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LOBBYING AS ADVOCACY PUBLIC RELATIONS
AND ITS "UNSPOKEN" CODE OF ETHICS
Kati A. Tusinski
University of Oregon
School of Journalism and Communication
1275 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
Paper submitted to the Public Relations Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
April 1, 2005
Kati A. Tusinski
University of Oregon
2250 Patterson Street #187
Eugene, OR 97405
Home: (541) 346-7591
Cell: (541) 543-9498
[log in to unmask]
On any given day during the Legislative Session, hundreds of
lobbyists pack the halls of the Capitol in Salem, Oregon, to
advocate, educate and influence on behalf of their clients. This year
during the 73rd Legislative Assembly of the Oregon Legislature more
than 600 lobbyists will roam the halls of the Capitol talking about
everything from health care and social services to education and the
environment. These lobbyists represent vast organizations,
corporations and associations such as the Girl Scouts, the Oregon
Beer and Wine Distributors Association and Nextel Communications.
Because the general public does not understand lobbying, it is often
viewed as a sinister function. The terms lobbyist and lobbying are
most often used pejoratively in the media and in public discussions.
Public vernacular suggests that lobbyists only represent big
corporations, like Nike, Qwest and Weyerhaeuser, pushing and shoving
their way with enormous campaign contributions to shape policies that
further benefit themselves. Such ignorance has damaged the integrity
of lobbying as a profession and a practice. Lobbyists work for
colleges and universities, churches, charities, public interest and
environmental groups, senior citizen organizations, and even state
and local governments on issues that affect the lives of all
citizens. Lobbyists represent issues that everyone cares about;
issues that everyone has opinions about; and issues that everyone has
resentments about. Believe it or not, lobbyists are working every day
to create, change and enact public policy that favors citizens, not
just big business.
Lobbying, as a specialization of public relations, is often
overlooked in scholarly research despite the integral role it plays
in public policy formation. Koeppl (2000) notes, "Scientific
publications deal with the term and its meaning less often and less
intensely as the term, together with its negative connotations,
appears in colloquial speech" (p. 70). Since neither political
science nor mass communication has demonstrated a serious interest in
lobbying, the trace of research available has come from the field of
public relations. Although this is true, research on lobbying in
public relations journals, and communication journals in general, is
limited. Most references are found in undergraduate textbooks where
public relations scholars simply define lobbying as a function of
public affairs: Heath and Cousino (1990) describe it as a function of
issues management; Toth (1986) recognizes it as a specialized area of
public relations; Guth and Marsh (2000) suggest that lobbyists pass
on persuasive information to government officials; and Cutlip,
Center, and Broom (2000) define it as a function of public affairs
that builds and maintains relations with government primarily for the
purpose of influencing legislation and regulation. Cursory
descriptions constitute the extent of the public relations research
on lobbying. Despite its significance to the public policy process,
and especially policy-making, research on lobbying is virtually untapped.
Although recent research (Koeppl, 2000; Terry, 2001a, 2001b) has
provided greater insight to the communicative practice of lobbying, a
large gap in the literature on still remains. Interviews and document
analysis are used to illustrate the advocacy function of lobbying and
the ethics associated with such work. This research begins to fill
two visible gaps in the current public relations body of knowledge by
continuing to develop advocacy as a function of public relations and
by contributing to the development of lobbying as a profession by
studying the ethical frameworks lobbyists employ to their work.
This research draws on five areas of scholarly literature: lobbying
as a communication process; definition, function and ethical
confusion of public relations; critiquing the code of ethics;
lobbying regulation; and rhetoric, persuasion and advocacy. The
following literature frames and defines this research study.
Lobbying as Communication
Although public relations scholars have tried for years to confront
the ethical quandaries that haunt the profession, research often
overlooks one of the most misunderstood and least accessible
specialties in the fieldlobbying. Popular negative misconceptions of
lobbyists abound. A cynical view of lobbying is often perpetuated in
movies depicting smoke-filled rooms and payoffs by lobbyists working
for powerful corporate and special interests, while at the same time
news stories report questionable practices, cash contributions, and
extravagant parties that appear to corrupt the democratic process
(Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2001). These erroneous notions represent
lobbying solely as an attempt to manipulate and pressure legislators
for selfish purposes.
Yet lobbying, as an accepted and legal process, allows voices of
citizen groups, associations, labor unions, corporations and other
special interest groups to be heard in the political arena. Terry
(2001a) points out that these larger collectivities look to lobbyists
as "communication professionals to represent their public policy
interests and concerns within a political culture that individual
voices may be less empowered to navigate on their own" (p. 266).
Koeppl (2000) says, "Lobbying has become a decisive criterion in
political decision making" (p. 69). Even though lobbying is an
integral and valuable function of the democratic process, one scholar
goes as far as calling it a representation of the "moral decline of
democracy" (Beyme as cited in Koeppl, 2000, p. 70). Consequently,
ethical behavior is fundamental to the credibility of lobbyists.
Successful lobbyists know that strong, long-term relationships built
on trust and excellent communication rather than deception and graft
foster effective public policy initiatives (Terry, personal
communication, August 14, 2003).
Multiple case studies explaining methods, practices and models have
been written to demonstrate the functional nature of lobbying. Browne
(1998) finds this sort of research necessary because, as he explains:
"Their techniques are many. This certainly seems a big change, at
least at first glance, from the early days of American government
when lobbyists were named for their simple penchant for hanging out
in congressional lobbiesthe hallswaiting to corral a passing
legislator. Modern lobbying involves far more. In reality, it always
didmore than most people realize. Its techniques include not only
the contacts made to advocate issues, and the research needed to make
any deal, there's also a great amount of what might best be called
lobbying foreplay." (p. 62)
Furthermore, Browne stresses that lobbyists need to be ready at all
times to cover every base because "it is much more than just a
pleasant interlude between a lobbyist and a public official" (Browne,
1998, p. 63).
Koeppl (2000) and Terry (2001a; 2001b) agree that the practice of
lobbying has evolved since its inception. In 1960, Lester Milbrath,
the so-called "father of lobbying research," first analyzed lobbying
from a communication perspective (Koeppl, 2000, p.70). Milbrath
(1960) claimed, "Communication is the only means of influencing or
changing a perception; the lobbying process, therefore, is totally a
communication process" (p. 32).
Since Milbrath's landmark article, the persuasive techniques employed
by lobbyists to influence public policy have come under fire.
However, Berry (1977) suggests that lobbying communication is much
more than persuasion because it also includes technical and legal
information. Koeppl (2000) agrees that it must be factual, relevant
and, especially, of personal interest to the recipient. Both Koeppl
(2000) and Terry (2001a; 2001b) encourage further research on this
understudied group of communication professionals, but suggest
different directions. Koeepl (2000) believes lobbying should be
included in the analysis of the effectiveness of political
decision-making. He is most concerned with developing a functional
theory of lobbying. On the other hand, Terry (2001a) wants to develop
a theoretical explanation of lobbying based on interpersonal
rhetorical communication. She is interested in studying lobbyists as
communication specialists and focusing on "how" lobbyists do their
job in the complicated arena of public affairs. Terry (2001a) uses
symbolic convergence theory to explain how lobbyists use stories to
persuade public policy decision makers in influential face-to-face
information exchanges. She concludes, "Both theoretically and in
practice, understanding what lobbyists do symbolically, how they do
it rhetorically, and who they are in terms of human communicators can
contribute productively to the work of communication scholars and
professionals alike" (Terry, 2001a, p. 278).
This research begins to understand the ethics of lobbying as a
function of advocacy public relations. It examines the ethical
frameworks that guide the persuasive techniques lobbyists employ to
effectively communicate with public policy makers.
Definition, Function and Ethical Confusion
Political and social conflicts over public relations practices have
generated an interest in prescribing ethical norms for those
practices. Some scholars (Olasky, 1987; Pearson, 1992) believe that
knowledge of public relations history would help practitioners
understand the role ethics played in the development of their field.
However, the history of public relations does not point to important
ethical issues, but reveals contradictions that cannot be easily
resolved (Tusinski, 2002). The distinct heritages from which public
relations grew have led to contradictory role models of the
journalist and the advocate. On one hand, public relations
practitioners disseminate information to the public in an objective
manner, as journalists do. Contrarily, they also advance persuasive
cases for certain groups, as advocates do. McBride (1989) extends
this critique suggesting that the field's ethical ambivalence is due
to the fact that "public relations has yet to decide whether it is
heir to the journalism/objectivity ethic espoused by Ivy Lee or the
persuasion/advocacy ethic espoused by Edward L. Bernays" (p. 9).
Hutton (1999) similarly acknowledges the roots of public relations
when he compares the philosophies of Lee and Bernays. Lee preached,
but did not always practice, honesty, understanding and compromise to
motivate public opinion. Bernays recommended outright persuasion to
engineer public support (Hutton, 1999). Consequently, scholarship on
public relations has often focused on the question of whether public
relations practitioners are advocates or counselors.
Since public relations is "a lot of people doing a lot of things for
a diverse group of people and institutions" (Fitzpatrick & Gauthier,
2001, p. 193), many people do not understand public relations as a
concept. Hence, they do not understand its role in society and the
fact that public relations can be practiced ethically. Crop and
Pincus (2001) agree that the absence of a universally accepted and
functionally accurate understanding of the essential role of public
relations has been "the central culprit" of much ethical confusion
(p. 191). Furthermore, a number of scholars attribute the
bewilderment of public relations ethics to the very nature of the
field and its lack of definition (Crop & Pincus, 2001; Leeper &
Leeper, 2001; Seib & Fitzpatrick, 1995; Spicer, 1997). Trenholm
(1946) ironically denounces the poor job done by the field in
explaining and promoting its own principles and functions. Thus
practitioners and scholars have tried to define public relations,
hoping that a definition will clarify the profession's ethical
responsibilities. Debate over the definition of public relations
becomes a debate over function what public relations ought to do.
The multiple responsibilities of practitioners also make it harder to
formulate simple guidelines for ethical behavior. The very scope of
actual public relations activities makes it hard to settle on a
single ideal function. Wright (1989) notes that since public
relations "covers an extremely wide range of concerns forcing
practitioners to work with both internal and external publics, many
scholars suggest that practitioners often struggle with ethical
dilemmas created by their perceived conflicting loyalties (Barney &
Black, 1994; Christians, Fackler, Rotzoll & Brittain McKee, 1998).
Seib and Fitzpatrick (1995) posit that their "dual role as both
counselors and messengers" makes public relations practitioners the
target of ethical criticism (p. 3). The liaison role they often play
in their organizations puts them in a tug-of-war between conflicting loyalties.
Seitel (1995) acknowledges further that modern public relations has
made practitioners responsible for a daunting array of problems. Many
scholars offer a general definition of public relations as a
profession, but then list a wide range of practices publicity,
advertising, press agentry, public affairs, issues management,
lobbying, investor relations and development as examples of the
field. As a result, practitioners themselves sometimes have little in
common: "The duties of a practitioner in one organization may be
completely different from those of a colleague in another
organization" (Seitel, 1995, p. 6). Practitioners tend to apply
ethical standards to the particular functions they handle, without
much attention to the wider ethical concerns of the field.
Critiquing the Code of Ethics
Public relations lagged behind in the formation of its professional
associations when compared to other communication professions. When a
committee on public relations emerged from an advertising association
in 1927, this indicated that the advertising industry was already a
well-established organization that included committees on specialized
topics. More significant is the Society of Professional Journalists,
which was founded in 1909 and established its first code of ethics by
1926. People had been practicing public relations for years, but
nothing stimulated prominent practitioners to form a professional
association until after World War II.
Tedlow (1979) insists that talk among practitioners about the
inception of a professional organization suggests that it would
"bolster prestige within the business world by giving the impression
that public relations encompassed a technical body of knowledge" and
"by showing that practitioners were willing to fight shoddy or
unethical conduct" (p. 156). His immediate assumption of a public
relations professional association emphasized the impression that
practitioners were trying to create for clients and the public. Much
of the field's effort went toward establishing itself as a dignified
profession, rather than defining the mission of public relations and
interpreting that mission to businesses, the public and the media.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has had some success.
Tedlow (1979) notes, "PRSA has grown into a service association of
some note" (p. 159). Ethics was an important aspect of these
developments. Quickly after its inception in 1961, PRSA established a
code of ethics for its members. Leeper and Leeper (2001) report that
PRSA began the development of ethical codes so that its members would
have behavioral guidelines and management would be distinguished from
Many scholars acknowledge PRSA's leadership in fostering a strong
sense of ethics among its membership. Cutlip, Center and Broom (2000)
praise PRSA's efforts saying, "PRSA fosters the exchange of ideas
through its publications and meetings, promotes a sense of
professionalism, provides opportunities for continuing education, and
encourages ethical behavior and high standards of practice" (p. 160).
Although PRSA is accorded respect from current practitioners, this
was not always the case. Edward Bernays, who is often referred to as
the father of public relations, refused to join PRSA and wanted
nothing to do with "this principal organization of practitioners"
(Cutlip, 1994, p. 217). In a letter dated November 29, 1975, Bernays
wrote the following in regards to a question about PRSA:
I have never attended a meeting of this group. In fact, I was a
member of the organization for only one year as a gesture of good
will to a good friend
I firmly believe and still do that the
organization should from its start have required the highest
standards of character and professionalism of its prospective
members. But that was not in the cards for PRSA because the
organization depended upon numbers for its existence. (Cutlip, 1994, p. 217)
Numbers still remain an issue of debate. Even though PRSA has nearly
20,000 members, this is only a small minority of people in the United
States that actually practice public relations, which weakens the
power of its code of ethics. Almost 15 years ago, Pratt (1991)
figured fewer than one in 15 U.S. public relations practitioners were
members of PRSA. And in 1995, PRSA members constituted only 10% or
fewer of active public relations professionals, which diminishes the
power of the codes significantly (Seib & Fitzpatrick, 1995).
More often that not, talk about PRSA's code of ethics has been
critical. Codes of ethics are usually criticized but hardly ever
praised by scholars, practitioners and society. Common complaints are
their lack of precision, lack of consensus, variance of individual
responses, and lack of enforcement (Seib & Fitzpatrick, 1995).
Research demonstrates that reliance on ethics codes led to criticisms
that the codes are vague, unenforceable or applied inconsistently
(Hunt & Tirpok, 1993; Kruckeberg, 1993; Seib & Fitzpatrick, 1995;
Wright, 1993). Tedlow (1979) argues that PRSA proposed codes simply
to impress its critics, while Olasky (1987) sees codes as "one more
indication of hypocrisy in an occupation scorned for promoting
imagery rather than substance" (p. 129). Wright (1993) suggests that
the codes might grant prestige, but do little to serve the public or
assist practitioners. Furthermore, he believes that codes are "more
cosmetic than anything else" and "warm and fuzzy" to make
practitioners feel good about themselves (Wright, 1993, p. 16).
Curtin and Boynton (2001) concluded that codes of ethics might be
better at providing an image of professionalism than at actually
guiding action, making the codes a prop instead of a tool for
Even though lobbying is recognized by most practitioners and scholars
as a form of public relations, it is unique and unlike any other type
of public relations because of its role in our democratic political
process as a constitutionally guaranteed right. Milbrath (1976)
recognizes that the unethical behavior of an occasional lobbyist is
by no means characteristic of the entire group. But unfortunately the
acts of a few have tainted the image of the lobbying process. When
corruption, bribery and financial kickbacks began damaging the
integrity of the legislative process, citizens, organizations, and
government officials were forced to step back and evaluate the
relationships between lobbyists and legislators. The entire practice
of lobbying has been stained by the venal and selfish acts of a few.
As government grew in the 1940s, ethics regulation (both lobbying and
legislature) became more complicated. Mackenzie (2002) says that big
government arrived and never left. He argues that changes in
government ethics regulation have occurred without much broad
scrutiny or assessment. Moreover, Mackenzie (2002) is critical of
reform to legislative ethics because it has been the subject of too
little study and too little balanced evaluation. Milbrath (1960)
notes that initial lobbying regulation sought to disclose the
practices of lobbying rather than control their activities.
Establishing lobbying regulation was problematic because it needed to
curb dishonest pressure activities without interfering with the
constitutional right to speak freely and petition Congress. Although
being legal does not necessarily mean being ethical, the intersection
of lobbying regulation laws and legislative ethics is an adequate
starting point for researchers because "legality certainly plays an
important part in ethicality" (Bivins, 2004).
Lowery and Gray (1997) suggest that lobbying laws are exercises in
"symbolic politics" whereby following episodes of corruption,
legislatures can appear to do something with actually changing
little. Both Lowery and Gray (1997) and Mackenzie (2002) agree that
such is evident in the pattern of cycles in the revision of lobbying
laws. For example, current lobbying regulations were produced in the
mid 1970s in response to Watergate-era scandals. Ironically,
Mackenzie (2002) claims that almost nothing in the Ethics in
Government Act would have prevented the crimes of Watergate. More
recent scandals in Arizona, South Carolina, and California set off
another round of ethics reform in the early 1990s.
Brinig, Holcombe, and Schwartzstein (1993) rated the restrictiveness
of state lobbying laws and found the regulation of lobbying
activities vary greatly among the 50 states. Mackenzie (2002) calls
for a comprehensive assessment because the current ethics policies do
a great disservice to the value of public accountability; the twin
goals of public integrity and public confidence have not been accomplished.
Rosenthal (2001) claims that the public's image of lobbying is no
longer accurate because the cast of characters (lobbyists and
legislators) and the social culture of state capitols have
dramatically changed. The current scene encourages interaction at the
state capitol, as a result of the commuter legislature and the great
impact of ethics legislation. Rosenthal (2001) believes that a highly
critical press, the rapidly changing rules and ethics laws in highly
regulated industry have contributed to an increase in the
professionalism of lobbying over the past 20 years.
Rhetoric, Persuasion and Advocacy
Although lobbyists use stories and narratives to persuade legislators
(Terry, 2001), these techniques are not necessarily unethical.
Persuasion is a time-honored democratic tradition based on guidelines
formulated by the Greeks over 2,000 years ago (Bivins, 2004).
However, Elwood (1995) suggests, "The seemingly incongruous leap from
the rhetorical theory of ancient Athens to a rhetorical practice of
the late twentieth century illustrates an enduring human phenomenon:
the everyday reality we take for granted is created, changed, and
maintained through rhetoric" (p. 6).
Terry (2001a) suggests that Heath and Toth's work on rhetoric and
public relations can be seen in the nature and function of lobbying.
In the edited volume, Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public
Relations, Toth and Heath (1992) claim, "as has public relations,
rhetoric has been maligned but it persists because it is a vital
means for seeking and sharing information and arguing the wisdom of
opinions, actions, and policies" (p. xii). Consequently, public
relations techniques, particularly lobbying, rely on the tradition of
rhetoric as the foundation for persuasive discourse.
Aristotle advocated rhetoric as the art of persuasion. He defines
rhetoric as the ability, in each particular care, to see the
available means of persuasion (Kennedy, 1991, p. 36). Rhetoric is a
practical art in which a speaker can use three means of persuasion:
those derived from the character (ethos) of the speaker, when in a
speech he shows himself fair-minded and trustworthy; those derived
from the emotion (pathos) awakened by a speaker in an audience; and
those derived from true or possible argument (logos) (Kennedy, 1991,
p. 14). In fact, Bivins (2004) explains, "Aristotle believed that
rhetoric was a legitimate tool that allows a speaker to debate an
important issue and defend a point of view while refuting an opponent
with an alternate viewpoint" (p. 131). In his book Mixed Media,
Bivins (2004) describes the ethics of reasoned argument (logos) and
emotional appeal (pathos) in relation to public relations. One could
claim that lobbying incorporates Aristotle's notions of pathos, logos
and ethos because effective lobbyists must first understand how these
forms of rhetoric, whether alone or together, persuade audiences.
Successful lobbyists will then evaluate the available means of
persuasion in each particular case to decide which form will be most effective.
Recently, a number of scholars (Black, 2001; Baker & Martinson, 2002;
Cunningham, 2001; Edgett, 2002) have confronted public relations
ethics by exploring the ethics of persuasion. In regards to public
relations, persuasion is "a recognized and respected communication
technique" (Bivins, 2004, p. 164). Persuasion, as a communicative
process, is dynamic, meaning it consists of multiple variables.
Persuaders do not hold the ultimate power in this communicative
process, because others have a choice, which is vital in determining
the ethics of an act. Anderson (1978) defines ethical persuasion as
"a communication activity that unites people
[while it] permits
maximum individual choice" (p. 3). When choice is eliminated,
persuasion manipulates its audience and becomes unethical. Jaska and
Pritchard (1994) agree that voluntary change is critical for ethical
persuasion. Furthermore, Baker and Martinson (2002) say, "the end
must be formulated in a way that places emphasis on respect for those
to whom particular persuasive communication efforts are directed" (p. 158).
Discussions of rhetoric and persuasion are echoed in scholarly work
on public relations advocacy. For instance, Edgett (2002), an
enthusiast of ethical advocacy, based her framework for ethical
advocacy in public relations on the following three premises:
advocacy is the central function of public relations, public
relations practitioners are uncomfortable with their roles as
advocates, and persuasiveness in communication is not inherently
wrong. She defines advocacy as "the act of publicly representing an
individual, organization or idea with the object of persuading
targeted audiences to look favorably on or accept the point of view
of the individual, the organization or the idea" (Edgett, 2002, p.
1) and argues that advocacy is neither good nor bad, but is dependent
on its implementation and application.
Obviously, there are a number of scholars who believe ethical
persuasion and ethical advocacy is achievable. Others disagree
(Jackall, 1988; Jackall & Hirota, 2000), for example, taking a much
more critical perspective on the advocacy function of public
relations. "Public relations men and women are simply storytellers
with a purpose in the free market place of ideas, advocates of a
certain point of view in the court of public opinion" (Jackall, 1998,
p. 185). Jackall and Hirota (2000) cast public relations advocates as
image-makers who refract, invert, and distort reality in a
funhouse-mirror fashion through subtle, disguised and complex ways.
It is evident that the comparison of public relations practitioners
to lawyers is prevalent when discussing ethical behavior and
professional standards, both in favor of and against ethical public
relations. Jackall (1988) explains:
Alternatively, and by contrast, practitioners in both [agency and
corporate] settings sometimes justify their efforts by appealing to a
professional ethos that celebrates the exercise of technical skill
separated from any emotional commitment to one's clients. A dignified
version of this legitmation is the often repeated analogy between
public relations practitioners and lawyers. (p. 185)
Edgett's framework for ethical public relations advocacy is grounded
in this analogy. This approach draws upon liberal theories of free
expression, in which the marketplace or public opinion regulate
behavior. Research supporting the attorney-adversary model contends
that in the free market system, the public relations advocate
functions the same way as a lawyer who zealously represents his or
her client in a court of law (Barney & Black, 1994, p. 233). Others
simply think of advocacy as allowing the public to make informed
decisions on their own free will where final responsibility for
informed choice lies with the public, not the practitioner (Curtin &
Boynton, 2001). Historically, some practitioners have claimed that
public relations advocates operate in a court of public opinion that
is similar to a court of law. Grunig & Grunig (1996) explain:
According to this view, public relations people can act ethically as
advocates in this court because other advocates or the media will
introduce opposing viewpoints into the discussion. Like a jury in a
court of law, publics in the court of public opinion then should be
able to take information from advocates and make reasoned judgments. (p. 21)
Scholars have noted the limits of such an approach asking if a court
of public opinion actually exists. Three major criticisms of the
hypothetical court of public opinion include the lack of equal
representation, the inability of the public to evaluate the positions
of advocates, and the poor analogy of public relations practitioners
with lawyers (Grunig & Grunig, 1996).
In a sense, the attorney-adversary model and advocacy mirror each
other. The attorney-adversary model locates virtue in the
professional values of the individual; the advocacy model locates
virtue in public opinion. Advocates do not disclose everything that
publics might need or want to know because they have no obligation to
do so just as a lawyer has no obligation to tell everything in a
court of law (Grunig & Grunig, 1996). Ethics can either emerge from
practitioners or from the general public. It becomes an argument
about sender and receiver, producer and consumer; should
practitioners provide ethical decisions or should the public be
responsible to make these judgments? The attorney-adversary model
and advocacy seem to simply be different versions of the same thing.
Barney and Black (1994) suggest that spokespersons with alternative
views will emerge to balance the marketplace of information. "The
egotistic public relations professional will likely cherish the
situation in which opposition remains silent," they write, while "the
more socially conscious one will welcome fair competition" (Barney &
Black, 1994, p. 245). This type of culture assumes "let the buyer as
well as the seller beware" because there is no guarantee that
opponents will square off (Barney & Black, 1994, p. 245).
Grunig and Grunig (1996) suggest that asymmetrical practitioners see
themselves as advocates of the partisan values of their clients while
symmetrical practitioners see themselves as counselors who help
client organizations implement mutual values as they make decisions.
Bivins (1987) differentiates the ethics of counselors (symmetrical
practitioners) and advocates (asymmetrical practitioners) because
they have different roles and purposes in public relations. He
concludes that as long as the advocate's attempt to control some
factor in the environment is not "unduly harmful to any party" then
"the advocate is on relatively moral ground" (Bivins, 1992, p. 380).
Bivins' conclusions mirror those offered by scholars of rhetoric and
As the literature review indicates, many scholars suggest that the
field of public relations has been unable to develop an ethical
theory because it has yet to come to terms with its past: Are
practitioners journalists disseminating objective material or are
they advocates applying persuasion to advance special interests?
As players in the political arena, lobbyists represent, educate and
advocate on behalf of their clients' interests. Since advocacy is a
central function of lobbying this study further defines lobbying as
advocacy public relations. How do lobbyists and professional lobbying
associations define the advocacy function of lobbying? The literature
review also reveals the deficiency of the PRSA code of ethics and
lobbying regulations. Thus, this research also analyzes and critiques
the codes of ethics and standards of two professional lobbying
associations, the American League of Lobbyists and the Capitol Club,
Inc. Do the codes of ethics and standards of professional lobbying
associations provide adequate guidance and support for their members?
How do lobbyists explain the ethical frameworks they employ to their work?
Given the exploratory nature of this research, qualitative methods
were most appropriate because they offer a flexible approach for
exploring questions of human identity and intention (Wimmer &
Dominick, 2000; Lindolf & Taylor, 2002). "In qualitative inquiry,
initial curiosities for research often come from real-world
observations, emerging from the interplay of the researcher's direct
experience, tacit theories, political commitments, interests in
practice, and growing scholarly interests" (Marshall & Rossman, 1999,
p. 25). Moreover, qualitative research enables researchers to create
rich descriptions and meaningful interpretations of naturally
occurring events. Themes and patterns were discovered through
interviews and document analysis to create a greater understanding
about lobbying, the role of advocacy and ethical frameworks.
I began this project while taking a course on lobbying and issues
management during the winter term of 2004. In that course, I came in
contact with Oregon state lobbyists, including non-profit, corporate,
contract and governmental lobbyists. I researched issues management,
analyzed a particular public policy, and interviewed five lobbyists.
These interviews serve as the primary source of data for this
research. Three of the interviews were conducted in person, one
interview was conducted via telephone and the fifth interview was
done via email. Two of the lobbyists are female; three are male. The
length of their lobbying careers varies greatly. After 15 years in
broadcast journalism, Don Barnes became a registered lobbyist only
five years ago. In contrast, Dave Barrows is called the 'dean of the
lobby' because he has lobbied in Oregon for the past 46 years.
All participants were asked a series of questions regarding the
communicative practices and performative acts of lobbyists. Two
questions specifically address issues relevant to this research: Do
you consider lobbying advocacy? Why or why not? What sort of ethical
framework do you apply to your work as a lobbyist?
Since existing documents represent a fertile source of data for
qualitative researchers (Wimmer & Dominick, 2000), document analysis
was used as a secondary research method for this project. The mission
statements and codes of ethics of the American League of Lobbyists
and the Capitol Club, Inc. were examined. These two professional
organizations were chosen because of their relevance to the lobbying
profession at both the national and state levels.
American League of Lobbyists
The American League of Lobbyists was established in 1979 to enhance
the development of professionalism, competence and high ethical
standards for advocates in the public policy arena; collectively
address challenges which affect the first amendment right to
"petition the government for redress of grievances;" and promote
ethical lobbying through its Lobbying Codes of Ethics (see Appendix
A). According to its Web site, the American League of Lobbyists is
"the respected national professional organization dedicated to
advancing the lobbying profession and promoting ethical lobbying."
Membership is available to all governmental affairs professionals
working at the federal, state or local level. Its 600-plus members
are drawn from a broad spectrum of American public policy and opinion
(American League of Lobbyists, n.d.).
The Capitol Club, Inc.
Established in 1959, the Capitol Club originated "to block
legislative efforts to impose stricter regulations upon lobbyists"
(Ziegler & Baer, 1969, p. 67). Lobbyists organized themselves and
instituted self-imposed rules to prevent the passage of such
legislation. According to its preamble, the Capitol Club is an
organization of professional advocates whose primary role is to
provide information on behalf of their clients to legislators and
state government officials (see Appendix B).
Advocacy, Lobbying and Public Relations
Advocacy is a common theme for both professional lobbying
organizations. The American League of Lobbyists uses the term in its
definition of lobbying as "advocacy of a point of view, either by
groups or individuals" while the Capitol Club describes itself as "an
organization of professional advocates." However, lobbyists are
uncomfortable using the two terms synonymously.
Betty Johnson, who has worked in local government affairs for 20
years, theoretically distinguishes advocacy from lobbying:
"I view advocacy as being the way that the public or citizen
advocates raise an issue, such as hunger in Oregon. I view lobbying
as trying to influence action on a bill or appropriation item; it is
tactical. I do not generally consider myself an "advocate" others
in my organizations are but I consider myself a lobbyist. I find it
difficult for lobbyists to succeed on public policy issues which have
not been previously defined by advocates."
Advocacy precedes lobbying. Johnson believes lobbying takes place
after advocacy efforts have brought issues into the public sphere.
Jackie Weir agrees: "I think advocacy connotes something broader. Its
connotation is different, connotes cause. Lobbying is exerting
influences by providing information with an end goal to get what the
to change public policy and legislation." Yet at another
point in the interview, Weir says that she has always been an
advocate for social change. Although she has trouble articulating it,
Weir also perceives advocacy as a precursor to lobbying.
When asked if lobbyists are public relations practitioners, I heard
differing opinions. Johnson decidedly said absolutely yes. "Not only
does that happen to be in my job title but working as a lobbyist in
the public sector greatly influences how others see my local
government and local government as a whole." She sees very little
difference in the legislative communications versus strategic or
public communications skills: develop and refine the message,
determine a target audience, select the correct communication
methods, adjust for strategic timing, evaluate the results, and
continue to replay the message.
To Johnson, lobbying is definitely public relations. She points out
that the real difference is in knowledge of the arena. Lobbyists must
know the issues, understand the legislative process and recognize the
dynamics of political power. Such knowledge is exactly why Don Barnes
differentiates lobbying from public relations.
Barnes does not think lobbying and public relations are synonymous.
Instead, he believes they are parallel because the skills are the
same, but the arena is different. He explains:
"It is just a different arena and you have to understand the
arena. If a lot of your public relations is media relations, you
have to understand the media and how it works and their deadlines and
what the process is like. At the legislature, you don't have to know
the media, you have to know politics. You have to know how the
legislature works, you have to know how a bill becomes law and where
are the places you can influence it. And just like building
relationships with media for public relations, you build
relationships with legislators or staff or committee people to
influence legislation. If for some reason the company decided to go
a different direction and drop the lobbying, I could go back to doing
Even though Barnes would disagree, he fails to recognize that he is
explanation is unclear. He is essentially saying the same thing as
Johnson. The skills lobbyists use in their work are the same skills
that all public relations practitioners. It is the setting that
ultimately distinguishes lobbying from all other forms of public
relations. As a group, the lobbyists want to be called lobbyists
because it makes sense; people then understand what they do for a
living even though the public image is most often negative. Barnes
admits that he chooses to call himself a lobbyist, not because it is
better, just because it is clearer. "Even if people's conception of
lobbying is negative, at least they have a clearer conception of it.
If I say I do public relations, people do not have the foggiest idea."
As many public relations scholars have pointed out, one of the
field's greatest problems is its lack of definition. This uncertainty
is also true for lobbying. Practitioner descriptions and scholarly
definitions of advocacy, lobbying and public relations overlap,
contradict and sometimes even coincide with each other. Johnson and
Weir's explanations seem to concur with Ezell (2001) who says
lobbying is just one of many advocacy tactics. Although we know
lobbyists work on behalf of their clients to move legislators and
influence public policy, valuable questions about the nature of this
work are left unanswered and begin to affect larger aspects of
lobbying. How can lobbyists and advocacy public relations
practitioners develop professional ethics if they do know understand
who they are and what they should be doing? Some look to codes of
ethics for such support and guidance.
Codes of Ethics
Capitol Club documents were primarily examined because Johnson
mentioned it when discussing the ethical framework she applies to her
work. "The State of Oregon has legislated ethical boundaries for
lobbyists and also for appointed public officials. In addition, there
is a code of conduct for lobbyists through a statewide professional
association. These form the basis of an ethical framework for anyone
employed as a lobbyist."
The Capitol Club does indeed have standards of conduct included in
its bylaws; however, a few ethical principles are jumbled together
with rules of behavior (see Appendix B). Buzz words like integrity
and professional responsibility are included in the preamble but the
standards of conduct would not be of assistance to a member needing
ethical guidance. Even though about 60% of Oregon lobbyists are
members of the Capitol Club, enforcement of the standards is
problematic. Like the PRSA Code of Ethics, the effectiveness of the
standards depends largely on the acceptance and compliance of
members. If by chance a member defies the rules, he or she is simply
The American League of Lobbyists' Code of Ethics (see Appendix A) is
more similar to the PRSA Code of Ethics (see Appendix C), especially
the principles and values both seek to establish. The American League
of Lobbyits' Code of Ethics attempts to define the professional
responsibilities of lobbyists through its nine articles. Each article
is first identified by a general phrase such as honesty and
integrity, conflicts of interest, and public education. A simple
explanation is included, followed by further explanation when necessary.
Unlike the Capitol Club Standards of Conduct, the American League of
Lobbyists' Code of Ethics demonstrates a genuine concern for the
preservation and advancement of public trust and confidence in our
democratic institutions and the public advocacy policy. The American
League of Lobbyists' code also acknowledges the responsibilities of
all lobbyists "to comply with this Code and to seek always to
practice the highest ethical conduct in their lobbying endeavors."
Despite the authenticity of the American League of Lobbyists' Code of
Ethics and its guidance for lobbyists, the code is sadly useless
because the organization lacks members. Of the tens of thousands of
men and women who are now professional lobbyists, only 600 or so are
members of this professional organization.
The Unspoken Code of Ethics
Even though three professional organizations, PRSA, the American
League of Lobbyists and the Capitol Club, attempt to create an
ethical foundation for their members, these codes and standards only
surfaced in the aforementioned interview. The other four lobbyists
did not refer to the codes or standards when asked about the ethics
of their work. However, each lobbyist spoke of an "unspoken" code of
ethics, based on individual credibility and reputation, in the public
policy arena. All agree that effective lobbying is built on honest,
Don Barnes, who works as a lobbyist for a public relations agency,
explains: "It is things like understanding the process, building
relationships and trust with legislators and staff because a lot of
it is built on that access and relationship building. You must have
a reputation for being honest, being straight with them." Likewise,
Weir says: "As a lobbyist, I must be honest and forthright or I lose
my credibility which is everything in lobbying." Thom Franks, a
non-profit lobbyist, agrees: "Legislators must trust you are giving
them accurate, knowledgeable information."
Although Johnson mentions that state regulations and professional
organizational standards can form the basis one's ethical framework,
she also emphasizes the importance of credibility and reputation:
"Ethics is also a personal issue and each person places a certain
value on personal reputation. Having a reputation for careful
consideration of ethical issues and dilemmas, for confidentiality and
for trust, is essential to career lobbyists."
Thus, professional responsibility and ethics in lobbying are rooted
in the political arena. The very democratic nature of the practice
should drive ethical behavior. Additionally, the emphasis of
interpersonal communication in lobbying, compared to other types of
public relations, requires that ethical values arise from individual
practitioners. However, the emphasis on reputation and credibility
should not discard the need for strong ethical guidelines. These
lobbyists seem to be in charge of their own ethical destiny; they
understand their reputation is everything. Thus, ethics is imagined
as an understanding of individual acts neglecting the culture and
work environment in which most lobbyists operate.
Lobbying is an important issue because it affects all of us to a
certain degree. On any given day, lobbyists are actively pursuing
public policy that will affect the lives of all citizens in one way
or another health care, education, taxes, etc. Lobbyists are
powerful because they have information; information that changes,
enacts and creates public policy that shapes society. Lobbyists are a
vital part of our political system. But the legislative process,
where lobbying plays a pivotal role, should be transparent. The
public should have a better understanding of how lobbyists work
(their strategies, techniques, and processes) to either pass or kill
a bill, the goals of any lobbying effort.
Although admittedly limited, this exploratory research demonstrates
the importance of studying lobbying as advocacy public relations and
the ethics associated with such practices. More research on lobbying
is definitely needed. Lobbyists and all public relations
practitioners should not be ashamed of their advocacy work. Advocacy
public relations can be ethical. Edgett's ethical framework for
advocacy in public relations should be operationalized and applied to
various forms of public relations, especially lobbying. Another study
should compare and contrast the ethics of types of lobbyists
contract, corporate, non-profit, and governmental. Another study
should compare and contrast lobbying regulation with legislative
ethics law seeking to understand if one promotes or deters the
ethical/unethical behavior of the other. I am particularly interested
in examining lobbying as the intersection of public relations and
ethical persuasion. Research needs to demonstrate that advocacy is
not inherently unethical and public relations practitioners should
embrace their role as advocates.
American League of Lobbyists' Code of Ethics
The ALL Code of Ethics is utilized as a model by various
organizations and serves to strengthen our image and enhance our role
as a vital and respected link in the democratic process.
Lobbying is an integral part of our nation's democratic process and
is a constitutionally guaranteed right. Government officials are
continuously making public policy decisions that affect the vital
interests of individuals, corporations, labor organizations,
religious groups, charitable institutions and other entities. Public
officials need to receive factual information from affected interests
and to know such parties' views in order to make informed policy
judgments. In exercising their rights to try to influence public
policy, interests often choose to employ professional representatives
to monitor developments and advocate their positions, or to use
lobbyists through their membership in trade associations and other
membership organizations. Tens of thousands of men and women now are
professional lobbyists and represent virtually every type of interest.
To help preserve and advance public trust and confidence in our
democratic institutions and the public policy advocacy process,
professional lobbyists have a strong obligation to act always in the
highest ethical and moral manner in their dealings with all parties.
Lobbyists also have a duty to advance public understanding of the
lobbying profession. The American League of Lobbyists ("ALL"),
accordingly, has adopted the following "Code of Lobbying Ethics" to
provide basic guidelines and standards for lobbyists' conduct. In
general, this Code is intended to apply to independent lobbyists who
are retained to represent third party clients' interests and to
lobbyists employed on the staff of corporations, labor organizations,
associations and other entities where their employer is in effect
their "client." Lobbyists are strongly urged to comply with this Code
and to seek always to practice the highest ethical conduct in their
lobbying endeavors. Individual members of American League of
Lobbyists affirm their commitment to abide by this code.
ARTICLE I - HONESTY & INTEGRITY
A lobbyist should conduct lobbying activities with honesty and integrity.
A lobbyist should be truthful in communicating with public officials
and with other interested persons and should seek to provide
factually correct, current and accurate information.
If a lobbyist determines that the lobbyist has provided a public
official or other interested person with factually inaccurate
information of a significant, relevant, and material nature, the
lobbyist should promptly provide the factually accurate information
to the interested person.
If a material change in factual information that the lobbyist
provided previously to a public official causes the information to
become inaccurate and the lobbyist knows the public official may
still be relying upon the information, the lobbyist should provide
accurate and updated information to the public official.
ARTICLE II - COMPLIANCE WITH APPLICABLE LAWS, REGULATIONS & RULES
A lobbyist should seek to comply fully with all laws, regulations and
rules applicable to the lobbyist.
A lobbyist should be familiar with laws, regulations and rules
applicable to the lobbying profession and should not engage in any
violation of such laws, regulations and rules.
A lobbyist should not cause a public official to violate any law,
regulation or rule applicable to such public official.
ARTICLE III - PROFESSIONALISM
A lobbyist should conduct lobbying activities in a fair and
A lobbyist should have a basic understanding of the legislative and
governmental process and such specialized knowledge as is necessary
to represent clients or an employer in a competent, professional manner.
A lobbyist should maintain the lobbyist's understanding of
governmental processes and specialized knowledge through appropriate
methods such as continuing study, seminars and similar sessions in
order to represent clients or an employer in a competent, professional manner.
A lobbyist should treat others - both allies and adversaries - with
respect and civility.
ARTICLE IV - CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
A lobbyist should not continue or undertake representations that may
create conflicts of interest without the informed consent of the
client or potential client involved.
A lobbyist should avoid advocating a position on an issue if the
lobbyist is also representing another client on the same issue with a
If a lobbyist's work for one client on an issue may have a
significant adverse impact on another client's interests, the
lobbyist should inform and obtain consent from the other client whose
interests may be affected of this fact even if the lobbyist is not
representing the other client on the same issue.
A lobbyist should disclose all potential conflicts to the client or
prospective client and discuss and resolve the conflict issues promptly.
A lobbyist should inform the client if any other person is receiving
a direct or indirect referral or consulting fee from the lobbyist due
to or in connection with the client's work and the amount of such fee
ARTICLE V - DUE DILIGENCE & BEST EFFORTS
A lobbyist should vigorously and diligently advance and advocate the
client's or employer's interests.
A lobbyist should devote adequate time, attention, and resources to
the client's or employer's interests.
A lobbyist should exercise loyalty to the client's or employer's interests.
A lobbyist should keep the client or employer informed regarding the
work that the lobbyist is undertaking and, to the extent possible,
should give the client the opportunity to choose between various
options and strategies.
ARTICLE VI - COMPENSATION AND ENGAGEMENT TERMS
An independent lobbyist who is retained by a client should have a
written agreement with the client regarding the terms and conditions
for the lobbyist's services, including the amount of and basis for
ARTICLE VII - CONFIDENTIALITY
A lobbyist should maintain appropriate confidentiality of client or
A lobbyist should not disclose confidential information without the
client's or employer's informed consent.
A lobbyist should not use confidential client information against the
interests of a client or employer or for any purpose not contemplated
by the engagement or terms of employment.
ARTICLE VIII - PUBLIC EDUCATION
A lobbyist should seek to ensure better public understanding and
appreciation of the nature, legitimacy and necessity of lobbying in
our democratic governmental process. This includes the First
Amendment right to "petition the government for redress of grievances."
ARTICLE IX - DUTY TO GOVERNMENTAL INSTITUTIONS
In addition to fulfilling duties and responsibilities to the client
or employer, a lobbyist should exhibit proper respect for the
governmental institutions before which the lobbyist represents and
advocates clients' interests.
A lobbyist should not act in any manner that will undermine public
confidence and trust in the democratic governmental process.
A lobbyist should not act in a manner that shows disrespect for
Approved by the Board February 28, 2000.
THE CAPITOL CLUBE, INC BYLAWS
The Capitol Club is an organization of professional advocates whose
primary role is to provide information on behalf of their clients to
legislators and state government officials. Capitol Club members are
expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the highest levels
of integrity and professional responsibility. Persons not agreeing to
or not adhering to acceptable stands of conduct and professional
responsibility as set forth in these Bylaws shall be denied
membership in the organization.
The Capitol Club is organized for the purpose of undertaking action
on behalf of its members on any matter or project of common interest.
For the purpose of these Bylaws, 'common interest' is to be
determined by the procedures herein set forth.
ARTICLE I: STANDARDS OF CONDUCT
1. Members shall not be in either legislative chamber when the main
doors of the chamber are closed. During this period of time, the use
of the halls behind either chamber is permissible only when the
member has business in offices accessible only through such halls or
when requested to be in such halls by a legislator.
2. Members shall not communication either orally or by any other
method from the gallery of either the Senate or the House to anyone
on the florr of the Senate or the House. This rule is applicable when
the members of the chamber are in session or during a recess between sessions.
3. Members shall not, in any fashion, interrupt a discussion between
another person and a legislator in the Capitol.
4. Members shall not use state-owned facilities or equipment,
including but not limited to telephones, fax machines, computers,
offices, libraries, furniture, etc. unless such use is authorized.
5. Lounges of the House and Senate are "off limits" to members.
6. Members shall abide by the rules of the House and Senate.
7. Members shall, at the request of the committee, participated in
and cooperate with the Professional Responsibility Committee.
8. No member shall instigate the introduction of any legislative
action for the purpose of obtaining employment to lobbying in
9. No member shall attempt to influence the vote of any member of the
Legislative Assembly by the promise of financial support of the
candidacy of the member, by threat of financing opposition to the
candidacy of that member, at any future election.
10. No member shall lobbying or offer to lobby for consideration any
part of which is contingent upon the success of any lobbying activity.
11. Capitol Club members are committed to carrying out their
professional responsibilities honestly. No member shall knowingly or
willfully make any false statement or misrepresentation to any
legislative or executive official, or knowing a document to contain a
false statement cause a copy of such document to be received by a
legislative or executive official without notifying such official in
writing of the truth.
12. No member during a session of the Legislative Assembly shall make
or promise to make a campaign contribution to a legislative official
or candidate or to the officials' or candidate's campaign committee,
or promise to make a campaign expenditure in support of the official
or candidate, including contributions and expenditures by political
committees of which the member is an officer or member.
Public Relations Society of America Member Code of Ethics 2000
Principles of Conduct
Commitment and Compliance
This Code applies to PRSA members. The Code is designed to be a
useful guide for PRSA members as they carry out their ethical
responsibilities. This document is designed to anticipate and
accommodate, by precedent, ethical challenges that may arise. The
scenarios outlined in the Code provision are actual examples of
misconduct. More will be added as experience with the Code occurs.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is committed to
ethical practices. The level of public trust PRSA members seek, as we
serve the public good, means we have taken on a special obligation to
The value of member reputation depends upon the ethical conduct of
everyone affiliated with the Public Relations Society of America.
Each of us sets an example for each other - as well as other
professionals - by our pursuit of excellence with powerful standards
of performance, professionalism, and ethical conduct.
Emphasis on enforcement of the Code has been eliminated. But, the
PRSA Board of Directors retains the right to bar from membership or
expel from the Society any individual who has been or is sanctioned
by a government agency or convicted in a court of law of an action
that is in violation of this Code.
Ethical practice is the most important obligation of a PRSA member.
We view the Member Code of Ethics as a model for other professions,
organizations, and professionals.
PRSA Member Statement of Professional Values
This statement presents the core values of PRSA members and, more
broadly, of the public relations profession. These values provide the
foundation for the Member Code of Ethics and set the industry
standard for the professional practice of public relations. These
values are the fundamental beliefs that guide our behaviors and
decision-making process. We believe our professional values are vital
to the integrity of the profession as a whole.
We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for
those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas,
facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.
We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing
the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.
We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience.
We advance the profession through continued professional development,
research, and education. We build mutual understanding, credibility,
and relationships among a wide array of institutions and audiences.
We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are
accountable for our actions.
We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation
to serve the public interest.
We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors,
the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and
support the right of free expression.
PRSA Code Provisions
FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION
Protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful
information is essential to serving the public interest and
contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.
To maintain the integrity of relationships with the media,
government officials, and the public.
To aid informed decision-making.
A member shall:
Preserve the integrity of the process of communication.
Be honest and accurate in all communications.
Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the
practitioner is responsible.
Preserve the free flow of unprejudiced information when giving or
receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal, and infrequent.
Examples of Improper Conduct Under this Provision:
A member representing a ski manufacturer gives a pair of expensive
racing skis to a sports magazine columnist, to influence the
columnist to write favorable articles about the product.
A member entertains a government official beyond legal limits
and/or in violation of government reporting requirements.
Promoting healthy and fair competition among professionals preserves
an ethical climate while fostering a robust business environment.
To promote respect and fair competition among public relations
To serve the public interest by providing the widest choice of
A member shall:
Follow ethical hiring practices designed to respect free and open
competition without deliberately undermining a competitor.
Preserve intellectual property rights in the marketplace.
Examples of Improper Conduct Under This Provision:
A member employed by a "client organization" shares helpful
information with a counseling firm that is competing with others for
the organization's business.
A member spreads malicious and unfounded rumors about a competitor
in order to alienate the competitor's clients and employees in a ploy
to recruit people and business.
DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION
Open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society.
To build trust with the public by revealing all information needed
for responsible decision making.
A member shall:
Be honest and accurate in all communications.
Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the
member is responsible.
Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released
on behalf of those represented.
Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented.
Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in a client's
Avoid deceptive practices.
Examples of Improper Conduct Under this Provision:
Front groups: A member implements "grass roots" campaigns or
letter-writing campaigns to legislators on behalf of undisclosed
Lying by omission: A practitioner for a corporation knowingly fails
to release financial information, giving a misleading impression of
the corporation's performance.
A member discovers inaccurate information disseminated via a Web
site or media kit and does not correct the information.
A member deceives the public by employing people to pose as
volunteers to speak at public hearings and participate in "grass
Client trust requires appropriate protection of confidential and
To protect the privacy rights of clients, organizations, and
individuals by safeguarding confidential information.
A member shall:
Safeguard the confidences and privacy rights of present, former,
and prospective clients and employees.
Protect privileged, confidential, or insider information gained
from a client or organization.
Immediately advise an appropriate authority if a member discovers
that confidential information is being divulged by an employee of a
client company or organization.
Examples of Improper Conduct Under This Provision:
A member changes jobs, takes confidential information, and uses
that information in the new position to the detriment of the former employer.
A member intentionally leaks proprietary information to the
detriment of some other party.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Avoiding real, potential or perceived conflicts of interest builds
the trust of clients, employers, and the publics.
To earn trust and mutual respect with clients or employers.
To build trust with the public by avoiding or ending situations
that put one's personal or professional interests in conflict with
A member shall:
Act in the best interests of the client or employer, even
subordinating the member's personal interests.
Avoid actions and circumstances that may appear to compromise good
business judgment or create a conflict between personal and
Disclose promptly any existing or potential conflict of interest to
affected clients or organizations.
Encourage clients and customers to determine if a conflict exists
after notifying all affected parties.
Examples of Improper Conduct Under This Provision
The member fails to disclose that he or she has a strong financial
interest in a client's chief competitor.
The member represents a "competitor company" or a "conflicting
interest" without informing a prospective client.
ENHANCING THE PROFESSION
Public relations professionals work constantly to strengthen the
public's trust in the profession.
To build respect and credibility with the public for the profession
of public relations.
To improve, adapt and expand professional practices.
Guidelines A member shall:
Acknowledge that there is an obligation to protect and enhance the
Keep informed and educated about practices in the profession to
ensure ethical conduct.
Actively pursue personal professional development.
Decline representation of clients or organizations that urge or
require actions contrary to this Code.
Accurately define what public relations activities can accomplish.
Counsel subordinates in proper ethical decision making.
Require that subordinates adhere to the ethical requirements of the Code.
Report ethical violations, whether committed by PRSA members or
not, to the appropriate authority.
Examples of Improper Conduct Under This Provision:
A PRSA member declares publicly that a product the client sells is
safe, without disclosing evidence to the contrary.
A member initially assigns some questionable client work to a
non-member practitioner to avoid the ethical obligation of PRSA membership.
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 All names have been changed to ensure confidentiality.