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So You Want To Hire A Lobbyist
  • April 19, 2012 : 23:04
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You can no longer avail yourself of the services of the golfer. No matter how many rounds of golf they play, the senator couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle even if he wanted to. You are now faced with a huge effort to stop the legislation that threatens your company. What do you do?

For openers, you are not able to afford a full Washington lobbying campaign alone. The cost will have jumped from five to six or possibly seven figures. You need to form a coalition. Surely other picture frame producers in America are as upset as you are about this bill. You need to find them and get them to commit funds. You need a war chest.

You now must go with one of the larger lobbying firms. Its plan will be grand and costly. It will need to send legions of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to combat the spread of the bill and to lobby members who have signed on as co-sponsors to remove their names from the legislation.

Every stage of the effort is expanded, starting with the intelligence gathering. Instead of having to understand the motivations and plans of one senior senator from New England, the lobbyists now need to comprehend the ruminations of scores of members. The lobbyists will need to canvass Congress (both houses), take a vote count and launch an effort to thwart the bill. They also need to know every detail about your industry. A good lobbyist will constantly pressure his client for more information, since smart lobbyists recognize that the hooks needed to win are in those details.

While they’re working Capitol Hill, the lobbyists will need to make sure your industry isn’t being vilified in the press, which would ensure additional support for the act. They may need to subcontract with a public relations firm to handle this, depending on how much press the issue attracts.

If the lobbyists are creative, they will work with you to expand your coalition, bringing in not only other frame makers to help foot the bill but also vendors who sell your companies the goods and services they require. For example, your company might buy a boatload of timber each month. Who are the suppliers in the chain of delivery? The interests of each are affected by the act, and they need to weigh in. A smart grassroots campaign, in which the vendors are organized to call their representatives, can have a powerful impact.

When the lobbyists hit Capitol Hill to meet with Congress, they will be armed with extensive research materials that show how many jobs the bill will kill and how it will ultimately serve the interests of frame makers overseas, perhaps in China. They will employ their powers of persuasion to stop the act. Tying their efforts in to national consensus positions will pay serious dividends. The goal will be to peel off one by one any supporters the senator has enlisted. They will likely have their own golfers on staff who play just as regularly with senators and congressmen, and they will undoubtedly raise even more money than the sole practitioner in our first scenario.

The request for campaign funds will be the same, only it will go out to everyone affected by this act. Instead of a few thousand, the coalition will become a pseudo political party, raising enough money to become a political force.

If you hire a powerful lobbying firm, most of the lobbyists will have migrated to K Street—the lobbyists’ lair—from Capitol Hill, having themselves served as congressmen or congressional aides. They will have social relationships with virtually every congressional office. When I was lobbying, we knew we could count on more than 100 of the offices in a pinch. Beyond that, we had strong relationships with almost 300 members and their staffs. This is average for a major lobbying firm.

If you pick one of the powerhouse firms, these relationships are renewed almost daily through social and political events such as meals, fund-raisers, sporting events and of course golf. A lobbyist who doesn’t spend countless hours creating new relationships will have little access, and that lobbyist will lose in a scrum with competitors who keep their relationships fresh.

An effective lobbyist will not only get to know your industry and issues but will know how other industries with similar challenges fared in the same legislative arena. He or she will know when to recommend a frontal attack and when to suggest political legerdemain. Knowing how much pressure to bring (and when to bring it) is a vital talent you want in your lobbyist. When it comes to lobbying, being a heavy-handed omadhaun is as ineffective as being timid.

The most successful of the elite lobbyists are the least lazy. It seems incomprehensible that top lobbyists might be lazy, but some are. The best in the field take advantage of this weakness. The lobbyist who works out a plan for victory is generally considered well prepared for the battle. But lobbyists who war-game both their own and their opponents’ likely moves are the ones most likely to prevail. When I was lobbying, we were rarely defeated because we not only created our own game plan—with countermeasures geared to blunt our opponents’ responses—but also created our opponents’ plans as if we were in their shoes. There were no imaginable (or even unimaginable) eventualities we didn’t consider. In fluid legislative battles, overpreparation is essential.

A winning lobbyist will also not stop fighting until the final bell is rung. Often legislative fights are lost in the last moments because one side declares victory too soon. The right lobbyist will stay vigilant to the end, which usually means the congressional recess.

In today’s climate, the right lobbyists can get almost anything they want. Whether it is protection for Acme Picture Frame, a special tax break for a corporation, a sweetheart contract for a labor union or the expenditure of billions of dollars on bootless federal programs, the lobbyist who knows how to play the system and who has access beyond the ken of the average citizen can have more control than many elected officials.

That might work to your benefit if the federal government is harming your interests, but this kind of special interest is ultimately harmful to our republic and to our future. We can only hope the American people send more Mr. Smiths and far fewer future lobbyists to Washington.

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read more: News, politics, issue may 2012

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