Sunlight Joins Effort Across the Pond as Britain Tries to Rein In Influence Buying

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The sign for K Street, NW in DC - the home of lobbying in America.A heated debate over proposed lobbying legislation is underway in Great Britain, where lobbying reform legislation has been offered as a result of a scandal in which Members of the House of Lords apparently offered assistance to fake solar energy lobbyists in exchange for payment.

Prime Minister David Cameron proposed lobbying reform legislation in 2010, but it took the scandal to muster enough outrage to spawn reform efforts.

Much of the outcry over the bill is focused on provisions that would limit the amount of money third parties could spend on elections.  But even more fundamentally, the bill fails to do what it set out to do—that is, shine a light on the activities of lobbyists. The bill is so poorly and narrowly crafted that it may result in less transparency than is currently provided by the UK’s voluntary (and woefully incomplete) lobbyist registry.

As it is currently written, the legislation, known as the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, would require registration only from outside lobbyist consultants—leaving in-house lobbyists and other paid influencers free from any registration and reporting requirements and opening up a gaping loophole in which all lobbying activities could be moved in-house to avoid disclosure.

Sunlight joined a group of global transparency advocates on an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, calling on leaders to redraft the bill to better address the goal of providing more transparency for lobbying activities.

Sunlight has long advocated greater lobbying transparency in the US and abroad to inform the public where the levers of influence are and who is pulling them. Sunlight has developed a set of draft principles that form the foundation of any comprehensive lobbying disclosure regime.

  • “Lobbying” and “lobbying targets” must be clearly and broadly defined
  • Anyone paid to lobby must to register and report
  • Lobbyists must disclose prior government employment
  • Individual lobbyists must be uniquely identifiable
  • Lobbyists’ clients, compensation, and a description of the issues and positions being advocated must be disclosed
  • All significant lobbying contacts with government officials must be reported
  • Expenditures for public facing lobbying support, such as advertisements and polls, must be disclosed
  • Reports must be filed online, in real time, and made available to the public in a robust format
  • Disclosure must be enforced by an independent body
  • The names of violators must be disclosed

Sunlight has been investigating lobbying requirements in countries around the globe and, based on the results of that research, will expand on these principles and offer detailed guidelines for lobbying disclosure in the coming weeks. What is currently clear is that as it is drafted, the Transparency of Lobbying bill fails to address the principles outlined above.

The UK has the opportunity to demonstrate that timely, robust disclosure of lobbying activities can lead to greater accountability and a more informed citizenry.  It should not squander the chance to become a global leader on lobbying transparency.

(Photo by Ben Schumin via Wikimedia Commons.)

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