The Government has been called on to get to grips with 'fringe players' on the edge of the lobbying industry following the Peter Cruddas expose.
The resignation of Conservative Party co-treasurer Cruddas last weekend over offering access to the Prime Minister for up to £250,000 was widely seen in the media as a new 'lobbying scandal'.
However, the story was triggered by former David Cameron aide Sarah Southern, once again bringing focus to those on the fringes of the industry rather than traditional public affairs operatives.
Professional Lobbying Company founder Mark Adams, who tipped off reporters that Southern had made money by introducing a client to the PM, said that the affair showed that the Government's proposed lobbying register was a 'red herring' that will fail to root out renegade operatives.
The news follows revelations about Adam Werritty, also widely dubbed a 'lobbyist' in the media, whose relationship with former defence secretary Liam Fox led to the latter's resignation in October.
Opinion remains divided on the best way to tackle these consultants and whether they should be included in the Government's register.
Freelance public affairs consultant Lionel Zetter argued the government consultation needed to be as 'wide-ranging as possible' and should include fringe players: 'Unless everybody engaging in the act of lobbying is incorporated, there will always be fringe characters and peripheral organisations that will seek to operate without any oversight or scrutiny.'
However, MHP COO Gavin Devine suggested that registering people such as Southern could make the situation 'worse'. Devine added: 'As I've argued before, without statutory regulation alongside registration, "lobbyists" such as Southern would gain a badge of respectability by registering, without any obligation to behave ethically.'
CIPR CEO Jane Wilson argued the register should create a clear demarcation between those who are and are not regulated. However, she pointed out that registering or regulating PA professionals will not alone eliminate informal lobbying by undisclosed interests.
'To eliminate this sort of behaviour, you need to clean up politics and remove the short cuts to influence, not target the vast majority of professional lobbyists,' added Wilson.
How I see it
Mark Harper, Minister for political and constitutional reform
I am not sure there was any lobbying going on in the Cruddas case. One thing that came out of last weekend's events was that it was about someone who exaggerated what they were offering. The notion that anyone is paying money and changing policy is nonsense.
Michael Burrell, Vice-chairman, public affairs, Europe, APCO
This kind of thing would not go on if political parties were not so desperate for money. Sarah Southern did something foolish, but time and time again, it is about politicians doing something wrong.
£250k Amount that Cruddas suggested would offer access to the PM*
12 Donors invited to dinner at No 10 and Chequers since the election**
33% Support for the Tories following the Budget and Cruddas news***
43% Support for Labour following the Budget and Cruddas news***
Source: *The Sunday Times; ** David Cameron; ***ComRes
Whistleblower calls for media to tackle renegades
Mark Adams has told PRWeek that he does not believe that registration will help to weed out figures such as Sarah Southern and Adam Werritty from the industry.
Instead, Adams suggests the best way of dealing with renegades is by exposing them in the media, in the way that he has done.
Adams, who runs the Professional Lobbying Company, said: 'I'm not sure that a statutory register will make any difference to these kind of people. It's a red herring. I see nothing to suggest that the incidents relating to Werritty and Southern would not have happened had there been a statutory register.'
He added: 'What is the point in regulated professional and ethical lobbyists when if one gives enough money one can have dinner with the Prime Minister and talk about policies?'
Adams tipped off reporters as he believed that Southern, a former Cameron aide now working as a lobbyist, was 'selling' introductions to the Prime Minister.
He then called The Sunday Times, which led them to work on the sting operation and initiate the Cruddas meeting.
Adams also runs the standup4lobbying website, which is aimed at promoting professional standards in the industry.