingly engaged in lobbying transparency around the world. As part of this work, we have two exciting announcements. First, we released a draft set of internationally applicable lobbying disclosure guidelines. We encourage everyone to read and comment on the draft, which will be finalized based on your input. Second, we recently launched a lobbying transparency working group with the Open Knowledge Foundation, which will serve as a hub for sharing resources, news, and best practices with other actors working to make lobbying more transparent. We are excited about this work and urge you to join us in our efforts to shed light on secretive influence peddling.

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