Archive for the ‘Grassroots’ Category

Failed Upon Adjournment

May 20, 2014

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

canstockphoto6453644Are there three more beautiful words to a state government relations professional? Maybe there are, but for business reasons, this triplet means the danger has passed.

Or, has it?

Legislative ideas–especially the new, innovative, and crazy–do not find their footing immediately. Ideas take time to break in and to become comfortable or at least acceptable. Rough versions of proposals become polished over time as stakeholders and advocates weigh in. Think about some ‘crazy’ notions that are now law–like bans on incandescent light bulbs, living wages, calorie disclosures at restaurants and state regulation of the Internet.

Consider that the campaigns for ideas have become more sophisticated and more integrated. Advocates open the bidding with a study. A legislator tweets approval and promises action. Fellow legislators join in. Advocates note the “trending” issue as proof the idea is gaining acceptance. The bill is introduced. More tweets and posts herald the initiative and the traditional media provides the column inches necessary to create buzz around the Capitol.

Fortunately for most businesses, the legislative process is still deliberative and new, radical ideas do not immediately find their majority and do fail upon adjournment.

Is that a red light signaling that you can stop and relax? It should not be.

Forward thinking SGR professionals would be well advised to look for these new ideas on the scrap pile and evaluate their potential for future success.

Here is the 5-point test to determine if today’s wacky idea is tomorrow’s public policy:

  1. Consider the source. Is the advocate a well-established NGO with a history of legislative success? If so, plus one point.
  2. Is the legislative sponsor a serious, committed, successful lawmaker? If so, plus one point.
  3. Has the legislature experienced a significant turnover in membership or leadership that now tilts it more towards the philosophy of the proposal? If so, plus one point.
  4. Is social media at-large or among legislators (check that out via TellTale) buzzing about the topic? If so, plus one point.
  5. Has the real media picked up the topic and supported the underpinnings of the proposal? If so, plus one point.

If your evaluation of this failed bill or idea yields four or more points, the chances are very likely that you will see this bill again and you will see this idea again elsewhere.

So, when you get the report that a bill failed upon adjournment, don’t read that as a red light. Read it as a yellow light and go faster to get ahead of the trend.

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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.”

Coalitions and Partnerships: Going Beyond Reliance on Trade Associations

November 7, 2013

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

A year ago, I wrote about the importance of trade associations for a successful state government relations strategy. As that blog made clear, I am a big proponent of supporting state trade associations to promote a given industry and to fend off destructive legislation or adverse administrative actions.

But what happens if an industry doesn’t have a state trade association, or doesn’t have the resources to have a presence in every state? The bills won’t stop being introduced just because a trade association doesn’t exist. In fact, they are all the more likely to proliferate because without a trade association there is no strong network of connections to convey an industry’s perspective as legislation is being crafted.

One option is to join a broad-based trade association that may be an umbrella group for businesses, such as a Chamber of Commerce, and rely on them to watch out for and vocalize a given set of issue-based interests. State and local Chambers provide an important service in advocating for broad-based business issues, but they may not be appropriate when your issue is narrow and may conflict with other industry (or even just your competitors’) business interests.

In other cases, an issue may be broader than a given industry or other business membership group is ready to engage on. What that leaves is a false sense of security, because there will be more “boots on the ground” working members of a Legislature for an issue that may not necessarily be much of a benefit if the interested parties are not closely coordinating their actions.

You may be thinking the answer is simple in both cases: just create a coalition. And you would be right. A coalition of like-minded interests can be the best vehicle for legislative success on a particular issue, even if the partners in the coalition don’t agree on or have conflicting views on other issues. Therefore, how that coalition is created and how it is run can be the difference between success and failure. Creating a partnership or coalition can be far more complicated than gathering individual companies (for the narrow issue) or trade associations (for the broader issues) and dividing up lists of legislators and determining who will lobby each one. While this might work on occasion, it can lead to a disjointed effort and conflicting messages being shared with legislators, which could make your argument much less compelling to the legislature overall.

Coalitions can also be used for proactive purposes as well. For new and emerging industries without a developed association network, educating elected officials about that industry can be the only necessary outcome for a coalition. In this case, the coalition can be made up of those few (or one) companies in the new industry, plus their suppliers or customers that have an interest in industry growth. In this case, the messaging among the coalition may be simpler, but it is no less important that everyone stay on the same message. If legislators are hearing about a new industry for the first time, it is probably even more important that they are hearing a consistent message.

How to Create a Successful Coalition

To give your coalition the greatest chance for success, there are several rules that should be followed that will improve your odds:

1. Broaden the Coalition

Make your coalition broad enough for legislators to see the issue as a public policy issue, not a special interest issue. Having 50 widget makers is important, but can you bring widget users on board? Could the issue be supported by the union that represents your employers? Are there environmental benefits that may bring an environmental group on board? The number of coalition members is less important than the interests that your coalition members represent. If all the coalition members only have relationships with the same five legislators, that is not going to help get a message out very effectively. Review existing relationships of the coalition before moving forward.

2. Define Your Message – And Stick To It

While coalition members may have a common goal, they may have different reasons for getting to that goal. Hash out those common messages within the coalition first, so all members are making the same arguments. When legislators talk to each other about your issue, they need to be repeating the same message, not separate messages from the various coalition members. This doesn’t mean each coalition member can’t make their own arguments beyond the shared messages, they just need to be sure they are consistent with the overall message. When the coalition goal is education, it is even more critical that the messaging is consistent and simple. While discussions can get into the weeds, make sure you can define your key messages in three or four bullet points.

3. Know Your Fallback Strategy 

This is not to argue that you should compromise early, but to make sure your coalition messaging is appropriate. Without knowing what a potential fallback position might be, the initial arguments made by individual coalition members might not be consistent with an ultimate position that needs to be taken by the coalition. Successful coalitions know their objective and keep everyone focused on the arguments that will advance that objective for the entire coalition, even when negotiations are necessary.

4. Broaden the Lobbyist Reach

One of the big advantages of working with a coalition is the ability to broaden the network of lobbyists used for the issue. But it is amazing how often I have worked with a coalition where the coalition agrees to hire a lobbyist as a group and they will hire one of the coalition partner’s lobbyists because “she already knows the issue.” Just as mentioned above in the broadening the coalition point, it is important to know what relationships all the lobbyists in the coalition have with elected officials.

5. Regular Updates

Making sure coalition members are regularly keeping each other informed about their progress is critical to success. Whether one holds in person meetings, phone calls or even just e-mail updates; the key is to make sure everyone is reporting on progress and the leader of the coalition can tell where gaps may be developing. Without regular accountability, the coalition is likely to fall apart or be a coalition in name only. Commitments for action are important, following through on those commitments is the only thing that really matters.

Conclusion

When determining how to engage in a state, a coalition could be the right answer in many circumstances. A trade association is almost always going to be your best bet for long term ongoing representation for an industry. But when fighting a particularly bad policy or building awareness of a newer industry that doesn’t have the bandwidth to sustain an association, a coalition may be the best path.

Many coalitions will hire a lobbyist, a public relations company or a government relations firm to manage the coalition and to take the lead on making sure the steps outlined above get done. Whether managed internally or handled by an outside entity, successful coalitions don’t just happen. They take planning and a commitment to execute, but the results can be so much better than trying to go it alone.

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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.

Direct Democracy: Avoiding issue management pain at the 2014 ballot box

September 17, 2013

By Sarah E. Hunt, Esq., Manager, State Issues

Will your issue soon be the subject of an expensive general election ballot measure campaign? Taking the direct democracy temperature now in the states is one important way to avoid unpleasant surprises late next summer. The 2014 ballot measure landscape is rapidly taking shape (find out more about measures in each state). Chief election officers in nine states have certified at least seventeen questions to 2014 statewide election ballots as of late summer 2013. Understanding the initiative, referendum, and referral process and knowing what has already made it onto the ballot in the states will give your state government affairs program a huge advantage.

Referral, initiative and referendum are the three legal mechanisms that allow citizens to directly vote on legislation. An issue-oriented fight at the ballot box could be headed your way in almost any state. Legislative bodies can exercise the referral power in all fifty states. Referral allows legislatures to put controversial matters to a vote of the people. Twenty four states also allow the initiative or referendum processes. These two processes are citizen-initiated and either establish new laws or alter or repeal legislatively-approved law, respectively.

While business interests are frequently on the defensive side of direct democracy, it is too often an overlooked proactive tool. Advocates turn to citizen-initiated ballot measures when legislative efforts fail to produce favorable results in spite of popular support. Tort reform, for example, is one area where the medical and business communities have gone to the voters successfully to achieve policy outcomes such as caps on punitive damages or limits on medical malpractice awards.

Direct democracy efforts can take place after or alongside a state’s legislative session, the latter being a tactic that leverages electoral and grassroots threats to sway legislative or gubernatorial action. An interest group can put pressure on stakeholders to negotiate a legislative compromise by filing a ballot measure that has the potential to enact a policy change if the legislature does not resolve an issue.

It is unsurprising, this far from Election Day 2014, that the majority of the seventeen measures certified to 2014 ballots are legislative referrals. More than fifty measures, however, are working their way toward ballot certification in at least twelve states. Initiative and referendum backers in most jurisdictions still have many months to collect the tens of thousands of signatures necessary to achieve a coveted slot on the 2014 general election ballot.

Thus far, the 2014 ballot measures in play feature issues we have come to recognize: abortion, same-sex marriage and tax reform to name a few. Judicial selection ballot measures are on the uptick this cycle. Advocates for marijuana and gambling legalization, eminent domain reform, and the right to purchase private health insurance have filed relatively few measures compared to previous cycles.

Trending 2014 ballot measure subjects of note include:

Fiscal and Tax, including rainy day fund changes, surtaxes for education, prohibitions of income and payroll tax – ballot measures certified in Tennessee, Nevada, California, and Michigan; potential ballot measures in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Missouri, Oregon, and Nevada.

Election law reforms, including term limits, voter registration, voter ID, direct democracy reform – ballot measures certified in Montana, Arkansas, and California; potential ballot measures in Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

Judicial reform, particularly judicial selection – ballot measure certified to ballot in Tennessee; potential ballot measures in Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

Healthcare, Eminent Domain, GMOs, and Renewable Energy are all subjects of potential measures in at least one state, including an effort to repeal Medicaid Expansion legislation in Arizona.

New ballot measures remain a possibility up until relevant filing deadlines. Ballot qualifying deadlines vary from state to state, but most are in the spring or summer of 2014. Well-funded ballot measure campaigns can work their way onto a ballot even when they start the process late. An interest group with enough cash to hire an army of circulators can rapidly collect the needed signatures to make the ballot. Oregon casino investors got Measure 75 (2010) on the ballot by pouring $1 million dollars into a last-minute signature gathering campaign that yielded over 300,000 signatures in the spring and early summer of 2010. It is therefore advisable to monitor initiative and referendum filings until a cycle is complete.

Vigilant issue managers will identify possible ballot measures of interest now to avoid unpleasant surprises in July and August of 2014, the timeframe when most states finalize their general election ballot measures.

Find out exactly what measures have been filed, and keep tabs on upcoming ballot measure filings, by viewing our most recent FactPad Insert: State Ballot Measures 2014. This FactPad Insert, which is usable both online and in the FactPad itself (find a complete list of FactPad Inserts and learn more about FactPads) provides links to official websites on which ballot measures are published in every state and in many cases, the process by which a measures can land on the ballot. For additional information about ballot measures in the states, contact: seh@stateside.com.

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Sarah E. Hunt is Manager, State Issues at Stateside Associates. Prior to joining Stateside, she was part of boutique political law practice that advised clients in all aspects of direct democracy, from compliance to campaign management. The veteran of dozens of ballot measure campaigns, she is co-author of several state and local ballot measures, including Oregon’s Ballot Measure 73. She is a member of the Oregon and the District of Columbia bars.