Advice for New Lobbyists: Assessing Your Chances of Legislative Success

You have the job. You are going to get supplemental training and avail yourself to advanced reading. You have learned your principal’s political history and landscape. Your next steps toward being successful in your new career are to:

  • Identify internal and external political resources.
  • Evaluate the wisdom and efficacy of making political contributions.

Identify internal and external political resources: Longhand for this bullet is: calculate your chances of lobbying success by estimating the plus-minus impact of your bill’s supporting and opposing political forces, internal and external. This calculation approximates your employer’s political strength which is roughly proportional to your chances of winning your issue. The are many elements with varying coefficients in this process, but the general process can be described by the following equation:

– Σ
if Σ +
if Σ –
(+/- Power internal factors)
(+/- Power external factors)
continue lobbying
wait until more favorable time

That is, look at what’s going for and against you in your nominally controllable sphere and then subtract what’s going for and against you in the capital. To illustrate internal factors, let’s consider intra-interest group consensus. Group consensus is the foundation of a successful campaign. Your group’s agreement is high, so assign a coefficient value of 9 to group consensus. On the other hand, your members live in districts whose lawmakers are largely irrelevant to the fate of this particular bill, so assign a coefficient value of 2 to the factor of living in the right districts.

Do the same for external factors. To illustrate, many special interests will lose, money for example, if your bill becomes law. Assign a coefficient value of -5 to the factor of who wins and loses if your bill becomes law. On the other hand, your bill advances the legislative session’s theme as agreed to by both chambers and the governor, so give a coefficient of 10 to advancing the legislative theme.

There is no software program of which I know to do this for you. Lobbying is about gut, instinct, judgment, feel, and vibe and so is assigning coefficients. Nevertheless, by doing this at the start you can estimate whether your principal should go forward this session or wait for a more favorable set of circumstances, or if your principal insists on going to the legislature, then do what you need to fix.

Evaluate the wisdom and efficacy of making political contributions. Wright Andrews former head of the American League of Lobbyists said, “Most of the money that has influence is not political contributions but is the money spent through lobbying, through grassroots lobbying, through newpaper advertising… That’s what has influence.” [1] My June 27 and August 31, 2018 blogs held that money doesn’t buy votes although donors often think otherwise. An executive director for an association of tow truck companies once told me her members needed a Lobby School but her board refused her saying, “Who needs to learn to lobby? Just write checks!”

While new to the job and the giving (or not giving) culture is well established, by examining the voting records of lawmakers to whom your company’s PAC, union, or officers have given money and the amount of donations, you can estimate the cost-benefit of those donations. Or you may look at lawmakers who matter to your principal and conclude that donating to them would be a good way to keep a friend in power or at least the party that most advances policies beneficial to your principal.

You aren’t going to change the culture immediately nor necessarily need to, but your knowledge of this topic expressed at just the right moment will establish your value as a government affairs counselor and value to your principal. Do the work and await your moment. It is better to prepare and the opportunity never comes, than to be unprepared when it does.[2]

In our next blog, we will discuss making the rounds with capitol players and developing lobbying teams in the districts.

[1] Larry Mankinson,Speaking Freely: Washington Insiders Talk About Money in Politics, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: Center for Responsive Politics, 2003), 84.
[2] Franco Genarro, chaplain to New Orleans Saints, Greenhouse Church, Gainesville, Florida (2019)

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