Statement from the Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency
February 9th 2016

The alleged chilling effects of Scotland’s proposed lobbying register on democratic participation have been greatly overstated, campaigners are arguing today following a new survey of lobbying disclosure in Canada, the United States, Ireland and Austria which has found little evidence of registers deterring political participation among small organisations and community groups.[1]  

Study respondents noted lobbying registration does not inhibit small organizations as their lobbying activity often falls below recognised thresholds.

Evelyn Fielding Lopez, Executive Director of the Public Disclosure Commission for Washington State, said: “If [Scotland’s] lobbyist register rules allow for some flexibility for small groups and non-profits, that might make it less of a barrier. I don’t believe it has been a barrier in Washington—we have all sorts of groups active and at our capital during the legislative session.”

As it currently stands, Scotland’s proposed lobbying register fails to include a threshold and requires all paid lobbyists to register, regardless of time or money spent on lobbying activity. The comparative study provides evidence that failure to provide a reasonable threshold may in fact deter democratic participation for some small organizations. The Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) proposed amendments to the Scottish Government’s lobbying bill providing for the inclusion of a threshold whereby organizations spending less than ₤2,000 per annum on lobbying activity would not be required to register.

Respondents who felt lobbying registers present barriers for small organizations often attributed this to lobbying registration fees. Scotland’s proposed lobbying register is not set to include any fee.

Katie Gallogly-Swan, Campaigns Organiser for Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “All the evidence suggests registers with clear thresholds and which are free to users do not deter engagement, there seems to be a strong case for accepting SALT’s recommendation of a threshold to exclude small organizations. The Scottish Government should listen to this compelling international evidence by strengthening the proposed register, while introducing a minimum threshold so that small groups and non-profits aren’t adversely affected.”

Many survey respondents emphasized the success of lobbying registers in their respective jurisdictions and stressed the importance of raising awareness and an educative approach. Respondents noted how lobbying regulation has contributed significantly to information about lobbying activity. Some respondents also mentioned small organizations not meeting the required threshold were keen to register as they recognized the associated public and organizational benefits.

  • Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada: “Our Office has heard some concerns that small organisations might perceive that registration is a barrier to participating in government. However, we do not believe this to be the case in practice and [our] outreach and education program mitigates those concerns by helping stakeholders, including small organisations, better understand the requirements of the Lobbying Act.”
  • Cathryn Motherwell, Director, Office of the Integrity Commissioner, Toronto: “We have heard concerns expressed that registration is a burden for non-profits. However, the Registrar has also held the view that many non-profits are well-run, large organizations with substantial budgets and also substantial interaction with governments – and that the registry serves only to provide the public with information about who is lobbying whom in government. As such, she has felt that the registry – which is online and free – is an appropriate requirement to provide transparency and accountability in government.”
  • John Devitt, Chief Executive, Transparency International Ireland: “I’m not aware of an [elected representative] who has complained of any drop-off in citizens or NGOs lobbying them, nor were there many concerns raised about Civil Society Organisations or citizen engagement during the extensive public consultations on the Bill. The most pressing concerns were raised by special interests who seem to prefer to work in the shadows.”

ENDS

[1] Research conducted by Dr. Will Dinan and Megan Elliott, University of Stirling, Jan / Feb 2016. Survey was distributed among 30 contacts at lobbying register and 31 groups representing small organisations, civil society groups and/or non-profit organizations. The survey received a 53.3% response rate among registers and 37.8% among other groups – a 44.7% response rate overall. Survey findings were consistent with other research on this topic (Chari and Murphy, The Regulation of Lobbyists in Canada, the USA, the EU institutions, and Germany, 2008).