Newly released international standards can help clean up lobbying

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As of May 2015, at least 20 countries worldwide have lobbying regulation in place at the national level. Unfortunately, the quality of this regulation varies and most don’t include all of the key elements of transparency, integrity and equality of access in lobbying. To support efforts to better regulate this currently opaque practice across the globe, we are proud to support new international standards that give clear guidance to governments on what they need to do to clean up lobbying.

Multiple scandals throughout the world demonstrate that without clear and enforceable rules, those who have the best connections and more resources at their disposal can come to dominate political decision-making. Quite notable is the recent Volkswagen scandal in the E.U. — at face value a story of environmental recklessness and the deception of consumers and regulators on a grand scale, but one with undercurrents of undue influence, privileged access and aggressive lobbying in the private interest. With a reported annual expenditure of €3.3 million and 43 employees involved in the company’s EU lobbying activities, Volkswagen is in the top 10 companies and groups spending the most on lobbying the EU. In the EU’s complex lawmaking process surrounding emissions testing, evidence suggests that intense lobbying was carried out by carmakers at every turn and there are indications that they have been successful shaping EU legislation to suit their interests.

A collective of international advocacy organizations — including the Sunlight Foundation, alongside Transparency International, Access Info Europe and Open Knowledge — have published new International Standards for Lobbying Regulation to answer questions of how to regulate lobbying and ensure that decision-making is transparent, participatory and ultimately serves the public interest. This initiative is unique in that it draws on the experience of a broad coalition of civil society organizations active in the field of lobbying transparency and open governance, and goes further than existing regulations and standards.

The standards were drawn up following an intensive review of legislation worldwide and consultation with civil society, government and lobbyists themselves. In addition to giving guidance to governments, the standards can also be used by civil society for benchmarking existing or draft laws and advocating for better regulation. If you want additional information on the drafting of the standards, check out the announcement blog post from Transparency International.

We believe that these international standards will provide the groundwork to aid in the introduction of legislative footprints in countries across the world, ensuring full transparency of decision-making processes and promoting participation in public decision-making from individuals and groups with a range of perspectives. Sunlight could not have been more happy to contribute to this effort and look forward to following the long tail of the International Standards for Lobbying Regulation. To participate in the ongoing conversation, feel free to subscribe to the lobbying transparency list serve. We look forward to hearing from you!