Lobbying is as old as government itself - but in the era of political accountability and transparency lobbying involves new obligations and new risks.
Last year Toronto Council enacted a by-law setting out new rules for lobbying municipal public office holders, and appointed Marilyn Abraham as the City's first Lobbyist Registrar.
The City is now poised to bring into force its new Lobbyist Registry and Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
The new rules will affect both paid consultant lobbyists and in-house employees who communicate with public office holders including City of Toronto employees as well as the Mayor and councillors and their staff, and members of many local boards, agencies, advisory boards and committees and their employees.
Information to date indicates that the new lobbying rules will come into force in 2008
The Lobbyist Registry
When the rules come into force, any individual paid to lobby a public office holder or lobbying as a volunteer on behalf of a business or certain types of not-for-profit organizations will be required to register and file a return with the Lobbyist Registrar for each lobbying engagement.
The return will identify the lobbyist and his or her client, as well as any entity that controls the client and has a direct interest in the outcome of the lobbying. Any contributors of $750 or more toward the cost of the lobbying must be identified. The return must also set out the subject matter and the public office holders the lobbyist intends to lobby.
Employees whose duties include lobbying on behalf of their employer must be registered as "in-house lobbyists." The return must identify all the matters and public office holders in respect of which each employee is expected to lobby during the fiscal year.
Each consultant and in-house lobbyist must also file a declaration that he or she has read and will comply with the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
Registration and filing will be done online using the Lobbyist Registration System and the information will be available to the public through a website.
The Lobbyists' Code of Conduct
Under the Code of Conduct lobbyists dealing with the City are required to:
- disclose the identity of their client when communicating with a public office holder;
- act with honesty and integrity in their relations with public office holders, clients, employers, the public and other lobbyists;
- inform their clients or employers of their obligations under the lobbying rules.
Lobbyists are prohibited from:
- undertaking to lobby in a manner that includes offering or bestowing entertainment, gifts, meals, trips or favours of any kind;
- lobbying at a charitable event, community or civic event or similar public gathering;
- representing parties with conflicting or competing interests without the parties' consent;
- disclosing their clients' confidential information without consent or using insider information to their clients' disadvantage;
- knowingly misleading anyone;
- asking public office holders to endorse or recommend their services.
Prohibition on Contingency Fees
The new rules also prohibit the payment or receipt of "success" fees for lobbying.
Lobbying without registering, or violating the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, may result in a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offence and $100,000 for subsequent offences.
What Constitutes "Lobbying"
Lobbying includes talking to, writing to, or emailing a public office holder about:
- a by-law, bill or resolution that requires a decision by City Council, a planning board, a committee or other decision-maker acting under municipal authority;
- the development, approval or termination of policies or programs;
- the purchase of goods and services, construction procurement, and the awarding of contracts;
- applications for planning approval, permits, service, grants and other licences or permissions;
- the award of financial contributions, grants or other financial benefits;
- the transfer from the City of any interest in or asset of an institution, enterprise or business.
An individual is also "lobbying" when he or she arranges a meeting between a public office holder and any other person for the purpose of lobbying.
Individuals will have to register before undertaking a "grass roots campaign" that uses the mass media or direct communication to encourage members of the public to put pressure on a public office holder to endorse a particular opinion
Lobbying does not include:
- communication in the course of public processes;
- communications related to a bid or proposal that are permitted by procurement policies;
- providing information in response to a request from a public office holder;
- casual conversations with public office holders at events as long as the discussion does not materially advance a matter that is covered by the lobbying definition.
DID YOU KNOW.
THE FIRST CONVICTION in Canada for a lobbying offence at the municipal level was handed down last year. In June 2007, a consultant lobbyist pleaded guilty to two charges under Quebec's Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act and the Code of Conduct for Lobbyists. The lobbyist was fined $1,500 plus $370 in fees for lobbying in relation to a real estate development project without being registered and refusing to send documents requested by the Lobbyists Commissioner as part of an investigation.