The fundamental role of lobbying in our democracy – and why your company should make it part of its corporate strategy

The fundamental role of lobbying in our democracy – and why your company should make it part of its corporate strategy

18 February, 2022

John Smith created an app, in which the customer can get an insurance in a matter of seconds, without the bureaucratic hurdle of all the paperwork. After a successful start in Ireland, he decides to expand and rents office space all over Europe. But to his surprise, he soon realizes that many insurance laws across the continent are from the past century, which will make it impossible for him to launch his product. The laws state that contracts must be signed physically. For the businessman the question arises, if there even is any chance to launch his product. The answer is yes; with the right lobbying strategy.

 

Within the past decades, the term “lobbying” has been coined with a rather negative connotation. Stating to be a lobbyist, is often frowned upon. The reason for this relates to provocative headlines about the lobbies of American gun advocates, tobacco and industrial lobby groups or movies like “Thank you for smoking”. All of which portray lobbyists as corrupt individuals, who exchange money for favours.

It is often forgotten that lobbying, as a matter of fact, plays a fundamental role in current politics and almost all democracies and is furthermore of utmost relevance for a company’s strategy. Let us take a historical look back to illustrate why.

 

What is lobbying?

Lobbying is defined as the effort to help shape the government decision-making and policy process. Action can be taken by individuals, private interest groups, or organizations, whose goal is to voice their concerns, and shape government procedures.(Baumgartner & Leech, 1998, pp. 33–34) From a historical perspective, lobbying was the “practice of individuals attempting to influence politicians in a lobby of a legislative building”, whereof the term lobbying originated (Alley-Young, 2017, para.1). Furthermore, other theories state that lobbying can be considered a form of market exchange between special interests and law makers. “Special interests with similar objectives support resource and time constrained lawmakers with whom they share policy objectives and provide those lawmakers with additional resources to consider more policy issues” (McKinley & Groll, 2015, p. 2). Thus, information is offered to ease the decision-making process and provide legislators with key information.

 

The relevance of lobbying in our political system

To illustrate this, we can take the example of the Swiss Parliament: both chambers together entail 246 members of parliament. Most of these parliamentarians fulfil their parliamentary duty part-time, while pursuing a traditional career. A large number of these parliamentarians have a similar background and profile, thus are not representing the whole population. This makes it rather difficult to represent all the 8 million different voices and opinions at the time of voting for or against an item of business. An article by SRF illustrates this quite well: inhabitants with a professional degree are for example highly overrepresented in parliament. There are statistically 133 too many of them, whereas people with an apprenticeship are underrepresented with a number of 80 members of parliament. The same can be applied to other factors like religion, geographical location, gender, age, or marital status.

An incomplete representation of the population is only one of the challenges a representative parliament entails. Another issue is the large number of different topics and items of business debated and discussed in every parliamentary session. During the year 2020, 3’175 items of business were submitted in the Swiss Parliament (Parlament.ch, 2021). Those items range from financial and economical to environmental or foreign affairs matters. It is thus almost impossible for a member of parliament to keep track of all topics discussed and voted on. This is the point where traditional lobbying comes into play. Companies and interest groups can represent the opinion of underrepresented voices in parliament and contribute key information about specific topics discussed. The exchange of information can be as important for the member of parliament as for the lobbyist or the company itself. It is a give and take, both parties benefit from this exchange. This can be reflected by an item of business discussed from 2015 to 2020. The item, which aimed to limit lobbying within the parliament, was clearly rejected by both chambers. This shows the degree of reliance that lawmakers have on lobbyists.

It is fundamental to understand that each member of parliament needs to be on top of an immense number of items that are discussed within parliament, since every single vote counts. The numbers given before show, that it is impossible for each of these members to know every bill in detail, even more so if it is a concrete article that might affect a company, a whole industry, an association or other interest groups. In order to sensitize the legislature and the regulators, it is mission-critical to lay out the positive and negative aspects of a bill. Thus, a lobbyist breaks down the essential parts of a whole law or article to make it as clear and understandable as possible for a certain member of parliament and to show the potential effect it has on either of said stakeholders. The lawmakers generally rely on experts – and this is what a lobbyist is in essence – to understand the impact, implications and outreach of a bill passed in parliament.

 

Lobbying as part of your business strategy

Managers tend to forget the fundamental role the political environment plays for their company. A certain growth strategy can only be pursued if the political environment allows for this. Certain initiatives and bills can negatively affect the corporate business strategy of several companies in a determined sector. This accounts for a wide array of bills discussed every parliamentary session. The political environment is thus a key factor for a successful business strategy. Nevertheless, strong ties are not built from one day to another and connections should be established way before they are actually needed. Building up a goodwill reservoir with key opinion leaders and decision makers is therefore of the essence. This takes time and resources. It is, however, mission-critical for the survival of companies in these volatile and rather uncertain times.

 

Building up a goodwill reservoir

Dr Borer Consulting has been specialising in this area within the last decades.  Our team has established robust ties with key opinion leaders and decision makers and accompany you on every step of the way to building up trust with said actors. Together we can build relevant relationships long before they are needed, in order to secure you a successful exchange during the decisive hours.

Dr Borer Consulting is an internationally oriented public affairs agency with a strong focus on the DACH region, supporting its clients with the strategic representation of interests by building a resilient network that can be effectively used in times of crisis. Building trust and communicating effectively with essential stakeholders is vital for a business to reach their goals. We offer our clients a wide range of services, including crisis communication, public relations or lobbying to help them navigate in this complex and rapid environment.

 

by Tamara Blank

 

 

 

Resources:

Alley-Young, G. P. (2017). Lobbying. In Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 9, 2019,from: https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=87323439&lang=de&site=eds-live

Baumgartner, F., & Leech, B. (1998). Basic interests. The importance of groups in politicsand in political science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Das Schweizer Parlament. (n.d.). Statistik: Geschäfte. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://www.parlament.ch/de/%C3%BCber-das-parlament/fakten-und-zahlen/zahlen-geschaefte

McKinley, M., & Groll, T. (2015). The Relationship Market: How Modern Lobbying Gets Done. Harvard University. Retrieved from https://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/relationshipmarket-how-modern-lobbying-gets-done

Michel, F., Zehr, A., & Schmidli, J. (2019, August 27). Wahlen 2019 – Wie das Parlament die Wähler abbildet – und wie nicht. Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF). Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://www.srf.ch/news/schweiz/wahlen-2019/wahlen-2019-wie-das-parlament-die-waehler-abbildet-und-wie-nicht

 

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