How to Work With a Lobbyist
Both legislative and regulatory processes can be complex. To move even simple proposals, it is very helpful to work with a professional lobbyist. They know all the traps, the political dynamics, the history of what’s been tried in the past, which policymakers to approach first, and they monitor constantly for crises and opportunities. It’s certainly not necessary, but access to a lobbyist, even just for consultation, can be immensely helpful.
If you are lucky enough to have the resources to hire your own lobbyist, be very grateful. If not, you may be able to work with a group that has a lobbyist. Coalitions already working on issues similar to yours and your professional organization are good places to start. You may be able to advocate with like-minded groups to include your issue on their legislative agenda and get help from their lobbyist. For example, religious and civic groups may take on a health issue if it fits with their goals and furthers their mission.
Some tips for working with lobbyists (and other consultants):
- Listen. They were hired for their expertise, so take their advice seriously. They want you to succeed. You are paying for good advice -- take it.
- Be open. Let them know that you want (and you can handle) honesty. Too many advocates do not want to hear the truth and are caught by surprise when their lobbyist tried to warn them.
- Communicate. Let your lobbyist know what you know. Fully explain the issue so they can answer questions accurately. If you get a call from a policymaker, a notice about your issue, a new study is published, something important happens in DC, or anything that seems relevant, make sure that your lobbyist knows about it. They can’t represent you well if they don’t have all the pieces.
- Understand that they are not miracle workers. Big things are very hard, especially if the budget is tight or there are very powerful established interests that oppose you. While lobbyists can help make the process smooth, be realistic about what is possible.
- Be reasonable. Understand that they have other clients and that they have lives. Try to be low-maintenance. This is especially true if you are “borrowing” their services from another group.
- Do not ask for personal favors outside the scope of your work.
- Be available. If your lobbyist calls and says it is a critical stage and you need to come to Hartford to meet with a legislator who is wavering -- Go. If they need a quick fact sheet to address a misconception about your issue – drop what you’re doing and write it.
Your lobbyist wants you to succeed. Support and trust him or her so they can help you.