Reuven Rivlin - Tomer Appelbaum - February 2012
Reuven Rivlin. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) placed restrictions on the work of lobbyists in the Knesset as of yesterday, following an an expose of the lobbying firms' operating methods. Earlier this week, Channel 2 aired an item concerning the work of lobbyists, and how they influence legislation to promote business interests.

Rivlin instructed Knesset employees to immediately forbid the entrance of all lobbyists to areas heavily used by MKs as well as from the many office areas. These include the Knesset cafeteria, the entrance hall to the Knesset plenum, the legal advisor's offices and the Research and Information Center.

Lobbyists are also to be banned from the offices of the speaker, director general and the secretariat. Lobbyists would be allowed to gain entry into these areas only if personally invited and escorted by an MK or the head of the specific department.

Rivlin also sent a missive to all the Knesset staff, forbidding them from having any contact with lobbyists, directly or indirectly.

Any meeting between a lobbyist and a Knesset employee must receive advance, written approval from a senior Knesset official. Any such meeting must be followed by a written report, and any materials provided by the lobbyist must also be submitted. Employees must also report on any chance meeting with a lobbyist.

A crew from Channel 2's investigative reporting show Uvda ("Fact") infiltrated the training program of the Gilad Government Relations & Lobbying firm. Using a hidden camera, the show documented the ways in which trainees are taught to influence the Knesset's Research and Information Center and formal queries presented to government offices.

One example given by a Gilad instructor was a law, allegedly promoted by the firm stipulating that every Israeli driver carry a fluorescent vest in his car and use it when exiting it on the road's shoulder. The legislation was presented as a instance in which the firm was able to advance the interests of its client, 3M.

In response, Rivlin ordered to immediately revoke the permanent Knesset access given to all Gilad employees, adding that he was also considering revoking the company's lobbying permit, pending a hearing as required by law. Thirteen Gilad employees have permanent passes allowing entry to the Knesset, and this is a severe blow to the company as much of its work focuses on the Knesset.

Gilad's customers include some of the country's largest firms and institutions, such as banks, communications companies, municipalities and unions.

Following the Channel 2 expose, the Knesset speaker said that it did not represent "speculation or gossip, but a reality which necessitates deep, thorough and prolonged treatment. Legislative processes fell victim to manipulation borne out of the business-government link," he said, adding that it was "clear today more than ever that drastic measures must be advanced to prevent the Knesset from becoming a well-worn threshold to the lobbying firms."

Rivlin added: "The obstacle is in front of our eyes, and we must tear it from our midst," saying the influence of lobbying firms represented "a real threat to Knesset decision-making processes and order."

Rivlin will meet next week with the heads of the Knesset factions in an attempt to approve the parts of a new Knesset code of ethics realting to lobbyists.

Last week Rivlin announced he would ban lobbyists from attending Knesset committee votes, and prevent lobbyists from presenting MKs directly with position papers or other documents. Instead, such documents would have to be submitted first to the committee staff and would be published on the committee website.

Rivlin also said he would restrict the number of representatives from any company attending a committee meeting to only one - whether a lobbyist, legal advisor or any other official.