The other day I went to the cinema and saw “Oz, The Great and Powerful” which, by the way, I highly recommend. It tells the story of how an average small town magician becomes the mysterious, slightly frightening Wizard of Oz who is feared and admired at the same time.
It occurred to me while watching the movie that Oz would have been a great lobbyist. He works behind closed doors; he uses obscure tricks to get his way; and influences people to do his bidding. The aura of mystery that surrounds him is very much like that which envelopes lobbyists, who are perceived to be a kind of sinister magicians themselves, strategically and invisibly influencing the powers that be and ultimately society as a whole. What is really frightening is that they walk and live among us… and many times we don’t even know who they are.
This is why, unlike the Land of Oz, here there are many voices demanding to know who the people are who are working their hidden magic and what it is that they are doing, by demanding that they register as lobbyists. The question is whether this is because people are afraid of lobbyists’ power or if it is merely because they want to ensure their ethical behaviour?
As Moloney points out, lobbyists influence power in exchange for money and therefore have a justified poor reputation. But it could be argued that as lobbyists become experts on the issues they defend and in addition have excellent networking skills, they exemplify best practice of PR. Granted, as occurs in other fields there are probably lobbyists who act in their own personal interest or in an unethical manner. But in general, they are regular men and women who work to represent their clients’ interests and needs (much like lawyers) in the court of public opinion, in which all interests have a right to be heard and taken into account by governments when making decisions about different matters. They are usually transparent about what they do and who they do it for, don’t accept or offer bribes and don’t make false claims about what they can do for their clients.
In fact, I recently had the chance to meet a lobbyist in the flesh and I can tell you that he seemed to be a very nice, normal man. He didn’t have pointy ears, he didn’t breathe fire and he didn’t seem like the type to use a crystal ball. Actually, he was very open about his job and who his clients are. And though he admitted that a lot of his work involves behind the scenes meetings, he also said that he (as is the case among most lobbyists) is all for transparency and for a specific lobbying code of ethics, which in fact already exists. According to him, lobbyists themselves realize that their professional success depends greatly on their moral conduct.
Like great magicians lobbyists have the ability to make people see things a certain way. But in truth, they aren’t obscure creatures with unnatural powers. They are very much like the Wizard of Oz: regular men and women with powerful voices working discreetly to help keep the balance of power and interest throughout their lands. It is up to the rest of us to listen to what they have to say and make our own informed decisions.