Scrupulous Honesty in Lobbying and the Seminar Business

Trust is the foundation of effective lobbying. Lawmakers and staff listen to those whom they trust and dismiss the untrustworthy. The elements of trust are scrupulous honesty, accuracy, and credibility.

Scrupulous honesty means the whole truth, unshaded, without nuance. Arkansas state Senator Uvaldi Lindsey once told me he doesn’t trust lobbyists who are “technically accurate but not fully forthright.”1 Scrupulous honesty means telling the truth regardless of what your listener wants to hear. US House Speaker Tip O’Neil said, “Sometimes the members want you to tell them what they want to hear. Do not ever tell them what they want to hear; you always tell them what the right way is.”2 A lobbyist about to close the legislative sale may be tempted not to be “fully forthright” which is lying and will be found out. Florida Natural Resources Chair George Kirkpatrick speaking of a colleague of mine said, “He lied to us once, he’ll lie to us again and he’d better never show his face again before the Natural Resources Committee.” 3

Similarly, in seminars I face either telling people what they want to hear versus what they need to hear. For example, some resent my promotion of “affinity marketing” as a legislative sales tool. AM holds the more comfortable the customer is with the salesperson, the more likely he or she will purchase the product. So I urge lobbyists be “matched” to lawmakers with as many similarities as possible: Ds to Ds, Rs to Rs, constituents not out-of-towners; send farmers to lobby farmers, Baptists to Baptists, and so on. A few find objectionable UC Berkeley Dr. Laura Kray’s research suggesting feminine charm is useful tool in negotiation. 4 Especially female students are uncomfortable with my advice on coping with the inevitable sexual dynamic between male lawmakers and female lobbyists. But this is the real world I’m training them to face.

A student emailed me saying she was upset during the training, but once in practice she found out that it was all true. A former California staffer said by showing people how to cope with rather than change the system I perpetuate it. In the seminar, some will just say, “I know it’s true, but it shouldn’t be.” Most, however, are grateful to learn how to work the system. Rose colored glasses do none any good.

Paraphrasing, “Sometimes students want you to tell them what they want to hear. Do not ever tell them what they want to hear; you always tell them what the right way is.” Thanks, Speaker O’Neil. It remains the truth in lobbying and giving seminars.

1- Sen. Uvaldi Lindsey, personal communications with author (December 2014).
2- Roxana Tiron, “Bipartisanship a key to success,” The Hill (Sep. 08, 2005)
3- Sen. George Kirkpatrick, Florida Manufacturers and Chemical Council (c. 1997)
4- Laura Kray, “Study Finds Flirting Can Pay Off for Women in Negotiations,” BerkleyHaas (October 8, 2012)

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