11 February 2012

The movement to tidy up lobbying in the United States is getting a new, improbable, voice in Jack Abramoff. In Canada, Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition are campaigning to plug what they see as gaping holes in the Lobbying Act which enable secret, unethical lobbying of the government. New Zealand of course, places no constraints on lobbyists and few obligations on Ministers and officials on whom lobbyists exercise their craft.
A Canadian select committee, currently undertaking a mandatory five yearly review of that country’s Lobbying Act, has been urged that extensive change is needed, not only to make the law effective but to meet the requirements of the Open Government Partnership. (Canada as indicated that it will join with almost 50 other countries in the Partnership later this year; the New Zealand Government has not indicated interest in the Partnership, possibly because membership requires controls on the lobbying of decision makers.)
Democracy Watch describes recommendations to end secret lobbying as … “simply… that every politician, political staff person, appointee and decision-making public servant … disclose the identity of anyone who communicates with them in any way about their decisions, and the details of the communication…”
On the other side of the argument, the Government Relations Institute is seeking to liberalise statutory constraints, amend the Lobbyists’ Code, limit the extent to which disclosure of clients and costs is required and reduce the current five year limitation on registration as a lobbyist when a Minister leaves office.
Among the amendments proposed by Democracy Watch are measures that
* require lobbyists to disclose the amount they spend on lobbying campaigns (as in 33 U.S. states);
* improve the searchability of the lobbyist registry
* prohibit lobbyists from working for government agencies or serving in senior positions for political parties or candidates for public office, and from having business connections with anyone who does;
* amend the MPs’ code of conduct to prohibit lobbyists working as volunteers in secret for any MP;
* ban all senior politicians, staff appointees and senior officials from lobbying (paid or unpaid) for five years for anyone they had dealings with during their last five years in office, and ban all junior politicians, staff appointees and officials from doing the same for one to three years depending on their decision-making power;
* treat anyone from the private sector seconded to an agency under the”employment exchange program” in the same way as a senior public office holder becoming a lobbyist;
* ban lobbyists from becoming members of Cabinet for at least four years after they are elected to Parliament;
* require the Commissioner of Lobbying to conduct random audits of everyone covered by the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code;
* prohibit the Commissioner from giving secret advice;
* ensure that the Commissioner must investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints) ;
* require the Commissioner to disclose the identity of rule-breakers and to penalize rule-breakers with significant fines;
* ensure all Commissioner decisions can be reviewed by the courts;
* give opposition party leaders a veto over the appointment of the Commissioner;
* require the Commissioner to publish bi-annual reports to a parliamentary committee that include comprehensive details about complaints and their investigation;
* make the Lobbyists’ Code part of federal law.