The government's Lobbying Bill has come in for intensive criticism in recent weeks - and for good reason. We at Transparency International think it is an unusually poor piece of draft legislation, and ahead of the second reading last week prepared a briefing outlining how the Bill could be improved.
Fortuitously the start of my work placement with Unlock Democracy, a lobby for constitutional reform, coincided with the reassembling of Parliament post-recess, which heralded the passage of the trumpeted "Transparency Bill" in to legislation. It revealed to me - a huge politics geek - a lot about how public policy is made and influenced in the United Kingdom.
In recent weeks many have set out clearly and convincingly why the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which is receiving its second reading today, is nothing short of a direct threat to the voice of civil society, freedom of speech, and the fundamentals of democracy.
It is so useless that even Lynton Crosby - the tobacco lobbyist at the heart of Downing Street - wouldn't be covered by it. Both transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry agree that the government's toothless register is actually a step backwards from the codes of conduct and sanctions that already exist. The government should rename it the Let Lynton Lobby Bill.
When David Cameron said in 2010 that lobbying was 'the next scandal waiting to happen' he was both right and wrong. Right because it is an area which is ripe for scandal - a potentially unsavoury mix of money, power, politics and special interests. Wrong because by the time he said it, the scandal was already happening.
Yesterday, the Government announced the fruits of three years of hard labour - its Transparency of Lobbying Bill. To say that it was received with rapturous applause would be a downright lie. It was received instead with a significant degree of disappointment from a surprisingly wide range of people and organisations. For those to whom lobbying is not an obsession (i.e. almost everybody), let me summarise the myths and the reality.
You have to feel sorry for MPs don't you? I mean there they are, struggling away on their £66,000 salaries, barely able to make ends meet, constantly working for our country while 'scroungers' and 'shirkers' just sit around watching the world waste away at their nine-to-five, or even longer day jobs.
Transparency is the key, as is a strong system to support the principles for how MPs and officials deal with the outside world. Mercer's wrongdoing has also focused attention on All Party Groups. There is nothing wrong with having an All Party Parliamentary Group for Fiji, and it goes without saying that no MP should take money for setting one up.