Domains of action: business influence on policy—civil society, science, and the media

The multiple voices of the corporation

Business attempts to influence policy take traditional forms of coalition and alliance building (via Trade Associations, elite policy planning groups, issue-specific lobby groups, on the one hand that represent business directly and by, lobbying/

PR, legal, financial, and other consultancies. We refer to these consultants as ‘policy intermediaries’. Their defining characteristic is that they are available for hire, and although they may not formally be private corporations themselves (law or accountancy firms often have partnership structures), they are, as a result, distinctive.

By contrast we identify civil society as composed of groups that are separate from the state and political parties on the one hand and business on the other, which engage in voluntary action on particular issues. There is some debate about the precise limits of civil society (Edwards, 2005); however, we include all those not-for- profit groups that organize around a particular cause or issue. Organizations that claim some form of independence from those with which they work are included, such as think tanks, policy institutes, and lobby groups that coalesce around particular interests or issues. Also part of civil society are pressure groups, trade unions, and a whole host of other similar bodies.

This definition makes it easier to examine both the direct and indirect (or covert and opaque) role of corporations. This is important as one of the oldest corporate techniques is the creation of front groups—organizations claiming to be independent but actually controlled or influenced by corporations (Miller and Dinan, 2008a). However, it is important not simply to reduce civil society groups with some corporate involvement to mere instruments of corporate power.

As well as ‘front groups’ (Megalli and Friedman, 1991; Apollonio and Bero, 2007; Laurens, 2015), there are a range of tactics including ‘astroturf’ (Beder, 1998; Lyon and Maxwell, 2004; Kohler-Koch 2010), ‘sock puppets’(Cook et al., 2014; Monbiot, 2013), think tanks (Miller and Mooney, 2010; Hawkins and McCambridge, 2014), corporate social responsibility (Sklair and Miller, 2010), and others that are seen as ‘force multipliers’ by business strategists, providing them with a range of additional voices intended to appear to be independent of or unrelated to business. In this section we briefly review some examples of corporate attempts to manage or capture civil society, science, and the media, each of which is an important domain in itself. It is important to recognize, however, that influencing one domain is often only part of a wider strategy to influence policy by indirect means. The sheer variety of voices employed by corporate actors and the varying routes to influence are an important element of corporate strategy. The fact that many of the voices and routes used strategically involve attempts to disguise the corporate interest is an additional complexity in assessing corporate influence and power.

 
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