What's the issue?
Lobbying has the potential to contribute to the democratic process and provide decision makers directly with valuable insights and data. However, without transparency and integrity, it can be used to steer public policies away from the public interest – particularly if a small group of powerful interests use their wealth, power or privileges to gain unfair advantages.
While many countries are addressing lobbying-related risks, practices to influence public policies continue to evolve. More than half of OECD countries have yet to address risks related to the interaction of lobbying groups with public officials. The OECD is working to anticipate and address these evolving challenges.
How are we addressing it?
Introduced in 2010, the OECD Recommendation on Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying was the first international set of guidelines for governments to address concerns over lobbying practices. It calls for equal access to policy discussions by all parties concerned, for enhanced transparency and integrity in lobbying, and for mechanisms of enforcement, compliance and review.
In 2021, the OECD published the report, “Lobbying in the 21st Century”, which takes stock of how countries are implementing the recommendation. The report reflects on new challenges and risks related to the many ways special interest groups attempt to influence public policies, and reviews tools adopted by governments to safeguard impartiality and fairness in the public decision-making process. The report will be followed up by a review of the 2010 OECD Recommendation on Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying, to update it to respond to increasingly complex forms of lobbying.
What's the impact?
The Recommendation has been key in raising awareness and promoting the relevance of lobbying standards , encouraging governments to enhance transparency and integrity in public decision making. For example, Austria, Chile, the European Union, France and Ireland reported having used the Recommendation as a source for their regulations.
Ireland, for example, passed the Lobbying Act in 2015. As part of this new law, the government provides a web-based open register of lobbyists, and any individual, company or NGO that seeks to directly or indirectly influence officials on a policy issue must register on a public platform and disclose any lobbying activity. The rules cover meetings with high-level public officials, as well as letters, emails or tweets intended to influence policy. The Act also includes specific provisions for designated public officials on taking up certain positions that present a potential conflict of interest for a specified period after leaving public office.
The Irish lobbying regulation enables stakeholders such as civil society organisations, businesses, the media and the general public to scrutinise lobbying activities.
Apart from lobbying activities that a register can capture, the OECD also developed a database that gathers evidence from 102 studies on influence on health policies. The studies reveal recurring methods of influence, from smoke screens (i.e. diverting the discussion from the initial issue at hand) to funding research and/or organisations to advance private agendas. These practices easily hide beyond the radar of the public and regulators, as they are creative and rapidly evolving. The OECD’s work helps bring them into the light.
To address new challenges, the OECD is leading ongoing work to identify the scope of influence practices and their impact on people’s lives. In order to work collaboratively and better understand mechanisms of influence, and to wield influence in the decision-making process, the OECD Public Sector Integrity division has created a Coalition of Influencers on Integrity in Public Decision-Making.