The economic stimulus packages initiated in several countries have given fresh momentum to corporate lobbying, in which powerful companies spend tens of millions of dollars ensuring that legislation and policy are drafted to favour their area of business. Enormous sums are spent on this and on contributions to campaign funds. In the U.S., the major banks spent $56 million in the 2007-08 financial year; the mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac spent $180 million over a period of eight years. Figures for 2009 show that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have lobbied to the tune of over $6 million; Monsanto have paid out over $2 million, while the U.S. defence manufacturers have spent over $17 million. Also in the U.S., Political Action Committees (PACs) have become the biggest sources of campaign funding for candidates; corporate PAC spending increased from $15 million in 1974 to over $220 million in 2005. In India, corporate lobbying, in the form of intensive briefings and presentations to ministers and senior civil servants, is expanding; the current political climate also makes ministers, officials, and legislators more receptive to it.

For big business, lobbying works. Published research shows a significant positive correlation between lobbying and financial performance, and lobbying by firms or by lobbying agencies often produces policies tailored to their own requirements. In 2005, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s attempt to tighten the law on mortgages failed after intensive lobbying by lenders. Almost no major countries require oversight, transparency, or accountability in lobbying. It has even been said that in India the paucity of high-quality research centres makes officials vulnerable to slick lobbying and instant publicity countering allegations by, for example, environmental and other activists. There are, however, signs of concern about lobbying. On March 20, President Obama signed an executive order requiring government agencies involved in the stimulus package to report all contact with lobbies. But the response has been poor, and businesses have evaded the rules by delegating the work to staff who are not registered as lobbyists. Although some major corporations are coming under shareholder pressure to provide detailed information on their lobbying, an early change in the lobbying culture is unlikely. Critics say that what is called lobbying in the west is called corruption in developing countries; and one Indian campaigner says corruption stinks but it is at least a stink that everyone knows. There can be no doubt that lobbying will continue to pose a serious threat to democratic processes around the world.

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