Submission to OECD Consultation on Lobbying and Influence
Madrid, 6 December 2022 – In its analysis of the draft OECD Recommendation on the regulation of lobbying and influence, Access Info has warned of the risk of some governments using the proposed provisions to limit media freedom and freedom of expression in the name of regulating “influence” and ensuring that public officials are “shielded from undue influence”.
In the full version of its submission to the consultation on the OECD Recommendation on Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying and Influence (hereinafter “Draft Recommendation) , Access Info highlights concerns about the broad definition of lobbying and influence as all activities “capable of influencing public decision making” including those directed at a public body’s “stakeholders or a wider audience” including through social media.
A related concern is that the Draft Recommendation strays well beyond regulation of lobbying per se, into areas such as transparency of the beneficial ownership of companies – including specifically media ownership – as well as whistleblower protections and limiting of SLAPP suits, along with access to information laws and the publication of data in open formats.
Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info, said:
“Lobbying regulation is very important in and of itself, but it is the simply the wrong vehicle for questions which should be approached from a rights-based perspective, such as regulation of the media and journalism and protection of freedom of expression.
“We understand the current anxieties about how mis- and disinformation impacts upon democratic discourse but, whatever is being said on social media, public officials must be able to rise above the fray and take evidence-based decisions in the public interest.”
Access Info recommends a revision of the Draft Recommendation, separating its constituent elements out into other recommendations, while clarifying the definition of lobbying to be more in line with standards such as the International Lobby Regulation Standards.
An updated OECD Recommendation with a specific focus on lobbying would be welcome, since many, if not most, OECD members do not yet have proper lobby regulation. There is no EU directive on lobbying and Global Data Barometer research found no data whatsoever on lobbying in 11 out of 21 European countries surveyed.
The OECD could, separately, make detailed proposals on the integrity and inclusiveness of expert and advisory groups, and on complementary integrity instruments such as conflicts of interest and assets declarations, revolving door controls for public officials, and openness of company and beneficial ownership registers.
Many integrity and corruption-prevention measures in international treaties such as the UN Convention against Corruption have not yet been adequately implemented by OECD member countries, so specific recommendations on how to do so would be welcome.
Problematic proposals in the OECD Draft Recommendation, which need to be revised, include the reporting requirements on lobbyists which seem excessive and not necessarily helpful. Care should be taken to review contradictory provisions, such as those about communications and funding from foreign governmental and non-governmental actors, and employment of those “from abroad”. This language is of particular concern in a context in which many civil society organisations have suffered from limitations on foreign funding as part of political pressure resulting in the closing of civic space.
Positive provisions in the Draft Recommendation which nevertheless need to be clarified include suggested obligations on decision makers to consult with a wide range of stakeholders, and the recommendation on regulatory footprints, which currently fails to capture all inputs into decision making and does not require publication of all relevant documents generated by government departments. There should be more extensive requirements for transparency of decision making.
“The public interest is best served by full transparency around decision making, and by promotion of the meaningful participation of all stakeholders, rather than by protecting public officials by attempting to control freedom of speech,” concluded Darbishire.
Given the multiple topics covered by the Draft Recommendation, Access Info recommends that the OECD liaise with other bodies such as the EU, the Council of Europe’s GRECO, and the Open Government Partnership, as well as with relevant civil society actors, including media freedom organisations working on the EMFA, the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe, the anti-corruption UNCAC Coalition, as well as Access Info, Transparency International, the Open Spending EU Coalition and others leading, inter alia, the current campaign for open company and beneficial ownership registers.
Read the full Access Info submission to the OECD Consultation on Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying and Influence here
1. Access Info made a shorter submission to the OECD Consultation on its Recommendation on Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying and Influence on 1 December, and is today publishing a more detailed version which expands on some of the concerns raised about the Draft Recommendation.
Image: OECD Headquarters, Paris (from Council of Europe website)