pressreviewblog

Self-regulation of the lobbying industry

In regulation on May 22, 2009 at 2:25 pm

The lobbying industry is currently debating how it can strengthen its arrangements of self-regulation. I have researched the issues within the industry to understand what lessons can be drawn from this for self-regulation of the press.

Currently lobbying or public affairs companies can join the Association of Professional Political Consultants whilst individuals can be a member of the Charted Institute of Public Relations – which is conditional on acceptance of the institute’s code of conduct.

Membership of the APPC is dependent on signing-up to a code of conduct and declaring all of your fee paying clients and salaried staff in a publicly available register. The code is owned by the members of the APPC who can seek election to its board. Judgements for breaches of the code are made by a committee of its members. The APPC is administered from within the industry.

In addition to the code and the register, the APPC requires that:
“the member firm, its staff and non-executive political consultants should accept and agree to abide by this Code for itself and that members will be jointly and severally liable for the actions of their staff in relation to the Code. Regulated political consultants are required to endorse the Code and to adopt and observe the principles and duties set out in it in relation to their business dealings with clients and with institutions of government.”

However, after examining the relationship between lobbying and national politics, the public administration select committee found these arrangements to be insufficient. In particular the select committee found:

  1. The guiding principles of conduct may not go far enough, but they are nonetheless a welcome and noteworthy step towards consistency of approach
  2. The APPC does not seem to attract sufficient trust throughout the lobbying industry and among its clients for it to suggest with any authority that only its members should be eligible to apply for public contracts. But the spirit of this suggestion . . . recognises that the current situation allows consultancies to pick and choose the rules that apply to them in a way that is incompatible with effective self-regulation.
  3. A complaints system that was working would have produced more than three cases in the last ten years . . . Reprimands and “severe” reprimands . . . are not of a kind that would give confidence to any outsider that disciplinary processes are robust.
  4. The APPC’s policy of expecting complainants to be prepared to bear the costs of an investigation, including the legal fees of the member complained against, is unacceptable.

Next week, I will examine the debates around reform of the self-regulatory system to identify the similarities and differences with other self-regulatory systems.

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