I’ve just come back from half a seminar at the excellent Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield.
David Grayson, the Center’s director, had kindly invited me to take part in a seminar on what constitutes responsible lobbying.
The other invitees were from a wide range of academic, business, and consultancy firms.
Today’s was a fascinating debate. I disagreed on occasion with some protagonists, all three from a lobbying background, on just how widespread negative lobbying and particularly ‘astro-turfing’ and pretend authentic commentary has become.
(They said it didn’t work at all, companies always got caught, and it’s not much of a problem, whilst I think we only know about it when companies get caught, and there is a lot going on we don’t hear about. At the time, I don’t think I made my points very clearly, and could have handled it better. A lesson learned.)
The seminar hasn’t finished yet, the aim is to come out with some practical ideas on this question and it continues later on today.
The aim is to inform academic thinking at Cranfield/Doughty and perhaps become part of future research and papers. (Doughty does some very good papers you should check out).
Here’s a quick summary of what we discussed that might constitute principles for responsible lobbying, in no particular order, with some additions I’ve added :
1) Lobbying should based on real evidence from independent, credible sources
2) Transparency is vital. Lobbying positions should be clear, and obviously consistent with the values, aims and intentions of the company
3) Lobbying should not be outsourced to third parties (relates to my above point about nefarious activities that public affairs consultants can undertake on a company’s behalf)
4) Lobbying should not be against the public interest
5) It should persuade by the force of argument rather than with money
6) Positions taken should be those any company would be happy standing up for in public
7) Responsible lobbying should not utilise inappropriate (favourable) access to politicians
8) It should not seek to persuade public servants to act outside their area of public duty
9) The motives for lobbying on a particular issue should be made clear at all times
10) Timeframes are important to consider. A short gain enabled by intense lobbying on an issue, for example, may not be to the medium or long term corporate advantage.
I couldn’t attend the last part of the seminar, later on today, where ideas like this will be further debated. I’m sure something more sensible than the above will come out of it in note, paper, or report form. When it does I’ll come back to this issue. It’s a really important one that is not nearly discussed often enough.