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News Release

Federal Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd likely sitting on at least 100 cases -- and has only ruled publicly on two cases in past three years

Auditor General must audit -- Commissioner has worse disclosure record than disgraced former Integrity Commissioner, and equally bad enforcement record

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent yesterday to federal Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd concerning her very weak disclosure and enforcement record over the past three years.

The 12-page letter reviews in detail her two annual reports and many committee appearances, and while it is very difficult to determine exactly because of vague and conflicting reports and testimony, it seems that Commissioner Shepherd has not disclosed details about what she has done with at least 100 cases of alleged violations of either or both the Lobbying Act or Lobbyists' Code of Conduct (almost half of which are more than three years old, and including six complaints filed by Democracy Watch -- five between 2001 and 2004, and one (the Rick Dykstra complaint) in October 2009).

As well, Commissioner Shepherd has released only two public rulings in the past three years (finally, just last week, one ruling about two lobbyists involved in the September 2009 Lisa Raitt fundraising event).  In testimony before a House committee in December 2010, she revealed that she had, with still secret rulings, let at least 16 lobbyists off the hook even though she had clear evidence that they had violated either the Act or Code (and she has not released any of the rulings nor disclosed the identity of any of the 16 lobbyists).

Democracy Watch is calling on Commissioner Shepherd to release within 30 days details of all complaints received, and reviews and investigations undertaken, and referrals to the RCMP and rulings made, since 2005, and to release all details of future cases and rulings in her future annual reports, and at least twice each year to a parliamentary committee.

Democracy Watch is also calling on the Auditor General to conduct a performance audit of the Commissioner of Lobbying office similar to that completed for the now disgraced former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner's office.

Commissioner Shepherd's annual reports provide less information about number of complaints received, and how each case was addressed, than the reports of former Integrity Commissioner.  And like the Integrity Commissioner, Commissioner Shepherd has failed to issue public rulings in dozens of cases, and seems to have let many lobbyists off the hook for violations.

"In Democracy Watch's opinion, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying must be audited by the Auditor General because her disclosure record is weaker, and her enforcement record is as weak, as the record of the disgraced former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition"Combined with huge loopholes in the law left open by the so-called Accountability Act, and the fact that the RCMP and Crown prosecutors have failed to charge or prosecute anyone for violating the lobbying law in the past 22 years, it is clear that the federal lobbying law and ethics enforcement system is an ongoing joke." (To see details about the loopholes, click here)

Commissioner Shepherd's annual reports are also less clear than the reports of her predecessor Registrar of Lobbyists Michael Nelson as he included summaries of cases, and details concerning number of cases dealt with each fiscal year (although his reports lack clarity in some ways as well).

It is clear from Registrar Nelson's last annual report for fiscal year 2007-2008 that he passed on to Commissioner Shepherd a total of 36 administrative reviews, six investigations and one case referred to the RCMP and Crown prosecutors (43 cases in total).

It seems from Commissioner Shepherd's reports and testimony up to the end of 2010 that she has undertaken at least 43 new reviews and eight investigations, and referred at least six cases to the RCMP and Crown prosecutors (57 cases in total, although again vague reports and testimony make the exact number of cases difficult to determine).

As a result, Commissioner Shepherd seems to have at least 100 cases on file about which details have never been released.

Commissioner Shepherd has been with the lobbying enforcement office since 2004, became acting Commissioner in July 2008, and full Commissioner in 2009.

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Organizer of the CoffeeParty.ca movement
Tel: (613) 241-5179  

Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd's weak enforcement record

Changes needed to ensure transparent, ethical federal government lobbying and to ensure the Commissioner of Lobbying enforces rules effectively

To see the Commissioner of Lobbyists' 2009-2010 Annual Report, click here, and 2008-2009 Annual Report, click here

To see the Registrar of Lobbyists' 2007-2008 Annual Report, click here, and 2006-2007 Annual Report, click here

To see details about former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet's poor enforcement record, click here

Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch's Money in Politics Campaign

Democracy Watch homepage

Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd's weak enforcement record
(NOTE: Democracy Watch urged the Oliphant Commission to recommend strengthening the Commissioner's enforcement in its May 2010 report)

Democracy Watch's opinion is that Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd has not been acting properly as an Officer of Parliament, nor has she been effectively enforcing the Lobbying Act (Act) and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct (Lobbyists' Code), as follows:

  • as detailed in the above news release, Commissioner Shepherd's disclosure record of how many complaints she has received, as well as reviews and investigations she has initiated, and her rulings on each situation, is worse than the former disgraced federal Integrity Commissioner;
  • Commissioner Shepherd does not randomly audit anyone's activities, including former public office holder's activities, to ensure they are complying with the rules she enforces that: require anyone paid to lobby to register and disclose details about their lobbying (sections 5, 7 and 7.1 of the Act); prohibit any registered lobbyist from being paid a contingency (success) fee (section 10.1 of the Act); prohibit former public office holders from being a registered lobbyist for five years after they leave office (section 10.11 of the Act), and; prohibit lobbyists from proposing or doing anything that puts a public office holder in a conflict of interest (Rule 8 of the Lobbyists' Code);
  • Commissioner Shepherd has taken 1.5 years to rule on a complaint that included all the key facts about fundraising events held in September 2009 by Conservative Parliamentary Secretary Rick Dykstra;
  • Commissioner Shepherd has taken more than three years to rule on five past complaints filed by Democracy Watch concerning favours lobbyists have done for past public office holders, and has not even contacted Democracy Watch about the complaints
  • Commissioner Shepherd has misled the media, and the public, about loopholes in the Lobbying Act, and;
  • Commissioner Shepherd has issued a legally incorrect, and incomplete, guideline on Rule 8 of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.


Changes needed to ensure transparent and ethical federal government lobbying and to ensure the Commissioner of Lobbying enforces rules effectively
(To see details, click here)
(NOTE: Democracy Watch urged the Oliphant Commission to recommend all of the following changes in its May 2010 report)
  • close the loophole that currently allows corporations to hide the number of people involved in lobbying activities (employees of corporations who lobby less than 20% of their work time are not required to be listed in the corporation's lobbying registration);
  • require lobbyists to disclose their past work with any Canadian or foreign government, political party or candidate;
  • require lobbyists to disclose all their government relations activities (whether paid or volunteer and on no matter what issue (NOTE: currently unpaid lobbyists are not required to disclose, nor lobbyists who lobby about the enforcement of laws) involving gathering inside information or trying to influence policy-makers (as in the U.S.) -- or require all government decision-makers to disclose all their contacts with anyone trying to influence them (as the Conservatives promised they would in the 2006 federal election);
  • require lobbyists to disclose the amount they spend on lobbying campaigns (as in 33 U.S. states);
  • the search page for Lobbyist Registry must be changed to allow for searches by any data field in the registry (currently, the database can only be searched by the name and client(s) or organization of the lobbyist, the department being lobbied and the subject matter, and the lobbying time period);
  • prohibit lobbyists from working for government departments or serving in senior positions for political parties or candidates for public office (as in New Mexico and Maryland), and from having business connections with anyone who does;
  • close the loophole MPs added to their MPs Code in May 2009 that allows lobbyists to provide unlimited volunteer services of any kind in secret to any MP without any conflict of interest being created, and make the MPs Code a law;
  • ban all senior politicians, staff, appointees and senior government officials from lobbying (paid or unpaid) for five years for anyone they had dealings with during their last five years in office (currently former senior politicians and only full-time government officials only have to sit out for one to two years), and ban all junior politicians, staff appointees and officials from doing the same for one to three years depending on their decision-making power;
  • anyone participating in the "employment exchange program" (who are mainly people from large corporations) must be covered by the five-year ban on senior public office holders becoming lobbyists;
  • ban lobbyists from becoming members of Cabinet for at least four years after they are elected as a federal politician;
  • the Commissioner of Lobbying must be required to conduct random audits of everyone covered by the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct;
  • prohibit the Commissioner from giving secret advice;
  • ensure that the Commissioner must investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints) and empower the Commissioner to investigate and rule on complaints even if the police are investigating the lobbyist for a violation of another law at the same time;
  • require the Commissioner to disclose the identity of rule-breakers (although Democracy Watch's position is that she is legally required to disclose this information in her annual report), and empower the Commissioner to penalize rule-breakers, even for violations of the Lobbyists' Code;
  • ensure all Commissioner decisions can be reviewed by the courts;
  • give opposition party leaders a veto over the appointment of the Commissioner of Lobbying;
  • the Commissioner of Lobbying must be required to submit public, bi-annual reports to a parliamentary committee that include details about the wrongdoing alleged in each complaint; the date each complaint is received; when each investigation began and finished; when the Commissioner received the investigation report; when the Commissioner/courts ruled and ruling details; how many people formally trained/informed by the Commissioner's Office; number of information requests received by subject and other core operational information;
  • have Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Commissioner's annual budget (as is currently the process for the Ethics Commissioner);
  • as with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner position, any person nominated and chosen to be the Commissioner of Lobbying must be required to have legal experience enforcing ethics rules or laws to ensure proper enforcement of the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, and;
  • make the Lobbyists' Code a law.