How to work with a lobbyist

Communication & Relationships:

  • Represent you to appropriate parties (lawmakers, lawmakers’ staff, committee staff members, federal agencies, and various civil servants).
    • Communicate with them about your project.
    • Arrange meetings with them for you.
  • Help suggest exact language in legislation to meet the needs of your project.
    • Many people don’t realize that alot of the text that goes into the laws passed by Congress is written by lobbyists and passed into law word-for-word.
    • Lawmakers and their staff usually appreciate this – it reduces their work considerably.
    • And this actually often helps the process, since the language would otherwise be written by lawmakers’ staff, but lobbyists often have alot more experience than the staffers do.
  • Help appropriate parties fill out paperwork and reports for your project.
    • People appreciate this – it saves them the work of doing it.
    • It helps prevent errors that might otherwise delay your project.
  • Attend business events for you.
    • If there are any business events in the Washington D.C. area that you’d like to attend to make contacts at, your lobbyist may be willing to do this for you.
    • Keep in mind that your lobbyists probably aren’t experts in your business, and they probably won’t present details of your business or products like a sales rep. would.  But they’re very good at making contacts, particularly if the contacts can help with your federal government projects (potential partners for example).
  • Attend fundraisers for you.
    • Your lobbyist can attend events, and hand-deliver political donations from you to the lawmakers.
    • Remember: Political donations are important.
      • Yes, money talks in Washington.  But it’s not that you’re buying lawmakers’ support – donations can be as small as $100, and I assure you members of Congress don’t win re-election from that.  But it’s a sign that you’re willing to support them, and that you’re willing to “put some skin in the game”, making an investment.  Lawmakers don’t want to support companies and organizations that don’t have the will or resources to follow through with their commitments – it will hurt their reputations and their ability to win support for other projects.  You need to show that you’re serious and committed to your own project.
    • But make sure you understand that although the lobbyists attend the fundraiser, you are the one making the donation.
      • You send your lobbyists a check and they deliver it for you – and discuss your project with the lawmaker when they deliver the check.

Education, Documentation, and Organization:

  • Help you understand the process.
    • If you don’t want to understand, you can usually get by without it, relying on your lobbyists to understand it.  But if you want to know, they can help educate you.
  • Help you meet your obligations as part of the process (paperwork, deadlines, etc.)
  • Notify you of appropriate upcoming events (committee and subcommittee meetings, fundraisers, etc.)
  • Help complete and proof read paperwork for your project before it’s submitted.
  • Review and critique presentations and documentation you plan to present or deliver to members of the government.
  • Handle administrative tasks (make copies, have documents printed, put together presentation packets, etc.)
  • Provide office space for you when you’re in town.
    • Almost all lobbying firms will be able to give you a place to work while you’re in town, including desk space, use of the Internet, phone, copy machines, etc.
  • Organize events for you
    • A few lobbyists make it a regular part of their business to organize events of different types.
      • Fundraisers are one of the most common types of events, but some lobbyists also regularly sponsor social events like happy hours, wine tasting parties, birthday parties for lawmakers and/or their staff, etc.
      • Fundraisers are very important, because most lawmakers don’t like fundraising, and are very appreciative of anyone who helps them do it.
      • And lawmakers and their staff often attend the social events, which allows these lobbyists to build strong personal relationships with them.
    • In addition to helping build relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers that you (as a client of the lobbyists) will benefit from, these events also can be used to highlight your company.
      • Lobbyists can organize events that you sponsor (including fundraisers), where you’ll have a chance to address everyone that attends.

Measuring Results

Important: Remember that lobbyists never guarantee results (it’s simply illegal for them to get paid for results).  Hiring a lobbyist is like hiring a lawyer – you pay them for their services, not their results.

Because of this, many people, especially small businesses, often have concerns that lobbyists will charge their fees without doing any real work.  After all, if they’re in Washington D.C. and you’re somewhere else, how can you be sure they’re doing anything other than taking your money?  How do you know if they really tried to be successful?  There are stories of bad lobbyists taking advantage of good companies and organizations, and this should give you pause.

The solution, however, is simple.  To make sure you don’t end up being one of the stories, you should have your lobbyists submit a regular report of the work they’ve done for you.  In most cases, a monthly report will probably be appropriate (especially if they’re submitting monthly expense reimbursement requests to you).  The report should include who they contacted, what events they attended (if any), what meetings they had, a brief description of the results, and any actions required from you during the next reporting period.

If any lobbyists resist delivering a report, you should insist.  If they still resist, reconsider using them.  Most lobbyists will recognize that these reports help them, too – they advertise the value the lobbyists are adding to your efforts.  This helps you appreciate what they’re doing, and gives you something to show others in your organization who question the expense of paying lobbyists – which makes it much more likely that you’ll continue to use the lobbyists when your current contract expires.

In my first efforts with a lobbyist, I failed to get these reports, and I regret it – it made it virtually impossible for me to communicate the success of the lobbying efforts to others in our company, and that made things much more challenging for everyone involved (including the lobbyists).

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