Posts Tagged ‘lobbyist’

The View From Inside: A Legislative Staffer’s Perspective on Lobbying

December 1, 2011

By Stateside Associates

The 2012 legislative session is gearing up to be a busy one, particularly when it comes to fiscal issues. Federal stimulus dollars are drying up, revenue is down, and most states are increasingly strapped for cash. In an election year when these factors are sure to be politically polarizing, having access to the right lawmakers and staff can mean a world of difference and provide a key competitive advantage. During my time in the Florida State House I witnessed certain practices that are determinative of the success or failure of an advocate’s legislative agenda.

For three years, I served as a legislative aide to a Florida State Representative. There were many days that, despite all planning and preparation, I observed the familiar and controlled chaos of the legislative session. Some lobbyists came and executed with laser-like precision. They excelled at what they did, and were known throughout the capitol for their ability to get things done. On the other hand, I also saw lobbyists and advocates that were ill-prepared or who had misjudged the local political environment. More often than not their lack of preparation committed them and their issues to legislative failure. On a daily basis, our office would be bombarded with government relations professionals that advocated on behalf of numerous and varied issues. I learned first-hand that in order to pursue a successful legislative agenda, there are four things most worth remembering: time, relationships, local voice and coalition mobilization.

Time

One of the first realizations I had in the State House was that there are hundreds of issues that each have their own nuances. This gives little time for an elected official to consider a given amendment or bill. From day one to day sixty of the respective session, our office was inundated with requests for meetings. My advice for lobbyists and issue managers is to remember that your cause is one of many. Get in, make the case for your issues and get out. Many lobbyists operated like car salespeople; it was clear they believed that the longer they talked, the more likely they were to make the sale. The opposite held true more often than not. The Representative I worked for always appreciated when a lobbyist could convey his point in less than 10 minutes and kept talking points and handouts to no more than one page. Keep it brief and to the point.

Relationships

The way to keep your bill high on someone’s priority list without consuming valuable time on his or her agenda is to follow up with frequent reminders and updates. In many instances, members have one staffer to handle an entire legislative office. Checking in with that staff member can help more than many realize. Spend your time getting to know the staff before you meet with the lawmaker.

It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating – make sure you and your bill sponsor are on the same page and working together. Committee chairmen take notice when lobbyists advocate for issues under their committee’s jurisdiction, however it is just as important that the chairmen see the bill sponsor doing his/her part too.

While party leaders and rank and file members are important, in each state legislature there is also a group of people that both aides and lobbyists tend to forget—the lifelong staffers. These staffers often eclipse their bosses in issue knowledge and tenure in the state house. Professional committee and caucus staffs also learn the complex and often archaic rules of a chamber. It is easy for newly elected members to misinterpret or misunderstand these rules and be ineffective. Knowledge of how to stall a vote, add a last minute amendment, tally votes, or how to pass legislation is not only priceless but can be the difference between watching the Governor sign a bill into a law and watching a bill hit the round-file.

Local Face and Voice

If possible, give your cause a face and a voice. Whether it is the Speaker of the House, or a newly elected freshman, each member has a constituency that he or she represents. Successful lobbyists know how to utilize the constituents of the members they target and they often bring them in for issue advocacy days with their lawmakers. During the 2009 legislative session, one of our constituents came to us with a very emotional and important issue. Their daughter had been killed in a tragic accident because she was not wearing a helmet while at a horseback riding lesson. Despite having a very equestrian-friendly district and having the U.S. Polo Grounds in our boundaries, we were able to pass a bill with unanimous support to mandate any individual 13 years of age and younger wear a helmet while riding. Throughout the process the family proved to be valuable allies in testifying at hearings and ultimately convincing the Governor to sign the bill. Personalizing a cause and rallying constituent support will always help improve your chances at being successful.

Coalition Mobilization

If you can’t get a local constituent to push an issue, as we did, find strength in the numbers behind a coalition. During the 2011 Florida legislative session, I witnessed a bill that was top priority for the Governor pass the House but get voted down in the Senate because by the time it reached the second chamber there was a groundswell of opposition to the bill. This was primarily thanks to one of the lobbyists that took the time to bring in hundreds of students and teachers to testify against it. The lobbyist went above and beyond in coordinating with committee staff to make sure that each person had one minute of speaking time and was even able to include testimony from constituents throughout the state, making the testimony relevant for every member of the Senate.

While every state has a unique legislative process, most successful advocacy techniques are transferable. In the face of the demanding 2012 legislative sessions, lobbyists everywhere will need to maintain a competitive edge. I recommend maximizing your time, working those relationships and mobilizing a coalition in support of your issues in order to come out ahead in your next lobbying effort.

Aretha Got It Right: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

July 26, 2011

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

At a recent conference of state Attorneys General, a corporate advocate referred to the assembly of almost 30 state AG’s as the “farm team.” It was meant to juxtapose AG’s against Governors and was intended as a compliment.

Unfortunately, as a compliment, the reference fell flat. Actually, it fell right through the floor. AG’s were offended to be referred to as a “farm team” at their own meeting.

I also have occasion to work with someone (NOT a client) who constantly refers to state legislators as Members of Congress or State Congressmen. Despite repeated corrections, the reference persists.

For as long as I have been in state and local government affairs, I’ve dealt with the fact that the federal arena enjoys higher status. It is just the way it is.

And, sometimes, those who toggle between the vaulted chambers of the US Congress and our tiny world of 50 STATES, get confused. That’s understandable. Hey, we all make mistakes.

But, as professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure that the individuals we work with on behalf of our organizations or clients know that they enjoy our respect.

And, it works both ways.

If you Show Respect, you can Gain Respect.

My definition of lobbying has long been the “Delivery of Respected Messages. “

When I teach about lobbying, I talk about each of the main words in that definition: Delivery, Respected and Messages and what they represent.

“Delivery” comprises everything from timeliness, methods of communication, access, relationships and responsiveness.

“Messages” embraces content, values, negotiating stances, political pressures and perspective.

“Respected” is the fiber that holds it all together. Absent a respected messenger or a respected client, nothing works. A well-delivered, well timed message from a disreputable messenger is a waste of time.

Fortunately, having a disreputable client is not usually the problem. More frequently, it is the case that a lobbyist or their client is a stranger and must first acquire credibility and respect in order to be effective.

As consultants, we loan some of our respected status to clients while helping them establish their own positive relationships with government officials. Clients are not “going in cold” because we have laid a foundation.

But, you cannot loan what you do not own!

Obviously, in-house lobbyists or state government relations managers must likewise be respected and given the amazing turnover rate among state officials, all of us are constantly in the process of building new relationships and sustaining old ones.

If you are responsible for 5-10 or more states, that’s really hard work and often taken completely for granted.

Regardless of your role in State Government Relations, here are some suggestions for earning R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Research
Learn about your advocacy targets. Learn about the culture and the processes of the governing body. Learn the lingo, the culture, the Do’s and Don’ts and the Case Studies. Never go in cold.

Expert

Bring something to the table besides a winning smile. Know your company, business, industry. Be valuable because you are more than just a hand-shaker. Always be prepared to explain what other states or cities have done. It is the number one question lawmakers ask when confronted with a new topic.

Share

Beyond being an issue expert, being “in the know” is another way to ensure that people return your phone calls and seek your involvement. Someone who can help government officials understand how an issue is being debated, who are the opponents and proponents and other forces at work is highly valued as long as the “sharing” is substantive and accurate. This is not about gossip.

Power

Lobbyists have power when they can bring sides together, when they direct grassroots resources in an issue campaign, when they have relationships that put their clients “at the table,” when they help keep friends and allies in office and when their knowledge and expertise is sought after. Being powerful should be one of your goals.

Executives

Participation in government matters by CEO’s and other high-up executives is essential, especially when dealing with Governors and Mayors. It should be a goal to encourage this participation. Also, when the senior executives get first-hand experience of working with government, they often become more passionate supporters of government relations.

Coordination

It usually falls to state government relations executives to bring together the disparate parts of an organization (company, association, coalition) to reach a decision about a policy. Being able to do that – repeatedly, reliably and in a timely manner – is a great skill and much appreciated and valued by government players.

Trust

Last letter. Most important. You must be trusted and trustworthy. Make promises and keep them. If you make mistakes, correct them. And, do not ever ask a public official to take a position you are not prepared to defend.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T., that is what it means to me.

YOU DO NOT NEED A LOBBYIST-EVER AGAIN

February 17, 2011

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

That’s right. Never.

All you have to do is answer all the following questions TRUE and you are home free!

Ready?

1. I am intimately familiar with the legislative process in all states and localities for which I am responsible.

2. I enjoy close, professional relationships with all elected and executive branch officials who may have a part in legislative or regulatory decisions regarding my organization.

3. I am HAPPY to spend 30%- 40%-50% or more of my working days flying to State Capitals – especially during January, February and March in order to participate in 8am committee hearings.

4. I am able to invest the time and intellectual capital necessary to research the history of my issue – or what lead up to it being my issue – in all states for which I am responsible.

5. I know the lobbyist rules in all states for which I’m responsible and know when I need to register, especially in those states where registration is required for a single letter, phone call or meeting. I’ll fill out those forms while on an airplane!

6. I am unconcerned to know that while I am flying to the next state, my opponents (with their expensive, in-state lobbyist) will be undoing everything I accomplished that day.

7. I need nothing but a cup of coffee and 2 hours of sleep in order to be ready to defend my organization in front of the next committee, the next Attorney General or the next Governor.

8. I enjoy that permanent “new kid in school” feeling when I walk the halls of state capitols and recognize no one – and vice versa.

9. I know for a fact that the adage, “It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know,” is SOOOO last century.

10. I can write a killer letter outlining my organization’s concerns with any bill or regulation (from the comfort of my office in Washington, D.C.) and know that the wisdom in my letter will overcome all those silly, petty, local , trivial predilections – every time.

11. I know the names of all college sports teams and can whip them out in a flash to demonstrate my “homeboy” bonafides. Legislators love that stuff.

12. I met the Governor at an NGA meeting and can use that meeting to swing open all the necessary doors.

If you did answer TRUE to all of the above, you are correct. You do not need a lobbyist.

You may need other professional assistance, though.

 

Stateside Associates is a professional government affairs firm that provides qualified referrals to lobbyists in all states and localities nationwide. All clients of the firm receive lobbyist referrals at no charge. No brokerage fees or commissions are required or accepted.


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