Outcomes are everything in politics.
Faced with pressure to deliver results, lobbying firms are often tempted to push ethical boundaries, even when doing so jeopardizes their clients' reputation or standing. As a business leader, you can't automatically assume that your lobbyist will observe the same ethical boundaries as you do. To avoid an uncomfortable situation, you'll need to understand lobbying ethics, and include terms and conditions that promote ethical behavior in the lobbyist agreement.
Complicating the issue even further is the fact that ethical standards vary from one legal jurisdiction to the next. States and municipalities enforce their own ethical guidelines for lobbyists, so you will need to carefully research the requirements in each area where lobbyists work on your behalf. In general, there are a handful of ethical topics you'll need to address in your research and in the lobbyist agreement.
- Scope of ethics laws. Ethics laws and guidelines can apply to lobbying activities, the behavior of government officials, or both. Campaign contributions and election activities may or may not be illegal, but frequently come under regulatory scrutiny. Also, ethics laws frequently target "pay-for-play" scenarios in which officials and lawmakers receive some form of compensation from lobbyists. Something as simple as buying a lawmaker a cup of coffee could violate ethics laws, so you'll need to conduct thorough research to maintain legal and ethical compliance.
- Bonuses and commissions. Commission-based compensation schemes are almost always prohibited because commissions exert too much pressure on lobbyists to achieve results by any means necessary. Bonuses are also prohibited, but it may be possible to reward effective lobbyists with contract extensions.
- Legal counsel. Always confirm your interpretation of lobbying laws with qualified legal counsel. There is just too much on the line to roll the dice on a lay interpretation of the laws regulating lobbyists at the federal, state, and municipal levels.
Retainer Agreement Conditions
It's important to include compliance with the Code of Professional Responsibility as a condition in agreements with paid lobbyists. This clause should also address the remediation of conflicts of interest should your lobbyist mistakenly (or intentionally) take on a client with a competing agenda.
Many retainer agreements require contract lobbyists to apprise their clients of ethical dilemmas as they arise. If the lobbyist fails to notify you about a dubious ethical situation and you learn about it later, your agreement could be voided and the lobbyist could face additional legal consequences. If your agreement has been constructed properly, your organization will be separated from the lobbyist's ethical breach.