12 Local Officials Groups You Should Not Go Without

April 1, 2014

By Heather Williams, Vice President

local government monitoring

America is well organized. Almost 90,000 county, city, township and special district governments establish policies and procedures for everything from plastic bags at the grocery store to fracking and beyond. And, the interplay between state and local governments on hot topics like data security, fair share, e-cigarettes, minimum wage, procurement changes, health care reform, chemical regulation and pharmaceutical waste makes it increasingly impossible to focus efforts only at the state capitol.

Many state government relations professionals never face (or hope they never face) local government issues. And, that is an understandable sentiment. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to look past what is happening at the local level because the issues are, in many ways, state issues. And, they are influencing what we do in state capitols.

So, what can you do?

When faced with the opportunity or need to create a multi-state or national local officials relationship strategy, there are a number of paths that can be taken. One could take the “go it alone” strategy and travel to each of the jurisdictions of interest to create a relationship with the local official of interest, although this would be a monumental task and an ineffective way to reach this goal. Another route would be to use the relationships of state and local lobbyists by working through them to their rolodex of local officials. But if you are looking for a more coordinated and practical effort, I recommend engaging the relevant local officials Groups.

Let’s start with the three Groups with which we are all most familiar: National Association of Counties (NACo), National League of Cities (NLC) and U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM). These Groups are big and their membership is increasing. This is especially true of NACo and NLC, where recent senior level staff changes have refocused the Groups’ efforts on many things including growing their membership. These policy Groups use member driven policy directives to advocate the federal government on behalf of their membership. In addition they address current issues, monitor trends and serve as an incubator for policy ideas.

If relationships with local officials are what you are looking for, I challenge you to look beyond these three and into additional local Groups engagement opportunities. Looking beyond the three local policy Groups will increase the number of access points you have to local officials. The local officials involved in these Groups, especially within leadership, tend to be the more active, influential and vocal local officials.

Local Partisan Groups

These are the 527 Groups of local officials. Each political party has had a local officials Group since McCain Feingold campaign finance reform split the 527 Groups from the national party organizations.  And, in parallel with the movement of state issues onto local agendas, these Groups are experiencing a political renaissance. Community Leaders of America (CLA) represents Republican mayors and other local elected executives. Democratic Municipal Officials (DMO) is the national association of Democratic mayors, council members, and other municipal leaders. Each Group has state chapters, providing a vast network of relationships to tap into.

State Leagues and Associations

There are 49 state municipal leagues – Hawaii does not have a state municipal league as Honolulu is the only city and it is governed by a consolidated city/county government – and 53 state associations of counties – 47 states have at least one state association and Arizona, Illinois, Washington and West Virginia have multiple. Each state league or association operates independently of the national Groups (NLC or NACo). Membership within the state leagues or associations are handled on an individual basis. If your objectives require a deeper dive into an individual state or a handful of states, consider joining the league or association within a particular state.

Constituency Groups and Affiliated Associations

Local officials also join constituency groups and affiliated organizations. These operate independently of but work collaboratively with NACo and NLC. Six Constituency Groups are associated with NACo and five are associated with NLC. Examples include the National Association of Black County Officials (NABCO), National Association of Hispanic County Officials (NAHCO) and their city counterparts National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) and Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO). Examples of the 25 affiliated associations that work with NACo include National Association for County Community & Economic Development (NACCED), National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and National Association of County Collectors, Treasurers & Finance Officers (NACCTFO). Membership in these Groups covers all 50 states.

There is no question that expanding to incorporate local government Groups into a government relations program requires significant resource commitment. Being more aware of the array of organizations with which you can work may make decisions easier. But, the fact remains – state issues are now local issues and that is not likely to change.

***

Heather Williams is Vice President at Stateside Associates. She works to help clients manage state and local government issues. She also manages client relationships with key Groups, including her “alma mater,” the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), where she served as National Finance Director.

No Check? No Problem

March 20, 2014

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

There are two kind of political candidates.

1. Those who have lots of money or who raise it from their family and friends and,

2. Those who lose.

I “borrowed” that line from a former state legislator (who lost his re-elect, btw) and have used it unabashedly for decades.

Another state legislator recently told Stateside Principal Mike Behm that he tells his local audiences the following: “I have to think about reelection every morning when I wake up and every evening before I go to bed, because I cannot help you with anything unless I get re-elected.”

They are both right, of course. Money is necessary for campaigns. And, as government relations professionals, we are expected to either provide some of it ourselves or to help candidates find it from clients, members and other professional acquaintances.

This year, thousands of state and local offices will be on the primary and general election ballots. If we wanted to, we could spend the remaining 7+ months hosting fundraisers for our favorite candidates across the 50 states. Naturally, we cannot do that much, but we appreciate how events give us the opportunity to get to know candidates better. And, that translates into service down the road for our clients. Yes, there is a connection between politics and policy.

Unfortunately, culture, infrastructure and other reasons leave some organizations out in the cold when it comes to direct political giving.

For example, many associations do not have PACs or political giving budgets.

Some of our corporate clients simply eschew political giving as part of their cultural mores.

Still others cannot engage comfortably in political giving due to “pay to play” or other restrictions.

This blog is for those who want to take advantage of the political season to get to know candidates and develop relationships, but who cannot make political contributions.

At Stateside, we make direct political contributions, but we also like to help candidates and our clients by bringing them together in non-fundraising events or “Meet and Greets.” Ultimately, the candidate hopes to make acquaintances that will become donors, but—unlike fundraisers—the Meet and Greet itself has no ticket price and no “host committee.”

So far this year, we have hosted two state Attorney General candidates, one gubernatorial candidate and two House Speakers interested in maintaining their respective legislative majorities. We will host another dozen or so events before the end of the election season.

To be clear, candidates would much prefer real fundraisers to “Meet and Greets.” We get that. But, sometimes it is the best or only option. For example, some states do not allow actual fundraising during legislative sessions, but “Meet and Greets” are OK. Primaries are often avoided by corporate and association givers, but a “Meet and Greet” can help increase a candidate’s visibility in a competitive field. And, in some states, the partisan demographic is so skewed that the primary IS the election.

If you cannot make direct contributions, consider the “Meet and Greet” as a way to maximize the value of the 2014 election season for your company or association.

Here are some tips:

  1. Always check with your legal counsel first to make sure that no planning or promotion for the event is considered fundraising or reportable as an in-kind contribution that could trigger “Pay to Play” rules.
  2. If you are a corporation, consider a “Meet and Greet” for senior corporate executives.
  3. If you are an association, bring your members together with candidates to help build awareness of your industry and key issues.
  4. Be sensitive to the candidate’s time and need to raise money. Consider scheduling “Meet and Greet” events adjacent to fundraisers so the candidate can do multiple events without additional travel.
  5. Host “Meet and Greet” events at Groups meetings. The candidates and the guests are already there. You bring them together.
  6. Keep “Meet and Greet” events smaller than fundraisers to maximize opportunity for guests and the candidates to talk.
  7. Be bipartisan. Even if you usually prefer candidates of one party, take this opportunity to get to know other contenders–especially in competitive races.
  8. If a “Meet and Greet” is not an option, consider other alternative such as inviting electeds and/or candidates to your corporate facility for a tour or to address employees.

In nearly all cases, “Meet and Greets” produce connections that ultimately result in the candidate receiving financial support. Even though you did not write a check, you earn status as someone who was helpful.

Win – Win

***

Constance Campanella is the Founder, President and CEO of Stateside Associates. A veteran of 30 years of state and federal issue management experience, Ms. Campanella managed Stateside’s growth from a one-person firm to what one trade publication has called, “a behemoth in state lobbying.”

The State AG Formula for Success

March 6, 2014

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

As my colleagues noted last week in their blog, the National Governors Association met in DC and it was more partisan than usual, especially at a press briefing at the White House after a meeting with the President. But as the Governors were wrapping up their meeting, the states’ Attorneys General were arriving for their own Winter meeting. Although, several of the arriving Attorneys General were hoping their official travel schedules will move them up a few days next year.

Five Attorneys General are running for Governor this year, and at least three others are running when their Governor’s Office comes up in 2015 or 2016. This reinforces the old joke that NAAG actually stands for National Association of Aspiring Governors. With six sitting Governors previously having served as their state’s Attorney General, there is good reason to look to the Attorneys General for possible future candidates.

This year’s sitting Attorneys General that are also candidates in Governors races include Doug Gansler (D-Maryland), Martha Coakley (D-Massachusetts), Jon Bruning (R-Nebraska), Gary King (D-New Mexico) and Greg Abbott (R-Texas). While being AG may provide an opportunity to run for Governor, it doesn’t clear the field. General Abbott faced only token opposition, but the rest of his AG colleagues are facing competitive primaries. And it may be for that reason that Jack Conway (D-Kentucky) has all but announced his run in 2015, and Roy Cooper (D-North Carolina) and Chris Koster (D-Missouri) have made it pretty clear they will be running for their state’s highest office in 2016.

Even with eight Attorneys General running for Governor, and most of their colleagues gearing up for re-election, the role of the Attorney General forces them to work together much more often than Governors. Issues such as monitoring the tobacco settlement, prosecuting Medicaid fraud and combating human trafficking keep the AGs and their offices in close touch. Even as they can disagree on some very big issues such as the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, they continue to work together on plenty of other issues.

The closeness of these relationships leads to moments that we see too infrequently with most other elected officials. The night before the NAAG meeting officially began both the Republican and Democratic Attorneys General Association held separate dinners. But later that night back at the hotel, Attorneys General and their staffs could be seen sitting at the same tables as their colleagues from the other party having the same sorts of casual conversations we all have with our friends at the end of the evening. Even the group of 2014 gubernatorial candidates was represented.

With hyper-partisanship continuing to rule Washington, D.C., the Attorneys General can serve as an example for other elected officials. Whether the office interactions make the social interactions easier or the social interaction makes working together professionally more tolerable, it is possible to disagree strongly on policy issues without it being personal.

***

Steve Arthur is Vice President and brings more than 20 years of public policy experience in both the public and private sector to his work at Stateside Associates. Mr. Arthur provides clients with hands on state government relations support from strategic planning and issue management to lobbyist management and direct lobbying. He is one of the leaders of Stateside’s Attorneys General practice, guiding clients through the process of working with, and lobbying, state Attorneys General.


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