Resources on lobbying and how to select a lobbyist can be accessed from this page.

How to Choose a Lobbyist

Every association manager knows that government affects the members of their group. There isn't an association manager alive who doesn't moan, whine, grouse and complain about government. But, more and more, association managers have come to the realization that "grumbling about government" is no more effective that cursing the refs at a Packers game. These association managers understand that it is much more effective to "get in the game".

Associations can do something to change the laws and regulations that affect their profession or industry. And that "something" can be very specific to their needs.

Savvy association managers, who turn to their attorney on legal matters and their accountant on financial matters, realize that they need the advice and counsel of a lobbyist to help wield influence in the political and legislative arenas.

But, what does one look for in a lobbyist? Here is a checklist of items to consider as you interview lobbyists to represent your interests in either Madison or Washington.


The best lobbyists have experience as "insiders". These are people who have either held elected office or have served as staff to lawmakers. An insider knows what makes a politician tick. They know the legislative process firsthand and base their advice on that very specialized experience.

Be wary, though, of former legislators or staffers who are aligned too closely with one or the other political party. While it is true that one party maintains the majority in each legislative house and, therefore, has more power, the minority party should not be ignored. In Wisconsin, for example, all 132 state legislators have a vote and there are too many times when partisanship has meant defeat for a particular proposal.

Be wary, too, of persons whose experience has only been within the political/legislative arena. You will be better served by someone who can balance their political insights with an understanding of the world "outside the beltline" based on some nonpolitical work experience.

And be sure to ask who will actually do the work for you. Is it the lobbyist you are interviewing or one of their less experienced associates?


What is the reputation of the lobbyist both inside and outside the Capitol?

Most essential is a reputation for honesty and integrity. After all, lobbyists' most treasured commodity is their trustworthiness. We must be trusted in order to be effective.

For example, how does the lobbyist handle conflicts of interest? Ask for a list of their current clients and carefully consider whether there is any possibility that your legislative goal will be in conflict with the agenda of another of the lobbyist's clients.

Contrary to the popular image of our profession, it is the trustworthy among us who are the most effective, and you want to retain a lobbyist who has a reputation as someone who gets the job done. Carefully review their accomplishments. You should feel confident that the lobbyist has achieved success with a variety of clients and in more than one area of expertise.


In the final analysis, lobbying is communicating. As a profession, it is an odd marriage of teaching and sales. A good lobbyist has to be an excellent communicator. And in today's world, that means that the lobbyist must be adept at both the written and the spoken word. It is no longer enough to be a good schmoozer. Check into their experience in the communications field and ask for examples of their work.


More important than any other criterion, you need to feel comfortable with the lobbyist.

While you may feel most comfortable with someone who knows your profession or industry well, that person may not be the best choice to represent you. An important role that a lobbyist fills is that of "translator". A good lobbyist has to play the role of the "naïve legislator" to assist you in developing an effective strategy. That strategy must include crafting arguments that will be most persuasive with lawmakers who, in all likelihood, know absolutely nothing about your profession or industry.

The lobbyist must be able to "translate" the nuances of the legislative process into terms that you understand.

More important than experience with, or an in depth understanding of your profession or industry, is a lobbyist who has breadth of experience and is a demonstrated "quick study." How quickly does the lobbyist grasp the real problems you are trying to solve?

And related to your comfort, remember that the lobbyist you retain will truly be representing you and your association in the Capitol. Does this lobbyist project the image you want for your association? Would this lobbyist fit into your association's "culture"? Do they present themselves professionally both in person and in the documents they will prepare on your behalf?

Contracting with a lobbyist is like retaining any other professional. You want to be represented by the best - the most experienced professional whose reputation of accomplishment and integrity is impeccable. And you want to work with someone who reflects your values, and who will professionally project the stellar image of your association that you have worked hard to establish.

Copyright 1996: Janet R. Swandby, Coenen/Swandby Associates, Inc.


Government Relations | Association Management

Swandby/Kilgore Associates, Inc.