03 Aug 2017

Lobbying/Government Relations for Private Business 101

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Part 2 of 2. To read Part 1, click here.

Those who engage government on behalf of their employer are in the disaster prevention business.  The key to longevity is building credibility brick by brick.  Deceive a legislator or staffer and you’re history.  Knowing likely outcomes from past experience, being able to recall them and explain them so that even a congressman or a staffer can understand is the currency of GR pros.

It’s not that the average congressman or a senator is lacking basic intelligence (though some do), it’s that they’re actually spread quite thin.  From constituent services, to legislation, to fund raising to various caucus meetings, travel nearly every week, congressional fact-finding tours to dangerous locales, to defending votes and so forth, there is precious little time for in-depth research on the myriad complex issues before the US.

The PolicySmith was often asked how it is that year after year a Congressman or Senator’s staff invite a lobbyist to review legislation.  Committee staff seeks industry comments on draft legislation and legal staff at Interior and other agencies would ask as well.

The answer is disarming in its simplicity – when the lobbyist has been accurate in past analyses of outcomes, he or she will be asked for insights going forward.  Legislators and staff typically have knowledge that is somewhat familiar with a broad spectrum of issues, but absent much depth.  Society and commerce have become too complex for an individual legislator even with full staff to comprehend all that must be considered.

Achieving real progress in legislating means observing the law of unintended consequences.  Health care has been front and center since consideration of Obamacare began in 2009.  There are a number of physicians in Congress who provide firsthand experience and insight.  Energy and the environmental considerations around development have also been a major focus.  Only two congressmen and no senators have oil and gas business experience – Steve Pearce of New Mexico and Trent Franks of Arizona.  Both serve on key House committees.  Only two of 435 and zero of 100 are pretty long odds for objective legislation and rulemaking.

Typical of a congressional meeting was one with a mountain state representative.  Our group told him how and why the Keystone Pipeline was important for the country, and the industry in particular. It meant jobs, exports and access to additional supplies should the country be embargoed ever again.  His response was that environmentalists told him that it meant only 20 permanent jobs.  We made the case to him that it was thousands of jobs…and by the way…all construction jobs are, by definition, temporary.  The light went on when we provided chapter and verse on pipelines planned for oil, natural gas and products, and total employment in the domestic pipeline industry.

Why the trust for sources, environmentalists, who are obviously opposed to pipelines?  Why even admit that is your “credible” source of information?  No matter, really.  Lobbyists are used to naivete, misdirection and ignoring the irrefutable.  Meetings are sought and held with elected officials who will never vote for any oil and gas advancement.  It may seem pointless, but it does remove the ability of the legislator to say, “They never talk to me.”

It is rare that a Government Relations professional achieves an outright victory on any issue.  The most frequent “victory” is preventing disaster by successfully stymying the most onerous provisions of new rules or legislation.  The outright rollback of Executive Orders and agency rules is almost unheard of – until the Trump Administration acted.  That is a subject for another post.

A final note on meeting with legislators – some believe the most effective meetings are those held in the home district and outside the Beltway milieu.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, such meetings are difficult to schedule – not because congressmen are vacationing or hiding out.  Time spent in district or statewide is intensely scheduled and there are few slack moments.  The allegations and sneering that they work only 100+ days a year is simply untrue.

Many GR professionals wish they worked only 100 or so days, the less they work the less damage is visited upon the economy.  And that is the key to disaster prevention and success for industry’s lobbyists, less time in session.  The Federal government could take some cues from some state legislatures – in North Dakota the legislature meets once every two years, and in Utah the annual session is less than 45 days…that’s disaster prevention!

To read Part 1, click here.

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