What is this about?

Governments around the world are increasingly attempting to regulate the activities of interest groups in their political systems. This is commonly driven by the desire to improve the integrity and legitimacy of political systems by shedding more light on the interaction between public and private spheres.

A reoccurring problem for regulators is to provide a definition of interest groups that is broad enough to cover the range of interest group activity, but sharp enough to distinguish interest groups from other actors in the political arena.

This is a matter of interest internationally due to growing concerns about the activities of professional lobby organisations; a decline in public political participation and trust in government in general; and reoccurring political scandals between public officials and private interests.

The USA and Canada have recently tightened the regulation of organised interests. The coalition agreement between the Conservative and Liberal parties in the UK included a commitment to regulate interest groups through a mandatory register. Australia is attempting to rework its approach after an earlier failure, and the European Union is moving away from an incentives approach to interest group monitoring, towards a more control based system (PASC 2009: 69 -76). 

New Zealand in contrast regulates the objects of interest group activity – public servants and representatives- and is increasingly isolated in its approach to interest group regulation. The common purpose of regulation overseas is not to necessarily change the access of groups to government, but to provide more information about the relationship.

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