Interpretation Bulletin #11


What is a conflict of interest and how does it affect my lobbying?


Summary

This Bulletin explains how a conflict of interest may affect your lobbying. 

This Bulletin provides general guidance only. You should contact the Office of the Integrity Commissioner to request an Advisory Opinion about your specific situation related to lobbying and conflict of interest.



Interpretation

If you knowingly place a public office holder you are lobbying in a position of real or potential conflict of interest, you are breaching the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998 (the “Act”). You could be penalized for non-compliance with the Act.

A conflict of interest happens where someone has competing interests or loyalties. Public office holders must act in the public interest, not because of loyalties to any private individuals or organizations. You must not lobby a public office holder if your lobbying places them in a position where they might act in your private interest, or the private interest of your client, instead of in the public interest. 

As a lobbyist, you might create a real or potential conflict of interest if:
- You offer a public office holder you are lobbying a gift, or

- You, your client, or the organization or business you work for, has a relationship with a public office holder you are lobbying that might affect the public office holder’s objective performance of their public duties (e.g., a close personal or private business relationship with the public office holder)

For more information about whether your communications are lobbying, see Interpretation Bulletin #1 “Am I Lobbying?”. For information about public office holders, see Interpretation Bulletin #2 “Who is a Public Office Holder?”.

Gifts and conflict of interest
If you give, or offer, a gift to a public office holder you are lobbying, you may be breaching the Act by placing them in a conflict of interest. 

A gift includes:
- Meals
- Tickets to events (e.g. fundraisers, sports or art events)
- Trips 
- Gift baskets or flowers

In very limited circumstances, public office holders can accept a gift (e.g., a small token of appreciation or meal because they are speaking at an event). You should consult the Office before offering a gift to ensure you are not breaching the Act. 

If you offer a gift to a public office holder, you could breach the Act even if they refuse the gift. 


Example 1 
Conflict of interest arising from gifts.
 

Question
You are an in-house lobbyist working for a non-profit organization. Your organization is planning its annual fundraiser, a gala taking place at a downtown hotel. You have some unsold tickets and the gala is in a few days. You have been lobbying a minister on a potential new regulation and wonder if it is okay to offer the minister a ticket to the gala. Can you offer the ticket?

Answer
No. You should not offer the gala ticket to the minister you are lobbying. A ticket to a gala is a gift. If you offer the minister a gala ticket, you may breach the Act by placing them in a position of real or potential conflict of interest. You could be subject to penalties for non-compliance with the Act.

A public office holder can only accept a gift in limited circumstances. If you would like an opinion about whether you can offer the ticket without breaching the Act in your specific circumstances, you can contact the Office of the Integrity Commissioner for an Advisory Opinion.



Gifts and lobby days
If you are arranging a lobby day at Queen’s Park, and plan to provide any food, drinks or other goods (e.g., branded mugs or chocolates), you should contact the Office for an Advisory Opinion about whether you are allowed to do so. 

The Integrity Commissioner has previously said that lobbyists may offer inexpensive refreshments (e.g., sandwiches, snacks) at lobby days, because it is unlikely that such refreshments are being given to influence the public office holder’s performance of their duties. But, you should always contact the Office before your lobby day to make sure you are complying with the Act. 

Relationships and conflict of interest
If you have a personal, professional or business relationship with a public office holder, you might place them in a conflict of interest if you lobby them. You could also put a public office holder in a conflict of interest if your client has a personal, professional or business relationship with the public office holder (for consultant lobbyists), or if the organization or business you work for has such a relationship (for in-house lobbyists).

You should contact the Office for an Advisory Opinion if you, your client, or the organization or business you work for:
- has a family relationship with a public office holder you are planning to lobby

- has a close personal relationship (close friendship, etc.) with a public office holder you are planning to lobby

- had or has a close working relationship with a public office holder you are planning to lobby, e.g. previously worked together in the same office

- had or has a business or financial relationship with a public office holder you are planning to lobby e.g. jointly own property or a business 

- did political work for and with a public office holder you are planning to lobby (See detailed guidance below.)


Example 2
Conflict of interest arising from family relationship. 

Question
You are hired to work at a new communications firm where one of your files involves lobbying the Minister of Health. Your brother-in-law is the communications director for the Minister of Health, and you wonder if you can call him to arrange a meeting for your client with the Minister. Can you call your brother-in-law?

Answer
Likely no. If you contact your brother-in-law to arrange a meeting, you may be breaching the Act. You should contact the Office of the Integrity Commissioner for an Advisory Opinion. The Integrity Commissioner will give you advice about whether, and how, you need to restrict your lobbying to avoid placing any public office holder you are lobbying in a conflict of interest. 



Conflict of interest and political activity by lobbyists
You might create a conflict of interest if you lobby a public office holder for whom you did political work (e.g. work on a political campaign or fundraising work). The public office holder may have a sense of obligation to you because of the work you did for them and because of your relationship with them. This might cause them to prefer your private interests (or the private interests of your clients) over their public duties when you lobby them. 

Your political work is more likely to create a conflict of interest when you lobby if you had:
- a significant, senior or strategic role in the public office holder’s political work, or
- significant interaction with the public office holder.

These are examples of political activities that create a higher risk for conflict of interest in your lobbying:
- holding a senior position in a leadership or election campaign

- being a member of the board of directors of an MPP’s constituency association

- organizing a fundraising activity for an MPP or their constituency association

These are examples of political activities that create a lower risk for conflict of interest in your lobbying:
- volunteering, canvassing, or scrutineering for a political party or electoral riding association

- attending fundraising events

- making a personal donation to a political party

- expressing personal political views 

If you plan to lobby a public office holder for whom you performed political work, you should contact the Office for an Advisory Opinion. 

The Integrity Commissioner may sometimes advise that you can lobby the public office holder again after a “cooling-off” period. This cooling-off period is often one year after the end of the political activity, but it can be longer if you have an ongoing relationship with the public office holder or do ongoing political activity. You should contact the Office for an Advisory Opinion about how long you need to wait before you lobby the public office holder again. 


Example 3
Conflict of interest arising from political activity.


Question
Five months ago, you worked as a fundraising director on a campaign for Carol Smith for the leadership of a political party. You coordinated all the campaign’s fundraising work and talked to Ms. Smith regularly during her campaign. Ms. Smith’s leadership campaign was unsuccessful, but she was later elected as an MPP. You are now planning a lobby day for a client. You want to invite certain MPPs, including Ms. Smith, to the lobby day, where you will be advocating for approval of a proposed law. Can you call Ms. Smith and invite her to the lobby day?

Answer
Likely no. If you invite Ms. Smith to the lobby day, or lobby her at the lobby day (even if you did not invite her), you may be breaching the Act. You may be placing Ms. Smith in a position where she may prefer your private interest because of her sense of obligation to you based on your campaign work. You may be placing Ms. Smith in a position of conflict of interest even if ultimately she does not agree to support your proposal for a new law. 

You should contact the Office for an Advisory Opinion before you contact Ms. Smith. The Commissioner will provide you advice about whether, and how, you need to restrict your lobbying to avoid placing Ms. Smith, or her staff, in a conflict of interest. The Commissioner will consider the nature of the political work you performed for Ms. Smith and your level of contact with her. The Commissioner will advise whether you can start lobbying Ms. Smith after a “cooling-off” period.



Application

This Bulletin applies to the following types of lobbyists
- consultant lobbyists
- in-house lobbyists (organizations) and (persons and partnerships)


 

Relevant Legislation

Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998
- s. 3.4(1)
- s. 3.4(2)

Members’ Integrity Act, 1994
- s. 2
- s. 4
- s. 6



History

- First issued: June 1, 2020



Authority

The Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998, makes sure that lobbying in Ontario is transparent and ethical. The Integrity Commissioner, as the Lobbyists Registrar, maintains an online public record of lobbyists and conducts investigations into non-compliance with the Act. The Registrar may issue a bulletin about the interpretation or application of the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998

This Bulletin provides general information. It is not legal advice. It is not a binding statement of how the Integrity Commissioner will interpret the law.









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