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  • Writer's pictureHolly Bennett

Political lobbying – which government relations representation is best?



If you have been keeping up with this series exploring advocacy, you will already know the five key steps to building a basic advocacy plan as well as the three priority groups all businesses should consider engaging. But that leaves one very specific – and important – pātai (question): with all this knowledge at hand, what kind of government relations support is really best for you?


To best answer this question, it is important first to understand the full range of advocacy avenues available. Given the government relations industry remains unregulated in New Zealand, it’s useful to look to those jurisdictions that do regulate lobbyists in order to better understand the variety of advocacy classes available.


In the United Kingdom, lobbying and advocacy activities are covered by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act. This legislation was introduced in 2014 and seeks to increase transparency in the work of those paid to engage with lawmakers and senior policy influencers. It defines lobbying activity as communication (oral or written) to government actors, including ministers of the crown, conducted on behalf of others in the course of business, in return for payment. It also captures trade unions, requiring each to maintain a register of the names and addresses of its members, and creates a duty to provide a membership audit certificate.


In the United States, the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 establishes a requirement for the registration and then disclosure of certain lobbying activities, including the issues lobbied, individual lobbyists, and lobbying costs. The terms “lobbyist," "lobbying contact", and "lobbying activities" are all defined in the statute. For example, a "lobbyist" is an individual who, for compensation, makes more than one "lobbying contact" and spends 20% or more of their time during a quarter on federal "lobbying activities".


So, what makes a lobbyist in Aotearoa? Without prescriptive legislation, lobbying in New Zealand broadly takes place through these four groups:


- In-house lobbyist

- External consultant

- Association or representative body

- Volunteer

In-house lobbyist

External consultant

Association or representative body

Volunteer

Ultimately, lobbying is an integral part of the democratic process. It can help governments better navigate competing interests and prioritise topical issues society is facing. While activities may not always be successful, lobbying can be a powerful tool to ensure a wide variety of views are considered by the government, not just those with disproportionate power and influence.


For businesses considering government relations support, I recommend weighing up these three things as you rate your options:


- The urgency of the issue you are looking to lobby on

- The comprehension of your senior leaders about lobbying

- The budget available to spend


Being frank about these three things will help you decide if you need a light-touch approach, some high-level advice, or more specific, issue-driven advisers.


As I am squarely in the “external consultant” category, you could be forgiven for thinking I believe an “external consultant” is the best option. However, they all have their trade-offs. Cognisance of these three things – and, equally important, clarity on what you want to achieve – will guide you to the best path forward for your government relations journey.


This article was originally published on BusinessDesk.

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