The recently enacted Lobbying Act (
The Act defines lobbying as any oral or written communication to legislative or executive branch officials about the formulation, modification or annulment of policies or legislation.
Regulatory officials covered by the Act include the president, the vice president, high-ranking officials in central and local governments and elected officials at various levels.
Based on the principle of mandatory disclosure of lobbying, lobbyists are required by the Act to register their lobbying activities beforehand, and regulatory officials, in return, must report on their communications with lobbyists afterwards.
The government agencies in charge of lobbying registration and disclosure need to produce a quarterly report online or in the form of government publications.
Content of the report includes names and addresses of lobbyists, individuals, corporations, or organizations who may benefit from lobbying, monetary details of lobbying, specifics of issues pursued, officials contacted, and techniques utilized by lobbyists.
Commenting on the Act, Chen Chao-jian (陳朝建), an assistant professor of public affairs at Ming Chuan University, said the regulations would only prompt lobbyists to "go under the table" instead of following the disclosure procedures.
"The disclosure of lobbying of an interest group would surely come to the notice of the opposing groups affected. To counteract the lobbying, the opposing groups would step up under-the-table measures," Chen said.
By the same token, clandestine lobbying would still be an approach lobbyists would prefer as it can keep their actions off their opposing groups' radar screen, he added.
The Act stipulates that lobbyists must register before lobbying and that regulatory officials are required to shut the door on unregistered lobbyists or lobbyists who refuse to register. But there is no penalty for officials who violate the regulation.
In other words, the burden will be on the shoulders of officials to report unregistered lobbyists, Chen said.
Added to Chen's doubts on the effectiveness of the Act in ensuring transparency and legitimacy of lobbying is the blurred distinction between lobbying and pleading.
"The `spillover' is unavoidable. It's not difficult at all for lobbyists to evade disclosure regulations. They can just plead with lawmakers because lawmakers can persuade the government by an exertion of legislative power," he said.
Under the Act, pleading with lawmakers or the legislature's communication with the government are not subject to the disclosure regulations.
Ku Chung-hwa (
In the past, Ku said, officials often found themselves caught in a gray area between bribery and legitimate political contributions when they were questioned whether they had used their positions to influence a policy in exchange for a bribe.
A recent example was an accusation against former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) that he took a bribe from a pharmaceutical manufacturer in return for supporting an amendment of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act (藥事法) that was favorable to manufacturers.