Titled 'Special Report: Burgeoning Conservative Think Tanks' and published by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the report states that State Policy Network's precursor — the Madison Group — was 'launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council and housed in the Chicago-based Heartland Institute'.
Further, Constance "Connie" Campanella — former ALEC executive director and the first president of the Madison Group — left ALEC in 1988 to create a lobbying firm called Stateside Associates. Stateside uses ALEC meetings (and the meetings of other groups) as lobbying opportunities for its corporate clients.
'Stateside Associates is the largest state and local government affairs firm,' according to its website. 'Since 1988, the Stateside team has worked across the 50 states and in many local governments on behalf of dozens of companies, trade associations and government and non-profit clients.'
Sign our petition calling on the government to rewrite the lobbying Bill and introduce a proper register of lobbyists in the UK.
Launched by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and the Open Knowledge Foundation, the petition demands the UK government gives citizens a proper register of lobbyists in the UK.
As we’ve written about before, the lobbying register proposed in the Lobbying Bill (which is currently going through parliament) only covers a small portion of the UK’s £2 billion influence industry. We think this needs to change and call on the government to rewrite the bill. The full text of the petition is copied below, and you can sign up here.
If you agree that citizens should be able to see who is lobbying government and which decisions they are trying to influence, please sign and share the petition with friends and colleagues:
STOP SECRET CORPORATE LOBBYING
The government is poised to let corporate lobbyists off the hook: we have just weeks to stop them. Having been slammed for proposals that unfairly cracked down on charities, the government is now trying to pass a watered down ‘register of lobbyists’, which would do nothing to stop the malign influence of big corporations over our political system.
For a truly democratic result, all lobbyists must be obliged to say who they’re meeting, what decisions they are seeking to influence and how much they are spending. If the government is serious about rebuilding public trust, it must rewrite its proposals for a lobbying register now, and keep its promise to citizens.
Why is this important?
The UK has a £2 billion commercial lobbying industry – the third largest in the world – that is embedded in our political system. But the government’s current proposal would exclude the vast majority of commercial lobbyists and give the rest an easy ride. The new rules would apply to as little as 5% of all lobbying activity, and those they did affect would hardly have to provide any information at all.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg promised they would run the ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’ but they have yet to deliver on their promise to shine a light on secret corporate lobbying, which advances the interests of the few at the expense of the many. This is their last chance to propose a register that covers all lobbyists and includes meaningful information about their activities.
This petition is coordinated by the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and endorsed by: Access Info, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Watch, Greenpeace, Spinwatch, the Sunlight Foundation, Unlock Democracy and War on Want. If your organisation would like to endorse the petition, please email us.
Conall McDevitt, the SDLP South Belfast Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLA), resigned in September after it emerged that he had failed to declare receiving £6,750 from PR and lobbying firm Weber Shandwick between March and August 2010. A little noticed implication is that his declaration implicates Weber Shandwick in an apparent breach of the code of conduct of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC). Weber Shandwick was paying McDevitt, its former Belfast managing director, to 'mentor the company team that replaced him after his election' while he was working as an MLA.
Previous reporting of the story has noted the Assembly code breach and that the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) is investigating whether a breach of its rules has occurred.
However, Weber Shandwick is also a lobbying firm and a member of the lobbyists' lobby group the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC). Weber Shandwick's Belfast office is listed in the APPC register and McDevitt himself was listed as providing lobbying 'consultancy services' in the period 'until 29.1.2010', the day he was elected as an MLA. According to article 7 in the APPC code of conduct, lobbyists:
must not offer or give, or cause a client to offer or give, any financial or other incentive to any member of representative of an institution of government, whether elected, appointed or co-opted, that could be construed in any way as a bribe or solicitation of favour.
The code also clearly forbids lobbyists from employing or making any 'payment in money or in kind' to 'any MP, MEP, sitting Peer or any member of the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly of Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Greater London Authority'.
Weber Shandwick, one of the biggest PR and lobbying companies in the UK, appears to have breached these rules by paying McDevitt while he was an MLA.
A few days ago, I was told by the organisers of a 'social media' festival that the hashtag was my 'new best friend'. As I’ve never hugged a hashtag or cried on the shoulders of one, I felt it was important to question this 'wisdom'.
Like millions of others, I’m addicted to Facebook and, to a lesser degree, Twitter. I check these websites so frequently that I often forget they are owned by vast corporations.
Some of these firms’ activities are inherently anti-democratic.
Facebook’s Brussels office is headed by Erika Mann, a former German member of the European Parliament. She has long fought to enable the interests of big business triumph over those of ordinary people.
During her 15 years as an MEP, Mann continuously advocated that the European Union should liberalise its trade with the United States.
At one point, it seemed that her calls were being ignored by political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. All that changed in February this year, when Barack Obama expressed his support for such an agreement during his State of the Union address. Talks aimed at reaching a very broad trade and investment deal were formally launched in July.
Now wearing her Facebook hat, Erika Mann is still extolling the apparent virtues of “free” trade at every available opportunity.
In April, she spoke at a conference in Dublin, where Facebook’s international headquarters are located. Mann argued that it would be'extremely important' for an eventual deal to make the standards faced by internet companies in the EU and US 'more coherent'.
Is it still possible to be shocked by the arrogance of New Labour's architects? I didn't think it was. Then I started investigating Peter Mandelson's stint as the EU's trade commissioner.
In 2007, Mandelson sent a threatening letter to several ministers in the Thai government after it overruled patents on medicines for AIDS and high blood pressure. Taking such steps to reduce the costs of prescription drugs could make Thailand lose foreign investment, Mandelson warned, employing a tried and tested bullying tactic.
Briefing notes prepared for Mandelson by Brussels officials acknowledged that the Bangkok authorities were legally entitled to circumvent the intellectual property "rights" of major pharmaceutical firms on public health grounds. The officials nonetheless advised Mandelson to instruct the Thais that any patent-busting in which they engaged must be restricted to medicines for AIDS. Extending it to treatments for heart disease and other ailments would set a "dangerous precedent", the officials argued.
Those documents indicate that Mandelson's willingness to act as a battering ram for Western multinationals knew few bounds. The idea that a relatively poor Asian country could put the interests of its own citizens before those of the world's top pharmaceutical companies was anathema to his mindset. His attempts to make Thais recovering from heart attacks foot higher medical bills constituted a far more greater affront to humanity than those misdemeanours which prompted him to resign (twice) from the British cabinet.
During his four years in Brussels, Mandelson pushed the EU's agenda to new extremes.
According to reports, the Conservative Party has just deleted its entire archive of speeches (and press releases) from 2000 until May 2010 from its website. This, it says, is to 'improve the experience for visitors' to its website. Others have accused it of pressing delete 'to make people forget about its broken promises and failures'.
This latter explanation appears to be backed up by evidence that the Tories have also deliberately deleted all trace of these past commitments and statements from the Wayback Archive, the main internet library, through which old webpages can be accessed. The pages can still be retrieved, however, from the British Library's own archive of the site, apparently.
So, in the interests of providing access to this material, here is the relevant section from David Cameron's pitch to the electorate on lobbying: 'The Next Big Scandal' speech delivered by Cameron just ahead of the 2010 general election. Given the government's lack of seriousness over the issue of lobbyists in the three years since - and its efforts to introduce a fake register of lobbyists - is it any wonder it wants it to disappear?
David Cameron, February 2010: 'Rebuilding Trust in Politics'
"Now we all know that expenses has dominated politics for the last year. But if anyone thinks that cleaning up politics means dealing with this alone and then forgetting about it, they are wrong. Because there is another big issue that we can no longer ignore.
It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.
I’m talking about lobbying – and we all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism. We believe in market economics, not crony capitalism. So we must be the party that sorts all this out.
Now, I want to be clear: it’s not just big business that gets involved in lobbying. Charities and other organisations, including trade unions, do it too. What’s more, when it's open and transparent, when people know who is meeting who, for what reason and with what outcome, lobbying is perfectly reasonable.
It’s important that businesses, charities and other organisations feel they can make sure their voice is heard. And indeed, lobbying often makes for better, more workable, legislation. But I believe that it is increasingly clear that lobbying in this country is getting out of control.
Today it is a £2 billion industry that has a huge presence in Parliament. The Hansard Society has estimated that some MPs are approached over one hundred times a week by lobbyists. Much of the time this happens covertly.
We don’t know who is meeting whom. We don’t know whether any favours are being exchanged. We don’t know which outside interests are wielding unhealthy influence. This isn’t a minor issue with minor consequences. Commercial interests - not to mention government contracts - worth hundreds of billions of pounds are potentially at stake.
I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest.
We can’t go on like this. I believe it’s time we shone the light of transparency on lobbying in our country and forced our politics to come clean about who is buying power and influence.
Politics should belong to people, not big business or big unions, and we need to sort this out. So if we win the election, we will take a lead on this issue by making sure that ex-ministers are not allowed to use their contacts and knowledge - gained while being paid by the public to serve the public - for their own private gain."
Renewed 'peace talks' between Israeli and the Palestinian Authority officials have quietly been going on behind closed doors and a US-imposed media blackout for three months now. Like all previous such exercises they will almost certainly break down without delivering justice or bringing peace.
Even though the Palestine Papers made it clear that the leaders of the PA, a creation of the Oslo process, have offered huge concessions in past rounds of talks, pro-Israel commentators are nonetheless pre-emptively rehearsing their arguments to blame the Palestinian side and obfuscate the fundamental longstanding issue: Israeli intransigence. A key - though little known - organisation engaged in this activity in British political circles is BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.
'BICOM: Giving peace a chance?', a new report published by Spinwatch, subjects this organisation to detailed scrutiny for the first time. It concludes that BICOM, like Israel itself, seeks to maintain the façade of progress towards peace, but in practice exhibits deep disdain for international law.
BICOM was established in 2001 in the wake of the Second Intifada and increasing international exasperation with Israel. Looking back a decade later, its primary funder, the billionaire businessman Poju Zabludowicz, neatly articulated its raison d'etre: 'We have learnt over the last 10 years… that the key to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain is convincing people in this country that Israel seeks a lasting peace… As long as this argument remains credible then people will generally forgive mistakes and difficulties even if peace continues to be elusive', he wrote.
So BICOM's aim is not to contribute to peace, but to convince people that peace is what Israel wants. The professions of support for a two state solution BICOM issues seem to be little more than a rhetorical device to foster, in Zabludowicz's words, a 'supportive environment' in which people will 'forgive' Israel for its 'mistakes'.
The existence of a broad international consensus in support of Palestinian statehood is enough to explain why BICOM judges it must pay lip service to the abstract idea of a Palestinian state. But the devil is in the detail.
The credibility of the EU's Transparency Register for lobbyists is at stake unless the law firms that boycott it are forced to register says Olivier Hoedeman from Corporate Europe Observatory, which is backing ALTER-EU's urgent e-petition to make it mandatory.
The review of the EU's lobbyist register is entering its crucial final phase. The working group on the register review - consisting of Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič and MEPs led by German Christian Democrat Rainer Wieland – is expected to make important decisions in a meeting on 13th November. The current register has several serious shortcomings that need fixing (as documented in an in-depth report by the ALTER-EU coalition in June), which is why ALTER-EU is running an urgent action to demand that the register is overhauled. But perhaps the most important is the continued boycott of the register by law firms that lobby. The credibility of the EU's lobby register is at stake unless the law firms are forced to register.
In mid-October, the New York Times published one of the most important investigations this year into EU lobbying, exposing important facts about a little-known aspect of corporate lobbying in Brussels: the lobbying by a dozen or more international law firms, many of which are US companies. Eric Lipton and Danny Hakim, award-winning journalists, dug deep into the issues and managed to get law firm lobbyists to talk about their lobby successes. The article highlights lobbying by Hogan Lovells that led to a US semiconductor company being given an exemption to EU environmental law enabling it to continue using a potentially hazardous chemical substance. Lipton and Hakim show how Covington & Burling’s lobbying on behalf of pension funds prevented the introduction of restrictions on pension funds to invest in private equity. The law firm is now lobbying for oil companies like Chevron and Statoil to avoid restrictions on fracking. The article also describes how Baker Botts is gearing up to lobby to help companies weaken EU rules as part of EU-US trade negotiations (TTIP). These are just a few examples.
The article – a must-read for everyone with an interest in how the EU's decisions are made – shows that large US law firms are active in Brussels lobbying in very much the same way as lobby consultancy firms, but with one significant difference.
Yesterday's Lords debate on the Lobbying Bill included a statement by Lord Wallace for the government on why it is refusing to introduce a more comprehensive register of lobbyists. He said:
'We have looked at other systems, in particular the Canadian one, which adopts the universal system of wishing to take on board every single lobbyist. It is a very large and expensive system and unlike what we propose it is funded by the public purse and costs the equivalent of £3 million a year.'
Except, when we asked the Canadian official in charge of its register how much it cost to run, we were told that an annual budget of just C$1.1 million – £707,000 – is spent on its administration. Who is right?
This seems like a good time to lay out some of the central myths surrounding the lobbying register. Lobbying is a persuasive industry and many myths have been put forward by government (and the industry) as to why a robust register of lobbyists would be impossible or undesirable.
Myth 1: It is impossible to define who is a lobbyist
It is true, given the range of actors involved in lobbying, that defining who should register is not simple. However, it can be achieved by defining what constitutes lobbying. Registration would then be required of anyone who is paid to undertake such activity. Robust definitions have existed in Canada, the US, Brussels and other countries for decades, which could be adapted to suit a UK context. A system of registration should not attempt to capture all lobbying activity, merely the most significant.
The Lobbying Bill, or at least part of it, has been parked for a rethink. Thanks to determined opposition to the bill, the government has been forced to pause another piece of legislation (this one, coincidentally, also steered by Andrew Lansley).
Ministers will now go away for up to six weeks to reflect and consult on its plans to place gagging orders on charities and civil society groups.
However, the rest of the bill will apparently proceed as intended. This means that the proposals for a register of lobbyists, in Part I of the bill, will not be rethought. This despite similar, widespread opposition.
Criticism of the proposals has come from Parliament, including the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the Commons and the House of Lords Constitution Committee. More recently, the heads of 11 trade unions added their weight to a campaign initiated by the commercial lobbying industry - a strange coalition, but then this is a strange bill – calling on the proposed lobbying register to include all lobbyists, not just the handful the government is proposing.
Rarely has a piece of legislation been so unpopular. The government has tuned in to critics from the charity sector. It must now show good sense and pause to reflect on its plans for a register of lobbyists.
Update: The Cabinet Office has confirmed that no changes will be made to the proposed register.