Originally uploaded at SSRN.


An idiosyncratic array of international rules allows nonstate actors to gain special access to international officials and lawmakers. Historically, many of these groups were public-interest associations like Amnesty International. For this reason, the access rules have been celebrated as a way to democratize international organizations, enhancing their legitimacy and that of the rules they produce. But a focus on the classic public-law virtues of democracy and legitimacy produces a theory at odds with the facts: The international rules rules also offer access to industry and trade associations like the World Coal Association, whose principal purpose is to lobby for their corporate clients. The presence of these corporate lobbyists challenges the conventional view, which I call strong legitimacy optimism, by focusing a set of longstanding critiques: Nonstate groups are not always representatives of the “global public” and access is not robust participation in governance. Moreover, the rules both overregulate and underregulate access to lawmakers. This critique is particularly salient in the context of business lobbying, where the rules do not balance the costs and benefits of business access to international lawmaking and governance.

This Article introduces a theory of international lobbying law. Reframing the international access rules as a body of lobbying regulations delivers explanatory and normative payoffs by identifying (1) the full array of actors who obtain access (public interest and private sector alike); (2) the quantum of access that the current system delivers (informal lobbying, not participation in governance); and (3) new regulatory strategies. Specifically, two regulatory models emerge. One draws on the flawed but best-available registration and disclosure norms of domestic lobbying regulation. The other is a multistakeholder model pioneered by twenty-first-century public-private partnership organizations. The Article develops an original typology to organize and identify features of the international access rules across diverse international organizations, thereby clarifying the regulatory tradeoffs that accompany each choice. Perhaps counterintuitively, reformers should likely eschew the most common middle-of-the-road access models — which are grounded in the flawed legitimacy optimism view — and instead choose among the two divergent regulatory models, with that choice driven by organizational mission.