Posts Tagged ‘regulatory monitoring’

Defending Your Government Affairs Program from Shareholder Petitions

October 11, 2012

By Mark Anderson, Senior Vice President

As Chair of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Government Affairs Practice Committee, I participated recently in an instructive CLE session addressing shareholder petitions that require the disclosure of political activity. While these petitions are not new phenomena, recent events including the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, have raised the profile of the issue. Because even the prospect of a shareholder petition on political transparency could have a damaging impact on a government affairs program, preparation is the best way to defend against—or even avoid altogether—a shareholder petition.

According to the Conference Board, while the number of shareholder petitions rose dramatically after Citizens United (from 40 in 2010 to over 100 so far in 2012), the success rate between 2011 and 2012 fell from 30 percent to just over 20 percent. The petitions ranged from requiring disclosure to shareholders of certain types of political activity, to more draconian measures such as a cease and desist of all political activities.

A reason for the diminishing return is likely the proactive and effective ways that many companies are now dealing with the petitions, or even acting in advance of a petition. Understanding that corporations have different policies and procedures governing political expenditures such as campaign contributions, there are some common methods by which corporations have effectively dealt with the transparency issue without crippling their government affairs programs. The following are a few tips to help you to be prepared to defend your government affairs program in light of this rise in shareholder petitions.

  1. Understand that there are activist groups that have been advancing this issue. The Center for Political Accountability has a model shareholder petition online and the Corporate Reform Coalition has an “activist toolkit” for use on political transparency issues. Some of these groups are promoting this transparency to stifle political contributions from corporations. First, they compel a company to disclose its contributions, then they can use an issue (often not business-related) supported by a candidate to threaten boycotts or pickets based on a single corporate contribution to that candidate. Therefore, the movement should not be considered an organic uprising of shareholders, but an organized activist effort aimed at your corporation.
  2. It is more difficult to defend a political contribution to a candidate, a stance on legislation, or a membership in one the groups of state and local officials in the absence of information about why it was done. So make guidelines available to your shareholders that outline qualities you support in candidates and policies your corporation supports. For example, you may support candidates that promote a certain tax stance or whose platform supports a more favorable climate for business. If you have outlined that beforehand, you will be better prepared to defend a political contribution and combat the notion that you support every tenet of that candidate’s platform including non-business issues.
  3. Given all of the rhetoric about corporate spending, your shareholders probably think that you are doing many things that you are not, so ask your shareholders what information they would like to have about corporate political spending.
  4. Use the discourse with shareholders as an opportunity to build understanding about the role that government affairs plays within the corporation. By actively engaging, much of the distrust that often builds in the absence of information may dissipate—or even be replaced with an understanding the value that government affairs may add to the corporation and shareholders.

The possibility of a shareholder petition can be a chilling event. However, being prepared to defend your government affairs program can certainly help to alleviate many of the concerns and raise confidence that your program will be able to withstand challenges by activist groups.

***

Mark Anderson is Senior Vice President working at Stateside Associates managing the Regulatory Services Division. He advises clients on engagement strategy and directs educational and “grasstops” campaigns directed at governors and regulatory officials. Mr. Anderson also has created issue advocacy coalitions and facilitates work group meetings of state and federal stakeholders addressing environmental issues.

From Apples to Exports: State Agriculture Officials Convene To Address Industry Opportunities and Challenges

September 27, 2012

By Stateside Associates

The heads of more than 40 state agriculture departments convened in Des Moines, Iowa last week to discuss the state of the industry at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Annual Meeting. The meeting provided a venue for discussion on recent achievements and challenges in state farm policy as well as the adoption of new policy priorities for the upcoming year.

It has been a year of highs- high costs and temperature that is- for the Agriculture sector. In particular, strong export demand and the Midwest drought have fueled price increases for commodities like corn and soybeans. While good news for some, these prices are also driving up costs on a range of products—from biofuels to consumer food items- and are impacting the bottom line of many farmers. Depending on the crop or product in question, this could be a year of boom or bust.

Adding to this divide is a lack of certainty around future federal Agricultural policy. With a new Farm Bill in the works but far from completion, state officials are faced with another stopgap continuing resolution and an uncertain future for many federal farm programs. The need for a new Farm Bill was stressed throughout the meeting and culminated in the NASDA membership adopting an action item urging the passage of a 5-year Farm Bill as soon as possible. Of particular concern to meeting attendees was the sentiment that Agriculture programs are a likely target for large federal spending reductions.

Beyond federal policy, this year’s meeting covered the other major issues facing the Agriculture sector including drought, water quality, and biofuel production. All three topics highlighted a common theme—America’s farmers are being relied upon to produce more food, fiber and fuel with less government support and increased regulatory requirements. With regards to regulation, finding the right balance between state and federal oversight was another theme heard throughout the meeting.

Some of these concerns made their way into NASDA policy at the meeting. Adopted by the NASDA membership, the following issues will be part of the NASDA organization’s priorities as it communicates with Congress over the coming year:

  • Border Security and Labor Workforce Reform
  • State Management of Invasive Species
  • Water Quality Permitting
  • School Lunch Programs
  • The Dairy Security Act

In addition to official policy positions, the NASDA membership also spent time discussing a number of other issues impacting the states including:

  • The role of corn in ethanol and food production
  • The increasing importance of agricultural exports
  • Increasing public interest in GMO labeling and Biotechnology
  • Advances in agricultural practices to address nutrient runoff

NASDA leadership also changed at the 2012 meeting with outgoing president Bill Northey, Secretary of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship handing the gavel to Commissioner Steve Troxler of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Commissioner Troxler will host the 2013 NASDA Annual Meeting next September in Asheville, North Carolina. During his term, the Commissioner will guide NASDA efforts to ensure the issues addressed at the Annual Meeting are raised to policy makers in Washington, D.C. As a next step in this process, NASDA will reconvene in February in the Washington, D.C. area for its Winter Policy Conference.

Say Goodbye to Your Lobbyist – The Right Way

August 20, 2012

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

If you decide to part ways with your contract lobbyist, there are some things you should do to make the change most positive for all concerned.

My focus here is not on replacing lobbyists who are “not working out,” but on the decision not to continue to have a lobbyist in a state. The reasons you make that decision are myriad. For example, if your lobbyist was focused on supporting your manufacturing facility in a state and you sold that facility–well, then–the lobbyist goes too. If you passed the bill you hired the lobbyist to pass–two years ago–you may decide it is OK to go unrepresented in that state. Another possibility is that your budget was slashed to the bone and you had to make painful decisions. As I said, there are plenty of possibilities.

So, you made the decision to end the relationship. I expect you know how to make that phone call and say good things, but have you thought about a thorough exit interview? Candidly, I had not, but Ron Barnes, Vice President of State Government Relations for the Direct Marketing Association and a Stateside client, told me recently that he does exit interviews with lobbyists and I thought that was a fantastic idea and wanted to share. Hence this blog.

Here are my recommended questions for an exit interview. What do you have to add to this list? Leave a comment in the field below or email your suggestions to stateside@stateside.com.

  • What do you know now that you wished you had known when we started working together?
  • Did I give you the tools you needed (Information, Messages, Grassroots/Grasstops)?
  • How well did we (client) handle administrative responsibilities, i.e. payments, lobbyist registration?
  • Was our level of campaign involvement high enough, too low or just right?
  • If situations change, would you be willing to work for us again?
  • Do you foresee any land mines out there for my company/association in the coming year?
  • In what areas do you think you could improve?
  • What would you recommend I do to improve as a client?

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