By Josh Fisher, Esq., Manager of State Issues
Earlier this year, the Public Affairs Council (PAC) released its 2013 State Government Relations Benchmarking Report, which is filled with great information on the corporate and association state government relations (SGR) practices. In particular, the PAC report found that “SGR work is usually broad in scope and in territory covered, so those surveyed rely heavily upon external relationships and services for the fullest coverage and tracking of their particular public policy concerns.”
Examples of these external services include contract lobbyists and consultants. We are consultants at Stateside and much of our work involves helping clients hire and manage lobbyists. During the course of the year we provide dozens of qualified lobbyist referrals to our clients. Consequently, we know the importance of consultants and lobbyists to SGR professionals.
With that in mind, what really stood out in the report was the finding that about half of corporate and nearly three-quarters of association respondents have NO formal process for evaluating their contract lobbyists and consultants.
Let me cite some more figures to draw out why this is a surprising number. The PAC report found that for its corporate members the average SGR operating budget allocated 22% of its resources for contract lobbyists and 5% on consultants and vendors. Additionally, the ratio of contract lobbyists/consultants to total SGR staff is typically 2:1 according to the PAC report. Association respondents, on average, allocated 19% of their SGR operating budget to contract lobbyists and 9% on consultants and vendors. For associations, the typical staffing ratio is 1.8:1. These numbers demonstrate lobbyists and consultants outnumber your SGR staff nearly 2 to 1 and account for about a quarter of your budget. And there is no formal evaluation?
It is clear that a large portion of resources are devoted to contract lobbyists and consultants. And yet the report tells us that 54% of surveyed corporations and, even more striking, 73% of associations do not have a formal evaluation process. Both corporations and associations cited results as one of the top evaluation criteria for their contract lobbyists and consultants. It seems most people just want to know if the bill passed or failed. Bottom lines are impossible to avoid, but one day your bottom line may be in danger if you cannot justify the expense of a lobbyist or consultant you hired. To judge performance solely on outcome misses the mark.
In previous blog posts we have examined the importance of audits and the reasons you should use them. Let these numbers be a not-so-subtle reminder of the importance of being able to support your decision to hire a contract lobbyist or consultant beyond saying the bill passed. While the time for evaluations and audits is typically after sessions have ended and budgeting for the next year begins, now is a great time to gather the information you need as part of the audit process. Let’s be honest, how much of the whirlwind session will you remember come September?
Josh Fisher is Manager of State Issues. His work at Stateside Associates has given him an intimate knowledge of the legislative process in all 50 states. He works with clients on a wide range of state and local government affairs issues and was most recently Manager of the Legislative Information Division at Stateside Associates.