Thursday, November 2, 2017
An idiosyncratic array of international rules allows “consultants” to gain special access to international officials and lawmakers. Historically, many of these consultants were public-interest associations like Amnesty International. For this reason, the access rules have long been celebrated as a way to democratize international organizations, enhancing their legitimacy and that of the rules they produce. But focusing on the classic public-law virtues of democracy and legitimacy obscures an important fact: many of these international consultants are now industry and trade associations like the World Coal Association, whose principal purpose is to lobby for their corporate clients.
Lifting the veil on the corporate lobbyists challenges the conventional view, which I call “strong legitimacy optimism,” by bringing a set of longstanding critiques into focus: Consultant associations are not always representatives of the “global public” and consultation is not robust participation in governance. Moreover, the access rules both overregulate and underregulate access to lawmakers, producing a “medieval fair” of unaccountable associations that can obscure meaningful contributions. This critique is particularly salient in the context of business lobbying, where the access rules can shut out valuable business expertise, sacrifice transparency, or unnecessarily expose officials and lawmakers to capture.
This Article introduces a theory of international lobbying law. Reframing the access rules as lobbying regulation delivers explanatory and normative payoffs by focusing reformers on relevant actors and points of access, and promising regulatory tools. Specifically, two regulatory models emerge: One draws on the flawed but best-available registration and disclosure norms of domestic lobbying regulation. The other is a multi-stakeholder model pioneered by 21st century public-private partnership organizations. The Article develops an original typology to organize and identify features of the international access rules across diverse international organizations, thereby clarifying the regulatory tradeoffs that accompany each choice. Perhaps counterintuitively, reformers should likely eschew the most common middle-of-the-road access models — which are grounded in the flawed strong legitimacy optimist view — and instead choose among the two divergent regulatory models, with the choice driven by organizational mission.