Friday, October 31, 2014

Do elections matter (to a lobbyist)

Elections are held three out of every four years (municipal count to some lobbyists). We see the TV ads, hear the radio ads, get to stare at yard signs while commuting or running errands, but does anyone actually know what the candidates think about assorted issues? Well, lobbyists do. Especially for state and federal races, the person running those "vote for me because my opponent kicks puppies", is the person that can make or break an industry. All around the country, there are races that are hotly contested...the races where the media and campaign dollars flow are usually the ones most likely to strongly influence the general direction a municipality, state or even nation will take. I'm in Indiana. We don't have any major races at the state or federal level, but next door, in Illinois, the race for Governor is going to end up being the most expensive ever...probably $50 million give or take a few gallons of milk. $50 MILLION for a Governor's race! But the stakes are pretty high. Illinois is (depending on who you ask) in the hole about $100 billion, so whoever wins that race, someone is going to have to raise taxes and cut spending without any noticeable change for quite some time. The average voter probably didn't pay much attention when the race really kicked into gear because they were enjoying their spring, summer and fall activities. Now that it's down to the wire, the advertising is relentless. I'm surprised we don't get flyers while pumping gas when we go to visit the in-laws. While the average voter isn't paying attention, lobbyists are giving every penny they can find to help their candidate win because the stakes are so high for their group. Groups are going to see tax and services change based on what happens in the ballot box. So while the average voter is going to be impacted directly and indirectly to a much larger extent than a state association of dentists, that dentist group has been actively telling their members to support one candidate or the other based on his potential to help their group. It's the nature of politics, people support whom they perceive will benefit them the most and they've been watching the race long before anyone even formally declared their candidacy. So, as the 2014 election season draws to a close, enjoy the quiet that occurs on November 5th...because in early January, those people with the annoying yard signs and radio ads will be deciding on policies that impact every single one of us. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to hire a lobbyist

I have been thinking that there are also groups out there who might want some ideas on how to find and pick a lobbyist who are new to the experience. It never ceases to amaze me how many interest groups there are out there...and those groups usually form because of governmental policy, good or bad. So, if I'm in one of these groups and I'm trying to find a lobbyist, where do I begin? First, I would say that the group should have a clear goal in mind. Do you want one specific law/regulation defeated or enacted or are you looking for some ongoing representation? In general, I would say that if you find there is an advocacy need now, there will likely be one later. Will they work year-round or just during session (if you live in a state with a part-time legislature). Second, decide the structure in which oversight of the lobbyist will occur. Who do they report to and how often do they need to provide updates? Third, define what are their measurements of success. Killing or enacting a proposal is nice, but all that does is likely postpone future actions for another date. How did the lobbyist's actions help you long term? Next, what's your budget? Not only their contract salary, but are you going to provide any incidental budget items like entertaining (meals, event tickets, etc.) There are going to be lobbyists for any budget, but you will get what you pay for. Ask around and find out what lobbyists charge in your state. In most states, there are lobbyist regulators who should have varying degrees of reports available. In Indiana, you can see what groups spend on lobbying online by looking it up on the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission. Those are some general thoughts to get started, but once you have a goal, how do you pick the "right" person? The short answer is you never know for sure, but finding someone who believes in your issue/cause is a great start. Hiring someone who already has multiple clients across a range of issues may be perfectly fine and they may be outstanding lobbyists, but if you hire someone like that, they are likely lobbying for the money, not because YOU fit their beliefs/interests. A good lobbyist should be able to interact with all kinds of different people with varying degrees of ease. Not every legislator is going to agree with your issue, but if your lobbyist is effective, he/she can at least develop a good rapport with them...or at minimum should not agitate them or do your group more harm. Integrity is key as well. I've seen plenty of legislation become law because someone passed out contributions, meals, tickets, etc. Money can grease the wheels in some cases, but once you start down that path, it's hard to slow that train. Do you want them to get the job done no matter what (and how much are you willing to pay for it), or do you want someone who will advocate based on the issue itself. Ok, enough for now. As always, I'm happy to answer questions on this or any other topic. Thanks for reading.

Out of hibernation

Well, it's been a very, VERY long time since I've posted anything on here. I'm amazed that people connect with this blog, so I think I might want to re-engage as quite a bit has changed over the last few years. First, I'm no longer lobbying. I lost my big client and couldn't afford to get by on my smaller clients and I was unwilling to whore myself out to lobby for the highest bidder. Do I miss it? Yes and no. I miss the fight. I miss the struggle to position my clients for a win (or minimal defeat). I miss influencing the laws of my State. I miss being self-employed. But what I don't miss are the questionable motivations of my peers and those to whom I was advocating. Lobbying, for me, was always about the altruistic belief in my clients and the policies I advocated. I continue to believe that only those who believe in what they are advocating, are "good" lobbyists. Plenty of folks make good money lobbying, but for me, it was only about the money when it came to providing for my family. It was more of a belief that good people can and should engage in our governing bodies. I have my political and philosophical beliefs that influenced what I advocated and for whom, but I never got upset or frustrated when battling a like-minded opponent. I only found it difficult when I was working with a legislator or another lobbyist who had ulterior motives. Anyway, I'll start to monitor this site a bit more and will try to respond to requests and posts more. Some things are in the works on the job-front and personal life that has rekindled my interest in the political realm...and, I'm trying to keep a more positive personal approach to life these days (not that I was bad before, but I did get a bit snarky at times), so I will try and have fun with subjects and topics as they pop into my usually-cloudy brain. Mike

Monday, November 21, 2011

So it's been a while

Once again, things are starting to ramp up in legislative circles. Recently, I've had a couple of client activities, but things are relatively calm. The main work has been with a client who is pro-actively proposing legislation this year. This particular client was a specialty type of insurance and we had an ally in a state association of these insurers. Unfortunately, the state association is not paying for a lobbyist this year, so I'll be going it alone.

The client texted me an requested a meeting. Those client contacts are always a little nerve-racking (sp?) and I automatically do a review in my head to make sure I haven't dropped the ball or failed them in some way. I felt good about the meeting, but you never know.

So the meeting was them asking for guidance in how to approach this year. We set out a plan and I've started preparing for the 2012 session for them.

As the Superbowl is in Indianapolis this year, many in the lobbying community are speculating about the length of the session. (As a reminder, Indiana's legislature is a part-time citizen legislature that meets for long and short sessions in alternating years). Since the Superbowl will be in the middle of session, and the legislators will need to give up their hotel rooms, some are speculating the year could end well ahead of the late March deadline.

In thinking about the new folks entering in to politics/lobbying, a new suggestion comes to mind (thanks to my teen daughters): focus on the person speaking, and not your texts/facebook updates. I don't care if your grandmother is in the hospital and your mom is calling...when you are dealing with a client or legislator, you focus 100% of your attention on them and not your girlfriend's text.

Sorry...was that the bitter rant of an old man?

Friday, September 24, 2010

where'd the summer go?

Well, I guess it's been quite a while since I posted. Thanks to everyone who has dropped a line with questions and my apologies for being a little lax in my postings. I probably won't post as often until session starts, but I thought I should at least drop in since it's been so long.

In reading my last post, I lost my fourth client, but as of yesterday, I picked up another client, so I'm back up to four. This one is a little different since it's a life science company and outside of the primary focus for my firm. All of my other clients and my focus to this point has been on the insurance and financial services industry.

The reasons for my taking on this new client are several, but in no particular order they are:
1) The work they need done is a fun challenge
2) The primary contact I have at the company is a friend of mine who I respect a great deal
3) I felt like I needed to diversify my firm a little since I fear federal regulation/take over of insurance so I am not 100% confident insurance will stay a state-regulated product for the duration of my career

The work this new client is wanting deals with my selecting and managing a federal contract lobbyist for them, crafting a long-term government affairs plan and some long-term business goals. The work I'll be doing has some involvement with the insurance industry, so it's not completely outside my wheelhouse, but at least the company's main focus is not insurance, so I"m quite pleased.

It's quite a rush to get that next client. As I've said before, it's not just about the financial gain. I like helping solve government issues for groups. It's like putting together a puzzle. It's not rocket science, but it's cool when I can see the path to fixing a problem and to a client/prospect, it's like I'm Moses leading them through the desert. Of course I recognize there are times when I make mistakes or can't accomplish exactly what I want for the client, but that's all part of the challenge as well. It's knowing your strengths/weaknesses, allies/foes and knowing how to get the goal accomplished.

I'm very fortunate to be doing what I love. I am thankful every day I get to do what I do and be my own boss.

Keep the questions and comments coming. Good to all you students and readers who are looking at lobbying as a career change. I can't imagine doing anything I love more (expect when I retire as a fishing guide).