Lies at the nexus of business and policy
Lobbying: public companies and public officials privately carrying on
(Also available in podcast format, here.)
Either the folks who wrote the web copy for the lobbying firm McLarty share my taste for mischief, or they are so steeped in their own world that they missed the Doublespeak in their promotional efforts.
“Our work lies at the nexus of business and policy,” they proudly declare. Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee the word “lies” in that sentence. It provokes a true sense of wonder about what goes on in the Land of Lobbying. It’s the kind of wonder that pulls us deeper into the Matereal World.
What lies where exactly?
That which lies—in whatever form we take the verb—at the nexus of business and policy has the capacity to uplift or destroy human lives and the interdependent web that makes life possible. It’s important that we make the best possible decisions.
But to do that, we need to know what’s going on.
In this post I explore the connection between stated corporate purpose versus lobbying spend. I analyzed five years (2018-2022) of global mining company Glencore’s lobbying disclosures to understand where the money went. I also include a nugget from their peer mining company, Barrick Gold, with a splash of oil and gas major Chevron.
I only looked at these three companies. However most large companies lack consistency with what they claim as their purpose and how they actually impact the world.
This is not a shocker. Yet looking closely at lobbying sharpens the focus on reality and offers pointers for what needs changing, and how.
Kinda sorta “public” disclosures
One concern this sharper focus highlights is that, although the data is *technically* public, it is excruciatingly hard to find.
It’s even more excruciating to make sense of how it relates to real life—to reality. The lobbying activities remain largely hidden from public view, tucked behind vague statements.
But find and sense-make I did. Below I include:
the data set I compiled, including five years of Glencore’s lobbying filings in the US, a five-year core sample of Barrick Gold specific to the sage-grouse “issue”, plus the relevant links to the US House of Representative’s Lobbying Disclosures;
a 15-minute video tutorial, using Chevron as a case study for those who would like guidance on how to wade through the dense woods in the Land of Lobbying;
five specific, actionable recommendations that any disclosing company can implement today if they so choose.
What I don’t share is much from the companies’ own disclosures since there isn’t much to show. It’s as if the internal corporate communications briefing on lobbying is: “Be vague. Otherwise legal won’t sign off on it.” Although I will shed some light on their public “reporting” on lobbying, such as it is.
In this journey into the Matereal World I illustrate the gap between lobbying disclosures and corporate purpose using information signed off by the lawyers, civil servants, et al.
And I recommend what needs to change.
This is normal but it’s not okay
As I conducted research for this post I asked around among my savvy corporate disclosure friends. I was looking for a good example to hold up. No one had a strong example of lobbying disclosures being handled with proactive, meaningful transparency.
Did I miss it? Please comment here or contact me directly. I will amend this post with delight and gratitude! Heck I’ll even do a whole separate post taking a closer look.
It seems to be a globally accepted truth that lobbying is cloak-and-dagger. That this is just the way it is. Shady stuff happens. The public can’t see what’s going on. Companies and governments are like that.
I don’t accept this. There is too much at stake. And based on what company executives say, they don’t accept it either.
This is a great opportunity for simple, positive change.
So, what does $2 million in lobbying fees buy these days anyway?
Enough pontificating. Let’s have a look at what a couple million in lobbying dollars fetches on behalf of a global mining company these days. I’ll start off by examining the approximately half million USD received by McLarty—yes, the lobbying firm whose work “lies at the nexus of business and policy”—in 2021 and 2022, for lobbying activities to—
“Address issues related to Glencore's improvements and reforms on the subjects of corporate governance, compliance and stakeholder relations.”
From there I’ll do a review of how the other $1.5 million worked in service of Glencore’s stated purpose of “responsibly sourcing the commodities that advance every day life”.
Then I’ll check in with the sage-grouse, who gets a lot of lobbying love from Barrick Gold—to the tune of $3 million in five years.
I’ll round it out with five recommendations for disclosing companies which is where there is room for real, simple, and positive change.
I’ll bring us home with a video showing how to find lobbying disclosures for anyone who cares to hang out a little longer in the lobby of the Matereal World.
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