Big Daddy

Lobbying 101

The response to my first six Lobbying 101 columns has been quite gratifying.

I have covered a lot of ground, and many readers have asked for a review of
some of the most important principles. Here is an overview of some of the
basics we have discussed:

I. The effective lobbyist must be a good:
1. Diagnostician. Ascertain what is at play by asking these and other
similar questions: Who has a stake in the outcome? Why do they care? What
arguments/evidence should you present to them?
2. Analyst. A good example of analytical skills comes into play in the
process of choosing who to approach to carry your sponsored bill (discussed
later in this column).
3. Strategist. For example, in the case of a sponsored bill you must
create a “game plan” or “road map” to guide you from introduction to
gubernatorial signature. This can involve, among other things, strategies
for dealing with allies and opponents, developing your arguments,
identifying your best witnesses, and securing positive media coverage. Of
course, you must have the flexibility and nimbleness to re-assess and redraw
your strategy as warranted.
4. Tactician. You must have the ability to perform the day-to-day
activities necessary and appropriate to implement that wonderful game plan
you drew up as strategist. Strategy involves seeing the whole picture and
visualizing the endgame. Tactics get you there.

II. Rules for effective lobbying:
In a previous column, I listed 16 rules to follow. Some of the most
1. Tell the truth. It is easier to remember
2. Your word is your bond. Your reputation for living up to your end of
a bargain will be one of the most important determinants of your likelihood
of success.
3. Your biggest challenge is managing client expectations. Unrealistic
expectations will result in untenable pressure to do the wrong thing.
4. True genius involves knowing when to stop. For example, when
testifying, do not speak past the point of effectiveness.
5. Don’t ignore minority-party members. This is common courtesy, and no
one likes to be ignored. but also you may need their votes and not realize
it, or you may need them on a future issue, they may raise issues you did
not think of and they may be able to help avoid a veto.
6. Perseverance equals persistence plus patience (not persistence
alone). As Zen master Phil Jackson says: “There’s no percentage in trying to
push the river or speed up the harvest. The farmer who’s so eager to help
his crops that he slips out at night and tugs on the shoots inevitably ends
up going hungry.”

III. Finding the right author for your bill:
As sponsor of legislation, one of your most important decisions is who to
ask to carry your bill. Neither the significance of this decision nor its
complexity can be overstated. I apply a checklist of 15 considerations to
help ensure approaching the “ideal” author. Let’s review just a few of the

  • Protocol may require offering the bill to a particular legislator who
    may have established preeminence in a particular subject area and who may be in a position to cause problems for your bill if not paid the proper deference of
    the “right of first refusal.”
  • Make sure you approach a potential author who will assign the bill to
    a high-quality staffer.
  • Seek an author who will allow you the degree of input into strategic
    and tactical decision making (such as whether to accept amendments) that you
    are comfortable with.
  • Don’t waste your ability to get a “powerhouse” legislator to carry a
    bill where their influence is overkill. Not all bills require “heavy
    lifting” by the author.
  • With the rapid turnover under term limits, it can be a wise investment
    to use the experience of having a relatively new legislator carry your bill
    to develop a working relationship that will pay future dividends.
  • Take into account a potential author’s relationship with members of
    all four caucuses and the governor/administration.
  • Consider the potential author’s ability to present the bill in
    committee and on the floor.

    IV. Advice from Senior Legislative Staff
    Some common themes recurred in the advice they offered, as seen in these excerpts:
    “Don’t come see me for the first time when you want something. And when you come bring facts and information, not anecdotes.”
    “Know what you are talking about when you propose a change in public policy. Noserious legislative staff is interested in your good looks or Kings’ tickets.”
    “Don’t lie about the contents of your bill. When you are caught, your bill will die about as fast as your reputation.”
    “Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Playing hide the ball just pisses me off. I’ll figure it out eventually. Remember, there is always next time.”
    “Don’t procrastinate. All committees have deadlines to comlete their analyses. If you want your arguments to be included in the analysis, provide the consultant with your letter and supporting info at least a week before the hearing.”

    V. Client relations
    Every experienced lobbyist views client relations as their biggest challenge. Let’s review some of the ways to avoid trouble in a few aspects of the relationship.
    1. Client acquistion
    You will be tempted to promise potential clients that you can deliver whatever they want (or even mmore). Fight that temptation – instead UNDERPROMISE AND OVERDELIVER. This is difficult when you then lose prospective clients to lobbyists who promise success they know they can’t deliver, but it is the right and ethical approach and will serve you and your reputation best in the long run. Your initial promise also helps ensure that your client’s expectations are realistic.

    2.The lobbyist-client working relationship
    The client is the “boss” (it is their money and their interest at stake) but you are the expert in navigating the legislative terrain. The capitol is a unique arena where to succeed you must be immersed to the point that you are in sunc with its rhythms, cycles, subleties, and formal and informal codes and ethos. For just one example, every advocate can probably cite a painful (but valuable learning experience) example of how they impatiently “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory”

    The requisite patience can be difficult when you have an antsy client who does not fully comprehend the Legislature’s rhythms and cycles. In such a situation you must not only resist whatever natural tendency you have favoring activity for its own sake but you also must resist pressure from your client to “do something, anything”. Your mission is to devise and execute the right game plan, reformulating it as appropriate to respond to events; it is NOT to act on EVERY impulse.

    To avoid problems in this area, you must establish the ground rules for your wrking relationship with the client at the start. The specific ground rules are less important that a solid mutual understanding regarding all aspects of your relationship, including how and by whom decisions will be made, the respective roles of the client and advocate, tiemliness and frequency of reports and updates, what defines and constitutes “success” and much more.

    It is also in the lobbyist’s interest to have an informed and educated client. Generally, the more the client “gets” how the capitol functions, the better.

    Please submit any questions you have about lobbying to me at and I will answer in the next column.

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