Lobby – a Risk Perspective

For the conference Projectics                                 with the ESTIA/Graphos                                  Bidarte, Pays Basque, 2010-10-07



Per-Sigurd Agrell           



Lobbyism constitutes a major part of modern society. Its modus influendi and effects have, however, been at the focus of a heated debate for decades. One central issue is whether the lobby industry should be permitted to expand as a kind of “democracy” and as an extension of “human rights” or be restricted in order to give room for more traditional forms of politics and administration.

After a multiple perspective analysis the author concludes that the key factor for an administration or a political body in order to defend its integrity is to develop a well updated competence of its own, including some theory of knowledge.




 TOC \o "1-3" \h \z 1        Introduction.. PAGEREF _Toc269373966 \h 2

1.1         Background.. PAGEREF _Toc269373967 \h 2

1.2         Purpose. PAGEREF _Toc269373968 \h 2

1.3         Audience. PAGEREF _Toc269373969 \h 2

1.4         The scope. PAGEREF _Toc269373970 \h 2

2        Empirics.. PAGEREF _Toc269373971 \h 2

2.1         Rather democracy than risk.. PAGEREF _Toc269373972 \h 2

2.2         Risk and worry.. PAGEREF _Toc269373973 \h 2

3        Method.. PAGEREF _Toc269373974 \h 2

3.1         Perspectives. PAGEREF _Toc269373975 \h 2

4        Archetypal cases.. PAGEREF _Toc269373976 \h 2

4.1         Representations. PAGEREF _Toc269373977 \h 2

4.2         Moods of inference. PAGEREF _Toc269373978 \h 2

5        Conclusions.. PAGEREF _Toc269373979 \h 2

5.1         Risks and dilemmas. PAGEREF _Toc269373980 \h 2

5.2         Suggestions. PAGEREF _Toc269373981 \h 2





1        Introduction

For the author lobbyism is a multifaceted intellectual challenge. Its reality challenges the authors feeling for honest administration. Its systemic properties challenge the authors feeling for the concept of knowledge.    

1.1      Background

Every time the author has been with the EU Commission in Brussels the lobbyists have been very visible. At the entrance they cue up or go in directly. You see and hear them in the corridors. They go in and out of meetings with a surprising self confidence not always avoiding noise.  

Some media try to keep track of the lobby activities. The webb journal Alter EU may be the most fierce critic. We have also the websites Frontline, Résumé, Anti, European Voice and others who react strongly at and against lobbyism. Among the ordinary journals we can mention the International Herald Tribune, Daily Telegraph and Asia News who write much about lobbyism. They have regularly lobbyism as worth-wile events in their reporting in quite another way than for example the Swedish journals.           

Lobbyists may be glorified, like (in Sweden) the retired politician Allan Larsson who managed to capture a big European research center to be built in the south of Sweden. Others are mentioned as bad examples like those in the US who erased the Glass Stiegel act[1] and so opened for the financial crisis of 2008-09 by liberating the mandates of the banks. The extended activities of the tobacco lobby are well known.[2]

It is recognized that the financially based strength of the lobbyists is a problem at the same time as they expose democracy. There are restricting laws both in the US and in Europe but the regulating action has been surprisingly small both by law and by its application. Double roles in the EU administration and with a company do not even have to be declared. OECD may be an influential forerunner by promoting a more strict policy in its Recommendation on Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying. This is the first international policy instrument to provide guidance for policy-makers on how to promote good governance principles with a relation to lobbying.[3]     

1.2      Purpose

The intended application of this text is for risk management on all administrative levels and for learning about lobbyism. It may make analysts and administrators aware of some of the risks about socializing with the lobby.

1.3      Audience

The immediate audience is the conference Projectics of the Grande Ecole ESTIA. This scholarly group contains teachers, consultants and researchers who would be able to think one step further about improvements and implementation in governance with the lobby.     

1.4      The scope

Lobbyism is defined by the Wiki as the practice of influencing decisions made by the government.  They also write in a chapter Viewpoints on Lobbying:

It can be argued that lobbying is undesirable because it allows people with particular interests who represent a minority to gain special access to law-makers and through contributions and favors have controversial relationships with representatives. This is a danger to democracy as described in Article 22 of the US Federalist Papers. Though many see lobbying as a potential corruption to the system, others disagree.

Lobbyism has always existed, not least in the worlds of Plutharkhos and Machiavelli. The worries about its interference with modern democracy and some of the regulating laws are more than a hundred years old. It proliferates and it is exercised by all kinds of individual and organizational stakeholders. Nations lobby and that is the raison d’être for their embassies. In practice not only governments and ministries are the target but all nodes of power: politicians, high officials, civil servants on all levels, media and the public. 

Lobbyism touches not only singular facts but also world views and ways of thinking. This is of interest both for the lobbyist and for a society which strives for decent decision-making and administration.

2        Empirics

Lobbyism is everywhere whenever decisions are taken and it has always been there.[4] An extremely well informed overview of European Lobbyism was presented at a seminar with the Ecole de Paris de Management[5]. It was a lesson of how it is done but also some indication of its risks for democracy and administrators working milieu. The firm establishment and enormous extension of the lobby activities in space and time were exposed including their networking, analytic and strategic character. A sum of a hundred million Euros was mentioned as an annual measure of lobby activities in Brussels. Still larger sums are mentioned from the US[6] with the striking comment that in relation to the possible benefits for the lobbying organizations this is only a small fraction of a promille.

Lobbyism touches not only singular facts but also world views and ways of thinking. This is of interest both for the lobbyist and for a society which strives for decent decision-making and administration. Lobbying expands and it affects the global power game.       

Let us continue with a few cases of heavy impact in order to illustrate the importance already today of the lobby as a risk factor.

2.1      Rather democracy than risk

A former Swedish minister of finance Allan Larsson was celebrated by a formal reward as the skilled lobbyist having acquired a European nuclear physics research center to the small university town of Lund in southern Sweden. Risk or possibility? Well, views may differ on that.

Another event reported about in positive terms is the so called Almedalsveckan, a conference made as an arena for public debate about the most fundamental national issues. It is really made for leading politicians and lobbyists to meet.

These two incidents illustrates the ruling vein in Sweden that lobby is good. It is democracy. This point of view was in fact expressed explicitly to the author at a EU-conference in Stockholm in may 2008 by both the coming and the leaving Swedish EU-commissioners.

2.2      Risk and worry

Very few however see neither any democracy nor other positive elements in the tobacco lobby. Some of it is rather publicity than lobby but never mind; from perspectives of society or philosophy that is the same kind of imposed subjectivity. Themselves they classify their activities in Idéology/Beliefs, Public affairs, Influence voters, Cultural and brand events, Influencing political decisions, Civic/charity, Media, Direct contact with decisionmakers and law-making.[7] These head-lines reveal the width of the activities but their cynic content of scientific fraud, threats and lies had to be discovered by deeper research.

Other industries mentioned for an excessive lobbyism are chemistry, building industry and banks. Very active and perhaps not criticized enough as lobby actors are the labor unions and the nations.

The procedures of law-making are popular lobby targets and the tobacco industry’s elaborate and complex instructions about that are shocking. Modern lobby works on all causal levels.

The lobby industry is well accepted and advanced in the USA. Much is written for example about the battle around the Glass&Steagall act which separated different kinds of banks in order to protect those wishing to make tranquil investments. Lobbying attacked and rubbed out that law, thus contributing to the financial world crisis of 2008.[8] This speech to a scientific forum is not the place to arbitrate, so the alternate view should also be expressed that the Glass Steagall act invited to obscure transnational transactions.  


3        Method

Real experimentation has not been possible. Neither so any epidemiological comparison. So we shall have to make a kind of simulation. Let us in the following paragraphs try to see by deductive reasoning what can go wrong and how depending on the hosting administration’s style of logic. This would be the way to understand the mechanisms of lobbying and so to find some ways of control. For the methodological positioning we may also compare with operational gaming[9] or with the case based methodology in informatics[10].

The effects of lobbyism on to how it transforms the arenas of thinking will now be put into focus. We cannot go through all possible combinations of influence and situation but we can focus different kinds of intelligent processes in order to discover some of the kinds of risk an administrator would run in the intercourse with the lobby. This will be the method rather than any kind of reasoning about finding balance among different stakeholders’ interests.     

3.1      Perspectives

A key concept for our analysis will be the perspective and the basic distinction will be between representationalist and inferentialist approaches[11]. Representation is the world view and inference is how to arrive at it. It may become clear that the way to see different perspectives is not only to see with the different stakeholders views. Understanding lobbyism would need quite other inferential or representational perspectives.[12]


4         Archetypal cases


4.1      Representations

The most primitive world view is the monolitic one which does not admit that different representations may exist in parallel. If this world view were true then there would be no perspective for a lobbyist to disrupt or conceal. But our world has instead got all kinds of parallel representations, at least the possibility to see things that way. We may have a snapshot view versus a dynamic one for example. We have different views created by different languages. We have nicely explicit systems theories[13]. We have definitely not only the occasionally present stakeholders’ views.

So, there are views for a lobbyist to change, and that is not new. Neither is the question what to do about it if the hosting administration has got the complex ambition to both listen and resist.

An often mentioned stand with the administrators is to be ready to “go outside the box”. A still better awareness would come however by the trilogy man, organization and technique which is often used to identify and open up for perspectives in risk management[14]. Donald de Raadt pleads for another standard palette: Ethics, the social, the Bio and Math/tech[15]. The Mega and the Meta is another couple of perspectives, easy and dangerous to confuse[16] since that invites obsolete top down approaches.  

4.2      Moods of inference

The very dominating consensus procedures, do they give a perspective? Sometimes perhaps, but they would rather offer fuzzy compromises than transparence or effectiveness in a recognizable way. Engaging a wide spectrum of stakeholders and lobbyists is often however supposed to give defendable knowledge and decision support.  

Different scientific disciplines offer both different factual domains, different distinctions and different approaches. Sociologists and anthropologists for example believe very differently in the concept of objectivity. Administrators in consequence have varied approaches: in how they look at team work for example. The taxonomy from northern England: Unitary. Pluralist and Coercive administration is one such distinction[17]. May we believe that civil servants from a pluralist milieu would be the best to tackle lobbyism? Probably; they would be used to not lose control in a milieu of shifting perspectives.

Finally we have to deal with the most worrying and most realistic scenario with the big chaotic lot of lobbies striking any kind of administration. Then it is not only a matter of pure thought. Fatigue, stress and lack of time will become influential factors more so perhaps than any idea of a more or less rational approach suggested by any of the parties.     

5        Conclusions

All scientific conclusions are tentative, no less this one. We have some backing however, first by noticing that lobbyism is there and that it is discussed from different angles in major media. We can also see the mass of and the power with the lobby. So we may with many others state that there is a problem: What may be unique in this essay is the effort to distinguish the risks of lobbyism in different types of discourse. This is done by reasoning about a few stereotype cases.

5.1      Risks and dilemmas

Civil servants’ agendas of inference would not be affected by purely rational means. Neither is that the prime or common lobby target. However, the agendas would be influenced, disturbed, by the force of interrupting impacts. The power of brute disturbance is not the main message of this article, but it is there, and it may have impacts which no one desires, not even the lobbyists. It is too easy to overestimate the possible resistance of a public servant trying to concentrate upon a chosen issue. So in an administration, in Brussels or other, we have a dilemma, a choice between an open society with a turbulent lobby and a more or less closed door around a serene, even scientific, working milieu.  

An administration’s cognitive representations are the ultimate targets of the lobbyists. They give facts and world views and they collaborate, often very integrated each other and with a host administration. Double roles with the EU commission and in an industry exist. The metaphor of a revolving door is established. Still there are reasons for such double relations. Lobby brings both competence and nuisance.

Lobbying brings both facts and world views and the hosting civil servant would not always know which. The latter would in fact not be supposed to know so much of the lobbyists’ strategies. Anyhow the lobby supplements in ways which the hosting administration can appreciate but it also causes distortion of agendas, concepts and world views.

It is said that a spontaneous mix of stakeholders and lobbyists would give a sufficient illumination of most questions but this is not so sure. Perspectives are different and there are so many of those possible in all issues worth lobbying for.

A striking example still not so often mentioned is the development of the so called Stockholm archipelago: in reality the municipality of Värmdö. There the exploitation has been in the hands of the municipal authority with strong lobbying from land owners and construction industry. The ecological influence has also become strong lately. But the interests of the aborigine inhabitants, as in many countries, have been rather neglected since they do not have a voice and they do not oppose the prestigious beach owners though the latter mostly are absent. So the general public and the support for its daily activities are forgotten. The resulting society is now something for tourists and relaxing beach owners. There is not much of neither a maritime logistic nor a maritime landscape for the original common inhabitants. 

More of a happy end is presented at in courses of design and development by Ian Mitroff. He has got an example of a dam and a power station being drawn and debated in the US. Positive decisions were taken before it was discovered that a little fish the Snaildarger was endangered. This fish had a stronger voice than the inhabitants of Stockholm archipelago. It was adopted by the nature conservancy associations which really managed to stop the project. I do not know if this final decision was very good. I just want to say that the common method of arbitrarily piling up a few stakeholders with their lobbyists and then push through a consensus procedure does not give a very good guarantee for anything.

Lobbyism changes character and strength with the general globalization and in synergy with the media. The lobbyists’ power to implement co-ordinated strategies towards decision-makers and towards the public increases by the new information technology and by an ever more courageous financial impetus. Many questions may be raised about this new landscape of a power game and about who takes power. Before learning too much of an answer to these questions the World had better improve their means of democratic control.    

5.2      Suggestions

Regulation and law about the public’s right to express themselves are vicious in the sense that although they may stop some abuse of lobbying, they are more likely to filter out the weak voices from grassroots levels while leaving room for well-organized and well-funded lobbies. Still regulation is necessary to preserve or recreate administrative stability.

Certification of lobbyists exists already. The laws about transfer of money must again be improved, especially in the US. A control of the revolving door practice and an investigating audit are other suggestions, but some of that exists already, at least in Europe, surely not by perfection, and anyhow neither is the conclusion I want to draw now.

It is also recognized that the transparency of the high levels’ administrative processes and their lobby contacts must be improved but here is something to add about the competence for this. Lobbying is a process with hidden causes and effects. Control of lobbyists coming and going are necessary but not sufficient. The effects upon knowledge and world views would not be revealed. Well they never can, but the responsible host herself at least should be able to feel and see where she is driven! From the analytic efforts in the text above it may be seen that this would require an educated brain.

So the possibly path-breaking suggestion would be to ask for a sufficient knowledge of philosophy and systems science with our major administrations so that they shall be able to notice and control what happens in their lobby intercourse. This kind of a deeper knowledge would also help to enable meaningful presentations of lobbied procedures to the audit and to the public. This kind of learning and teaching would belong to many kinds of university departments: political science, business administration, management and indeed philosophy. I do not accept the tendencies of purified isolation from society which I have seen with the latter.  



[1] Brill, S. (2010), Government for Sale: How Lobbyists Shaped the Financial Reform Bill. Time Magazine Jul.01, 2010 ; also the website Frontline 2010-01-21.

[2] Dubois, G. (2003), Le rideau de fumée, Seuil and Löwenberg, A. (1992), Rökridåer. Stockholm : Prisma.

[3] See http://www.oecd.org/document/48/0,3343,en_2649_34135_44644592_1_1_1_37447,00.html

[4] See for example Plutarkhos and Machiavelli.

[5] Scheppers, S., du Puy, J. Giotakos, D. (2005). Faire entendre sa voix à Bruxelles. In Journal de l’Ecole de Paris du management mars/avril 2005.

[6] Brill, S. (2010), Government for Sale: How Lobbyists Shaped the Financial Reform Bill. Time Magazine Jul.01, 2010.

[7] Translated from Dubois, G. (2003), Le rideau de fumée, Seuil.

[8] Brill, S. (2010), Idem.

[9] Miser H. J. & Quade E. S. (1988), Handbook of Systems Analysis, Chap 3-4. Wiley.

[10] As recommended by the ISO 27000 series for example.

[11] Redding, P. (2003), What is an epistemic perspective? In J of Philosophical Research vol 28.

[12] This distinction is nicely elaborated in Redding, P. (2003): What is an Epistemic Perspective. In Journal of Philosophical Research, vol 28.

[13] For example the Living Systems by James Miller and the Viable Systems by Stafford Beer.

[14] See for example Mitroff I. I. & Linstone, H. A. (1993), The Unbounded Mind. Oxford Univ Press.

[15] De Raadt, J. D. R. (2000), Redesign of Communities in Crisis. Universal publishers, USA.

[16] Agrell, E. P. S. (2002),

[17] The very rich production of Mike Jackson and Bob Flood explains further. See for example Jackson, M. (2003), Systems Thinking. Wiley.