20 November 2006

Lobbyist registration

"We do have probably the best legislation in the country put in place in order to make sure things are done properly," Williams said.
In the CBC story quoted above, Premier Danny Williams was talking about the provincial lobbyist registration legislation in the midst of accusations that representatives of Persona, Rogers and MTS Allstream should have registered as lobbyist in relation to the fibre deal.

The federal government and five provincial jurisdictions have legislation dealing with lobbyists, that is with people who communicate with government officials on behalf of clients or companies and organizations in order to influence government decisions.

All describe lobbyists and the act of lobbying in similar terms. It's pretty clear that representatives of those companies were engaged in lobbying the provincial government about the deal. Their activity fits any of the definitions of lobbying used in any jurisdiction.

The question comes around the requirement to register as a lobbyist and therefore make the lobbying activity a matter of public record.

Under the Newfoundland and Labrador law, an in-house lobbyist - someone employed full-time by a company - only has to register if 20% or more of his or her time is spent lobbying.

Think about it.

Someone working a 40 hour week could lobby, but he or she wouldn't have to register and thereby publicly disclose their activity unless they spent more than 8 hours a week lobbying. Someone could lobby government for up to a full day each week in perpetuity and never have to publicly disclose the lobbying. A senior executive working more hours could spend even more time each week lobbying and keep the whole thing from public scrutiny.

Of the six jurisdictions across Canada with lobbyist registration laws, only Newfoundland and Labrador makes it possible to lobby as though there was no legislation at all.

The companies and organizations that have registered their in-house lobbyists either exceed the 20% rule or they have opted to register in order to live up to the spirit and intention of the lobbyist registry. That is, they comply with the idea that people lobbying government should publicly disclose their activities.

Newfoundland and Labrador's lobbyist registration law ensures things are done properly.

The only question is what things we are talking about.

Certainly it doesn't necessarily mean that all lobbying is publicly registered, as it would be in just about all the five other provinces and the federal government that have laws governing lobbying.