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Write your councillor! Non-profits may have to register as lobbyists

Non-profits and small community groups in Toronto are growing angrier as City Council continues to discuss the possibility of requiring them to register as lobbyists in order to speak with their local councillor.

A request for a report on whether non-profits should register as lobbyists was approved in City Council last week. When a business representative wants to lobby, they must sign up in the Lobbyist registry and adhere to a set of strict requirements to be applicable. Within three days of meeting an official, it is necessary to update the registry to keep lobbyist meetings transparent or a $100,000 fine will ensue. Registration and complying with the set of standards requires extra resources and manpower, and many non-profits have a limited set of means for additional costs.

The Lobbying bylaw motion states, “City Council request the City Manager, in consultation with the Lobbyist Registrar and the City Solicitor, to review the requirements for not-for-profits organizations and labour unions…. and their associations to register, and report to Executive Committee with amendments to Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 140, Lobbying as required.”

The Lobbying registry exists to track financial information of companies that are interacting with city officials and maintains transparency. Lobbying groups are financially viable and registering is possible with their deep pockets. Non-profits that are looking for research grants outside of the formal application process are also already required to register, and demanding other non-profits to take part additionally is unnecessary. Including non-profits as lobbyists increases the scope of political control over other types of advocacy groups and questions the concept of open communication between groups with no financial investment. Is this democracy?

Limiting access to local councillors and government agencies will create competition for the attention of decision-makers and prevent those people from helping the important causes of non-profits. Comparing non-profits with lobbyists and placing them under the same regulations limits the ability for important groups to effect change without a substantial financial backing.

The motion decreases the level of communication between concerned constituents and non-profits looking to make a difference, and is dangerous to the democratic system in Toronto. This is not the first time city council has discussed adding non-profits to the lobbying law, but hopefully it is the last.

Email your local councillor if you are a concerned citizen or non-profit, and help Toronto cross this motion off the list permanently.