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.
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.
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.
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?
is the reputation of the lobbyist both inside and outside the Capitol?
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.
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.
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.
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.
important than any other criterion, you need to feel comfortable with
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
lobbyist must be able to "translate" the nuances of the
legislative process into terms that you understand.
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?
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?
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.
1996: Janet R. Swandby, Coenen/Swandby Associates, Inc.
| Association Management