It receives various names. The best known is its English meaning ‘lobby’, but it is also possible to speak of groups of influence, pressure or interest. Definitely, They are actors who defend their interests in the public sphere, trying to influence the decision-making of politicians, administrations, legislators, public servants … be it at the European, national, regional or municipal level. And that can be done by large multinationals and corporations, to business and professional associations, scientific societies, foundations and even NGOs, consumer organizations and neighborhood groups in any neighborhood of a city. There are 699 lobbyists voluntarily registered in the registry of interest groups of the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC), the first that was created in Spain in 2016.
Then the registry of Catalonia, Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid followed. Communities that also approved their respective transparency laws to regulate lobbies, as did Navarra, Aragon, the Valencian Community and Asturias.
In other words, several autonomies have taken the initiative to put some order in an activity that still carries a certain reputation for obscurity and in which some only see a link with influence peddling or identify it with the famous revolving doors that some politicians cross, who Taking advantage of their experience as a public office and pulling the agenda, they get relevant positions in large companies in order to function as pressure groups.
However, lobbying activity looks to a much broader horizon. It is a common practice in Anglo-Saxon countries and also in the European Union. The United States federal registry of lobbyists has more than 10,000 registrants. And that of the European Commission and Parliament (“Joint Transparency Register”) with more than 11,000. In Spain, in the absence of a mandatory national registry, the number of interest groups that influence public administrations is not known.
Your future weight
And it is foreseeable that the role of the lobbies will be very relevant in the coming years to undertake the structural reforms that Spain must face, due to European requirements, and which are linked to the achievement of Next Generation funds. So essential will these interest groups be that even the Government has advanced its regulation to this year, a historical vindication of the Association of Institutional Relations Professionals (APRI), that brings together professional lobbyists.
They are the well-known “public affairs” or experts in public affairs. Your role: «We help companies channel their vision and contributions to the public sector. This is the participation of civil society and companies in public life, “he says. Maria Rosa Rotondo, President of APRI and founding partner of the lobbying consultancy Political Intelligence. «We represent and defend the interests of an interest group. We have access to a lot of information, we store it, filter it and pass it on in an orderly way to the interested parties. Sometimes the business sector does not speak the same code as a legislator or the executive branch. If I transfer this information, whoever legislates or makes a decision will have greater capacity to do so, “he explains. Marta Becerra, Director of Public Affairs of Adigital (Spanish Association of the Digital Economy).
These professionals, both from companies and agencies, want to dissociate themselves from the stigmas of the past. “The lobby is a socially accepted figure in Anglo-Saxon countries, but associated with a black legend in the continental orbit: the lobbyist who invites a politician to eat at an expensive restaurant to influence his decisions or who gave him expensive gifts”, he estimates Agustín Baeza, Director of Public Affairs of the Spanish Association of Start-ups. When, in your opinion, «The important thing about a lobbyist is not so much a broad agenda or having friends, but the work of knowing how to build a good story, develop good data and reports to argue in better conditions in favor of the interests that he is defending ».
His bad reputation also comes from other bad practices. «Before the influence in the public powers was done through the model of cronyism or patronage, whereby former public officials were hired to influence public decisions. They were incorporated into the boards of directors or directors of a company or foundation, without making this relationship transparent. But that model has failed. Power is fragmented, there are no longer only two parties. For this reason, the former politician no longer has the capacity to influence his own party, nor in the governments, nor in the new generations, “he explains. David Córdova, founding partner of the Vicens law firm and doctor in Law.
But is it legitimate and legal to influence the decisions that a legislator must make when drawing up a law or a politician when designing a national plan to regulate an economic activity, for example? «The lobby is the right to represent legitimate interests before the public powers, to participate in public affairs as stated in article 23 of the Constitution, “defends Córdova. “All interests that are defended ethically, in accordance with current legislation and with transparency are legitimate,” says Baeza. And as this expert shows, he illustrates the function of a lobby: «We have been working on the recently approved startup law for four years. We had to start doing pedagogy and explaining to all the people we met what a startup was, how they work and why it was important to create a startup ecosystem for the future of the country ».
Of course, laws are not made lightly, nor are decisions made without sense, as he puts it. Luis Arroyo, IE University professor: «Laws – he says – are made from the knowledge of those who understand the most, which are the publics affected by them. It is not possible to make an education law without counting on parents, with public and private schools, with students, with teachers … All of them, their associations, their organizations, their unions … are interest groups that have to participate in the process. And so in each and every one of the rules, to a greater or lesser extent. “Even a neighborhood association is lobbying when it addresses a district councilor to present a proposal to improve the sidewalks,” adds Baeza.
In addition, there is the other vision: that of the legislator or politician, who “are interested in being informed by the business and social sectors, knowing first-hand the interests, needs and challenges. The lobby facilitates the technical knowledge of the rulers on a certain matter that has to be regulated by improving the decision-making process, “he says. Piluca Nunez, Director of Communication and Institutional Relations of the Asociación Empresarial Eólica.
Of course, as long as the activity is carried out under principles of transparency and a code of ethics by both parties. And a regulation would help a lot to achieve it. “The codes of conduct and lobbyist registers have facilitated the professionalization of the activity,” says Núñez.
The sector advocates the creation of a mandatory registry of lobbies at the national level, “So that meetings can only be held with those who are registered and they are subject to certain standards of conduct and there are even penalties for breaching these ethical standards,” explains María Rosa Rotondo. APRI includes nine ethical principles that lobbyists must adhere to in its code of conduct. Among others: not obtaining information or influencing decisions in a dishonest way by offering gifts, favors or services at advantageous conditions; provide truthful information; not to induce deputies, senators or officials to contravene the rules of action that are applicable to them in their functions, or not to disseminate information of a confidential nature.
Another proposal that will also contribute to making this activity transparent is that legislators and politicians make their agendas public, that is, make known who they are meeting with. “We must guarantee that the public decision is taken with the utmost objectivity and independence, seeking the general interest,” explains Córdova. And that there is evidence of what is called ‘legislative footprint ‘, «that all the laws include all the associations that have participated in their elaboration, or to influence, or to give proposals, or they have been listened to ”, Cordova specifies.
Light and stenographers on agendas
For the moment, the Government has carried out a public consultation on the draft bill on transparency and integrity in the activities of interest groups, which aims to achieve, among other objectives, limiting revolving doors between senior officials and public employees and interest groups. , establish a code of conduct for the activity of the ‘lobby’ and the creation of a registry of lobbyists. But little else is known about this new regulation. For now, Congress deputies have had a code of conduct since 2019 which, among other measures, defines what an interest group is, prohibits gifts and gifts, establishes infractions and sanctions if these norms are not complied with, and forces them to publish their institutional agenda on the Congress Transparency Portal. Something that few do, as reported by APRI.