Lobbying is good for you

Someone must have lobbied to get the Planning Authority’s approval for the absurd platform... but many more lobbied for its removal. In this case, common sense won

Former EC president José Manuel Barroso (left) with Jean-Claude Juncker and Jyrki Katainen of Finland: Barroso has been accused of lobbying Katainen in Brussels
Former EC president José Manuel Barroso (left) with Jean-Claude Juncker and Jyrki Katainen of Finland: Barroso has been accused of lobbying Katainen in Brussels

Some hold that the term ‘lobbyist’ originated at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC, where it was supposedly used by US President Ulysses S Grant to describe the political advocates who frequented the hotel’s lobby to gain access to Grant – who was often there in the evenings to enjoy a cigar and brandy – and would then try to buy the president drinks in an attempt to influence his political decisions.

Others insist that the term existed before the Grant presidency and that “lobbying” finds its roots in the gathering of Members of Parliament and peers in the hallways (lobbies) of the UK Houses of Parliament before and after parliamentary debates where members of the public can meet their representatives.

Today it means the act of attempting to influence the actions, policies, or decisions of government officials, most often legislators. Lobbying is done by many types of people, associations and groups, including individuals in the private sector, corporations, and non-governmental voluntary organisations. As legislators, MPs look at lobbyists as a bloc of voters within their electoral district and most probably give them more weight than they deserve.

This week we had the example of a fast and effective lobbying action when a controversial platform placed outside a pub in a busy road in St Julian’s was removed after it turned out that it did not actually have a permit from the Lands Authority, despite having a Planning Authority permit. The excuse used to justify the platform’s removal is as laughable as much as the excuse used to justify the issue of the permit by the Planning Authority.

Someone, of course, must have lobbied to get the Planning Authority’s approval for the absurd platform... but many more lobbied for its removal. In this case, common sense won.

Lobbying, therefore, is good for you. But it can also be abused.

The former head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso was reported – also this week – as having lobbied at the current Commission on behalf of Goldman Sachs when he met the current Finnish vice-president of the European Commission, Jyrki Katainen, in the Silken Berlaymont Hotel in Brussels on 25 October 2017. When Barroso took a job with the US investment bank shortly after the end of his term of office in 2016, the news caused a controversy that was somewhat assuaged with the news that Barroso had told his successor, Jean-Claude Juncker, that he would not lobby on behalf of his new employer. But now it appears that he did.

However, Katainen has insisted that Jose Manuel Barroso was not lobbying for Goldman Sachs during the meeting, saying that the two are friends and that he always meets friends, whoever they are.

After the recent shooting incident in Florida, where yet another school shooting left 17 dead and many injured, some students have decided to start lobbying for restrictive gun laws in the US.

In recent history, a cycle of behaviour developed following mass shootings in the US. The media goes beserk with round the clock coverage for a few days, politicians speak out their thoughts and say prayers, funerals are held, people start to forget and then everything goes back to business as usual.

This time these students are keen on disrupting this cycle. They are demanding action, and will not accept vague promises about better background checks. These students are resolved not to go away, and not to settle for empty words and half measures. But certain quarters are portraying them as pawns and conspiracists intent on exploiting a tragedy to undermine the nation’s laws.

Of course, they will be battling against what is probably the biggest lobby in the US – the National Rifle Association (NRA). In fact President Trump has indicated he agrees with limited gun control proposals – by ordering a ban on “bump stocks” that allow semi-automatic rifles to be fired more rapidly – only because this move is acceptable to the NRA. Last October a shooter in Las Vegas had used this modification to kill 58 people.

The NRA’s election campaign spending poses the biggest roadblock to legislation that would stem the tide of gun violence in the US. From 2010 through 2018 so far, the organisation donated $111 million to political campaigns of federal candidates.

In this case, lobbying has taken a sinister spin.

Meanwhile in Malta another tragic incident has sparked an open disagreement between lobby groups: those that want to commemorate Daphne Caruana Galizia by a monument in front of the Law Courts and those who oppose such a move as well as the use of the Great Siege Monument as a ‘temporary shrine’ in her memory. One can understand where both groups are coming from and I need not enter into the current melee – but what is happening is a good example of lobbying to persuade Government to take a decision, one way or another.

That is what lobbying is about, after all.

Trump’s Obama complex

Donald Tramp seems to have an Obama fixation complex. He continually boasts that he is tougher than former president Barack Obama. And that he is also smarter than him: more shrewd, more effective, more respected. The 45th US President is, by his own reckoning, better than the 44th in almost every way.

Trump, in fact, frequently draws flattering comparisons with his predecessor – and he does not let the truth intrude, as was the case when he tweeted: ‘I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts.’

The facts suggest otherwise, as Trump has repeatedly doubted the conclusions of his own US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in his election. He has even been accused of undermining the FBI’s investigation of the matter.

As former House Speaker and a Trump ally, Newt Gingrich, put it: “If you watch Trump, he understands that there are two ways to be really tall, and one is to have your opponent be really short. He spends a fair amount of his time shrinking his opponents.”