Over the years, I have had the opportunity to put together quite a few local events and site visits featuring members of Congress and other elected officials.
Recently, the good folks at ASAE asked me for my top tips for government relations and advocacy professionals that were thinking about inviting their federal lawmakers to visit them this fall.
What resulted this Associations Now article: 11 Tips for Hosting Local Events and Site Visits for Members of Congress. (Non-ASAE members can check out the article by clicking here.)
Special thanks to Nick DeSarno from the Public Affairs Council and my great former boss Cheryl Phillips, MD from the SNP Alliance for their great insights.
Let me know what you think!
A few years ago, I made the jump from the largest advocacy powerhouse in Washington, DC to a smaller association. Much smaller…
…like 1/100th the size smaller!
Since then, I have come to truly enjoy the opportunities and challenges of lobbying in these more entrepreneurial environments. And I have learned a lot along the way from some of the best in the business.
This week, the awesome Nick DeSarno from the Public Affairs Council (PAC) gave me the opportunity to share some of my learnings and takeaways with his organization’s association community.
Click here to read the article... I would love to hear what you think!
(And special thanks to Anne DarConte, former AGRP president Robert Hay, my friend and lobbying guru Kevin Cain, and my "future boss" Arielle Eiser for their wonderful contributions to this piece!)
While President Trump famously promised to #DrainTheSwamp last fall, the Washington, DC lobbying business is booming… to the tune of $838.4 million in the first quarter of 2017.
As folks continue to put forward lobbying reform proposals, some are looking around the world for inspiration. Over the last few months, I’ve been able to travel abroad and observe firsthand the impact of lobbying regulations (or lack thereof) in three countries with very disparate political environments: Denmark, Italy, and Singapore.
My #1 lesson learned for U.S. policymakers and regulators: buyer beware!
From concentrated power structures to unregulated ‘wild west’ environments, lobbying reform ideas taken from these international models would likely create unintended consequences ‘Inside the Beltway’ that would be far worse than today’s regulatory framework.
Denmark: concentrated ‘A-team’ power
With only four majority governments since 1945, ‘Counting to 90’ as it’s called in the Folketinget (parliament) requires dialogue and consensus to influence and drive policy change.
In this environment, most political debates are “handled by the trinity of the government, the unions, and the employer organizations.” As such, the unions and largest industry organizations dominate influence in Denmark.
How concentrated is their power? A 2014 survey found that of the 1,700+ Danish interest groups, “nine of them wield a third of the influence.”
This has stunted development of the lobbying profession in Copenhagen, as well as lobbying regulation. To date, Denmark has no formal disclosure requirements similar to ours or the E.U. transparency registry in Brussels.
This has created an ‘A-team’ and ‘B-team’ among Danish lobbyists.
Given their outsized impact on legislation and regulation, ‘A-team’ unions and industry groups are dedicating more and more time and resources to lobbying and public affairs.
In contrast, ‘B-team’ influence remains limited, as does investment, with lobbying often handled by organization leaders who have responsibilities far beyond lobbying and advocacy.
Italy: taming the ‘wild west’
Since the end of World War II, Italy has churned through more than 60 governments, each on average lasting only a year or so.
Within this chaotic system, lobbying often evokes something obscure, illegal, and corrupt among Italians. This should come as no surprise.
While many rules in Italy govern interactions between lobbyists and policymakers, they are generally disregarded, making lobbying an opaque phenomenon… much like the political process lobbyists seek to influence. That’s why NGOs like Transparency International routinely criticize the extent of risky lobbying and undue influence taking place in ‘wild west’ Rome.
That said, while Italy has no systematic regulation of lobbying, changes are afoot.
In March, the Italian Chamber of Deputies (Italy’s lower house of parliament) introduced the country’s first federal-level lobby register, though its scope is limited. Its provisions do not cover the Italian Senate or govern any lobbyist-lawmaker contacts taking place outside Montecitorio.
Without transparency, understanding the size, scope, and true influence of lobbying in Italy is difficult. Open Gate Italia believes there are 1,500 or so professional lobbyists in Rome, taking in around €150 million annually. Other observers say these numbers are vastly understated.
This confusion fuels to the negative public reputation of lobbyists in Italy, which often conflates lobbying ‘influence’ with ‘corruption’… to the detriment of practitioners and those who employ them.
Singapore: advocacy ‘behind closed doors’
Since its first general election in 1959, politics in Singapore has been dominated by the People’s Action Party.
With one-party control within a culture that values order, lobbying in Singapore is often conducted outside of public view. Political scientist Kenneth Tan notes, “Civil society advocacy usually succeeds when done quietly and behind closed doors between activists and receptive civil servants.”
External-facing consultation also plays a role, including public dialogues, feedback sessions, committees, and advisory boards. Elected officials and policymakers use these forums to gather stakeholder feedback, including those of lobbyists… though the impact of sharing views in these forums can be difficult to quantify.
In this environment, formal lobbying regulations and transparency schemes are non-existent.
That said, lobbying in Singapore is on the rise. With many multinational organizations establishing regional headquarters in Singapore, it is quickly becoming a growing public affairs and lobbying hub, both within Singapore and regionally throughout Southeast Asia.
Takeaways: culture eats (lobbying regulation and disclosure) for breakfast
While some continue to support ‘draining the swamp’ (or maybe not!), I recall the famous Peter Drucker quote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Ensuring that lobbying regulation and transparency fits the political culture of a given country is perhaps more important than the laws and disclosure regimes themselves. This helps explain why there is little appetite for any regulation of lobbying in Denmark and Singapore… but lots of interest in doing more here in Washington, DC, despite the sizable requirements already on the books.
Rather than looking abroad and make matter worse, policymakers would be better served considering well-thought-out ideas in their own backyard. The recent recommendations from the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics would be a good place to start.
As lobbyists continue to professionalize, smart reform and disclosure is important. But whether it’s consolidating influence in the hands of the few or inviting opportunities for corruption, some of the international models I’ve seen up close recently would set lobbying in Washington, DC back, rather than move it forward.
And that would be bad news in any language!
One of my favorite organizations around town is ASAE, the American Society for Association Executives. I’m on ASAE’s Government Relations Section Council and Public Policy Committee, which gives me a front row seat to see how different association government relations professionals are promoting and protecting the interests of their members on Capitol Hill.
From time to time, ASAE also is kind enough to allow me the opportunity to weigh in on current events and share lobbying best practices with their members. So far in 2017, I’ve had the opportunity to pen two pieces for them:
Post-election Takeaways for Government Relations Professionals
8 Ways Government Relations Pros Can Reach Freshmen Members of Congress
I would love to hear your feedback on both articles. And a special thanks to my colleagues and friends Sherry Stanley Whitworth, Patti Shea, Rob Goldsmith, and John Boling for lending their expertise and insights!
Over the last several years, there has been an increasingly-steady drumbeat of “lobbying is dying” articles out there... often accompanied by anecdotes about how PR, communications, and social media is overtaking face-to-face lobbying. From time to time, these stories are based on survey data of some sort, usually commissioned by firms with a vested stake in amplifying message about the demise of Washington, DC’s oldest profession.
So, within that context, my Twitter feed has become overrun in recent days by people retweeting Catherine Ho’s article in The Washington Post entitled “K Street says social media are growing faster than traditional lobbying as way to influence Washington."
Cue the “social media is killing off lobbying” parade... except that it isn’t. Neither is PR. Neither is communications. And, really, it’s not even close.
The article recaps survey data of “Washington insiders” released this week by Rasky Baerlein (surprise, surprise... a self-described "strategic communications" firm!) concluding that growth in public affairs spending—including digital, grassroots, grasstops, and PR—will outpace the growth in government affairs spending in 2017. And that's entirely logical: you would expect a still-emerging field like social media to grow faster than a field that has been around since the dawn of the republic... the same way you would expect Uber to grow faster than Ford next year.
But when you get past the headlines, the survey data paints a very different picture about the state of lobbying.
When survey respondents were asked where their policy-change spending was being directed, guess which bucket they are investing the most in? Congressional and executive branch lobbying... accounting for 45% of all spending.
But surely, given the conclusions drawn by the survey sponsors, organizations are backing away from lobbying, right? Nope. It turns out that 40% of survey respondents will be spending more on lobbying in 2017.
Wait, you ask, if lobbying is on the wane, why would organizations be investing more? Well, when asked what delivers the greatest “bang for the buck,” respondents overwhelmingly chose Congressional and executive branch lobbying... over every other advocacy tactic combined!
So, while it is surely on the rise, digital advocacy—like grassroots, grasstops, and PR—is best leveraged part of a holistic advocacy effort that supports face-to-face lobbying… not replaces it. And while inaccurate headlines about the decline of lobbying will no doubt continue (especially during election season!), the data… even data from those attempting to profit from peddling such foolishness… tells a very different, and very positive, story. I wonder when The Washington Post will write about that.
Over the years, I’ve spent many (many!) hours wondering why most organizations don’t better integrate their government relations and public affairs with enterprise goals and objectives.
In our new article for the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics, my colleague Dr. Craig Fleischer and I deep dive this issue and try to answer the question: why doesn’t government affairs play a greater role in business strategy?
While the stakes are often high, most organizations fail to integrate their market and nonmarket environment activities. In our piece, Dr. Fleischer and I argue that market engagement (business) strategies combined with nonmarket engagement (government affairs) strategies help companies, associations, and NGOs better achieve their goals and drive value for their stakeholders.
We also take a look at what keeps government affairs practitioners away from the business strategy table... and what they can do about it.
Check out the article online at https://lobbyinginstitute.com/2016/10/24/why-doesnt-government-affairs-play-a-greater-role-in-business-strategy/ and let me know what you think!
Recently, I had the opportunity to join the Aurora WDC #IntelCollab webinar series to share my views on how data, insights, and intelligence help drive lobbying activity and public policy change.
Presenting alongside the wonderful Dr. Craig S. Fleisher, we had a great discussion on the importance of lobbying, aligning public affairs and enterprise strategy, and exploring how the right insights can enable public policy change in Washington, DC and beyond.
Check out the archived recording here: http://intelcollab.com/intelligence-drives-public-policy-change/.