There are numerous national groups of state regulators covering every imaginable regulatory arena. The Environmental Council of the States, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the National Association of County Health Officials are just a few of the Regulatory Groups that meet on a regular basis to discuss national issues, advocate positions on federal policy and share information and best practices.
Like the more traditional groups that are more known and accessible to most government affairs professionals, regulatory groups can provide avaluable setting in which to develop key relationships and advance your position on issues. However, many view these organizations as being cloaked in secrecy. Therefore, becoming involved with a regulatory group can be challenging, frustrating and even intimidating.
Nevertheless, working with Regulatory Groups can provide substantial value to your government affairs program. The following are a few tips to follow when working with Regulatory Groups.
1. Regulatory Groups are not always open to the public. I have frequently heard gripes from the private sector that these meetings should not be closed due to state sunshine laws. But the reality is that these meetings are not used to develop state policies, they are used to share information and take positions on federal issues. So state sunshine laws do not apply. If you want to attend, you must be invited by the organization.
2. Most Regulatory Groups do not have corporate membership or programs. When you attend one of these meetings, you are attending as a guest. Most of the organizations that I have dealt with are extremely wary of being seen as influenced by the business community. So any involvement that you have is typically at an arms length. Don’t be surprised if your offer to take a member to dinner, buy a drink or even a cup of coffee is denied for this reason—even if there is no state restriction.
3. Lobbying Regulatory Group members is frowned upon. While is certainly occurs, and I would argue that it certainly should occur, it mostly done behind the scenes. Many of the individual state members of these organizations would agree with you that education from stakeholders is critical to good policymaking. However when state regulators are perceived to be influenced by lobbying from stakeholders, they lose credibility among their peers. In the long run, that hurts both of you.
4. Regulators appreciate your understanding of their area of expertise. One of the satisfying aspects of these national organizations for regulators is that they get to interact with people that deal in the same, sometimes very narrow, arena. I have found that the best way to develop good relationships with regulators is to begin by being proficient in discussing their area of expertise.
5. You cannot “fly under the radar” at a Regulatory Group meeting. These meetings are very sparsely attended by the private sector. If you attend one of these meetings, you and your organization will be noticed. Be prepared to explain why you are at the meeting and what particular issues interest you.
So if you have a policy issue to address, there is almost assuredly a Regulatory Group on whose agenda it falls. And if you keep these things in mind, working with these regulatory organizations can be an extremely effective way of engaging on issues.
Mark D. Anderson