What is ‘lobbying’ and its link to corruption?

Back-corridor negotiation on proposed legislation is a practice that runs from Brasília to Washington, Bruxelles to ar-Rabāṭ. However, the relationships between policy-makers and interest groups walk a fine ethical line that separates participatory democracy from state capture.

Striking legislative deals are generally considered to be just one part of broader lobbying efforts undertaken by groups advocating for their interests to be represented in the policy-making process. Lobbyists can work in a variety of organisations, such as public affairs and law firms, ‘think tanks’, in-house units of corporations, trade associations or non-governmental organisations. For example, Transparency International (TI) regularly lobbies at G8 meetings for the enforcement of anti-corruption conventions. Gaining access to decision-makers and helping to shape the political developments in a country are just two objectives of an ambitious lobbyist.

Lobbying has experienced remarkable growth in recent years. There are now an estimated 15,000 lobbyists who have put down their roots in Brussels, striving for their voice to be heard by the EU. In the US, American lobbying expenses have almost doubled over the last decade, reaching US$ 2.8 billion in 2007.

Yet when large business interests and corporations become involved, there is a danger that the tenuous balance between legitimate and illegitimate lobbying activities will be quickly lost and that the scales can tip towards undue influence gained through corrupt practices.

This problem is reflected in the definition of lobbying, as set forth in TI’s ‘Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide’:

“Any activity carried out to influence a government or institution’s policies and decisions in favour of a specific cause or outcome. Even when allowed by law, these acts can become distortive if disproportionate levels of influence exist — by companies, associations, organisations and individuals.”

But how does lobbying cross the line to become corruption? TI’s Global Corruption Report 2009: Corruption and the Private Sector takes this question to task. The report breaks down the issue of lobbying, explaining how businesses with extensive funds to back their lobbying activities and close relationships with lawmakers can gain disproportionate access to the policy-making process in ways that are unavailable to the common citizen. When safeguards for transparency and accountability are limited, this can lead to illegal, undue and unfair influence in a country’s policies and politics.

So what does lobbying mean to you?

Do you agree with the TI definition? How should the definition be changed to capture the problems we have witnessed in the public and private sectors? We want to hear from you – so please post your comments.

Help us improve our understanding of the words used to describe what’s happening in our world.

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Craig Fagan

About Craig Fagan

Craig Fagan is Senior Policy Coordinator at Transparency International.

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19 Responses to What is ‘lobbying’ and its link to corruption?

  1. Luis Felipe Martí 15 September 2009 at 7:38 pm #

    I suggest to include: Corruption in justice administration.

  2. Lidiana Moldovan 17 September 2009 at 10:43 am #

    Aren’t you tired of the increasing corruption in business these days?
    The recession left us lots of half-broken companies and bad-payers. The already problematic corruption in business is increasing. You can’t trust anyone!
    I invite you to register in http://www.company-info.biz where companies from all around the world are trying to create a more transparent B2B environment by ranking each other according to their liability, respect for payments, common business experiences, and so on.
    I think it’s a good way to promote fair companies and unmask bad payers, and make your business known at the same time.

  3. PG 24 December 2009 at 5:15 am #

    Lobbying is a form of corruption , as it means that people with money can influence decisions , even though common sense and technical issues says otherwise

  4. PG 25 December 2009 at 6:27 am #

    Lobbying is corruption , if you have money you can influence decisions .
    Why should not the deciders be obliged to go out and ask for opinions instead of sitting and waiting for lobbyists . This is part of the job of government

  5. Mr. Nurlan Khalmuratov 20 January 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    Lobbying is a legitimate and essential means of political communication between state and society which based upon the information flow, while influencing public decision-making by money or using close contacts is form of corruption (ect. bribery, patronage, nepotism). However lobbying can also cross the line of legitimacy when it is exercised in secret. Thus, the border line between legitimate lobbying and illegal influence can be made if those relationships between the public officials and private interests are regulated and carried on publicly. Therefore, the regulation of lobbying is fundamental for it to become, a powerful tool of inclusive and open decision-making or, a widespread corruption in a government.

  6. Rob Miller 10 February 2010 at 12:49 am #

    1) Ga Code 16-10-2 (bribery)

    (a) A person commits the offense of bribery when:
    (1) He or she gives or offers to give to any person acting for or on behalf of the state or any political subdivision thereof, or of any agency of either, any benefit, reward, or consideration to which he or she is not entitled with the purpose of influencing him or her in the performance of any act related to the functions of his or her office or employment.

    GA Code 21-5-70 (Lobbyist expenditures)

    (1) ‘Expenditure’:
    (A) Means a purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, or conveyance of money or anything of value made for the purpose of influencing the actions of any public officer or public employee;
    (B) Includes any other form of payment when such can be reasonably construed as designed to encourage or influence a public officer;

  7. Cain Pence 12 February 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    Your work is mentioned in the D3 blog by noted international relations maverick Robert J. Swope. You can read some of his insights at


    Keep up the good work.

  8. solomon 22 September 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    lobbying is the approach designed to persuade the member of the legiislature to add new language to the committee’s report, assert new laguage to the house and the house record. in a literal sense lobbying is the ability to persuade, influence and convince other to do what you want.
    however, since both corruption and lobbying involves both the Receiver and Giver under negotiation, both can be used interchangable.

  9. PG 11 November 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Lobbying is a form of corruption , it means if you have money you can modify political decisions , this is undemocratic , it should be made a criminal offense .
    I contest the phrase written —
    Lobbying is a legitimate and essential means of political communication between state and society —
    Since when is lobbying communication between state and society , or should we read society as people with money !!!!!!
    And who is going to regulate lobbying , the EU , there is no independant body to do this . And there is not enough transparancy in the EU , and opaque as far as connections between MEP’s , commissioners and big business .
    If the EU continues with this way of operation there will be more and more hostility by the public in all countries to the EU , and especially the EU commission.
    So if people refuse to listen or learn , then don’t complain about the consequences long term .

  10. hanna baffour awuah 11 March 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Lobbying is a corruption now because i know lobbying to be how some people or organization influence the government officials. At first it was a nicer way of making the public official aware of some problems they do not know. But know its the rich who has been lobbying.

  11. PG 21 March 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    I would refute what was said ,

    Lobbying is a legitimate and essential means of political communication between state and society which based upon the information flow,

    This is absolutly false , as lobbying requires large abouts of money to pay the lobbyists .This is undemocratic , if you have money to pay the lobbyists you can influnece decisions , if you have no money you can’t.
    Adn it is not political communication between government and society , as the so called society is limited to people and companies with money , not the electors and populations .

    One day lobbying will have to be made illegal , and the pressure for this will come from electors , just like the pressure for the EU parliament to have to real power in the EU , and the unelected areas of the EU take a back seat , especially the EU commissioners .

    If these problems are not tackled by the EU , then expect a reaction ( maybe violent) by the populations , don’t push people too far .

  12. Chris Litton 12 August 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    I agree with PG. Sometimes painted in an unfavorable light, lobbyist actually are a necessity in Washington. They can skillfully navigate the red tape and politics and bring about deals that normally would not get done.

    The unfortunate side of lobbying is that the average person can’t go hire a lobbyist to “push” their issue(s) in Washington. Very shortly a site is going to be coming online that will allow the “average Joe and Jane American” to generate crowd funded lobbying campaigns to advocate for issues that they feel passionate about. The site is called YouLobby.com and it involves the basic principal of micro-funding or crowd funding to hire a registered K Street lobbyist to advocate on the behalf of the group. YouLobby is a non-partisan site. Lobbyist will report back to the group on the progress being made for their issue.

    This concept allows Americans who don’t belong to a trade union or special interest group to have an immediate voice in federal government rather than waiting every 2,4 or 6 years to elect officials to affect policy.

  13. Frederick Witmer 26 August 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    I Frederick Witmer am a very proud American,and I am sad to say that I will no longer vote, until our Government decides to get rid of all the special interest, and lobbying, because this is nothing but a nice way to say we are Corrupt.

    God Bless America.

  14. Joseph Otieno 31 October 2011 at 9:11 am #

    Am deaf Kenyan now am sad to say that you never see the deaf to allow to have a voice that cause poverty on them since wherever you have the lobbying.

  15. Rainer Zimmermann 27 November 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    While I agree to the contributions that call lobbyism a pain, I am not convinced that you can forbid it. It merely reflects the antagonism between common ethical values and the need to know facts and communicate them. In times of exploding societal, economical and technical complexity bringing the facts to the table and communicating them optimally is a must for our societies. But the line where corruption starts is crossed when I use knowledge and resources (also human) to push for a cause that serves a particular interest. The interests which might stand against the particular interest fall off the table; mostly because they have no lobby. A level playing field is needed. For that codes of conduct and checks and balances need to be developed.

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