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How to Work with a Lobbyist
"Experience is the worst teacher,
it gives the test before presenting the lesson."
Both the legislative and regulatory processes are complex. To move even simple proposals, it is extremely helpful to have access to a professional lobbyist. They know all the traps for bills, the political dynamics, the history of what’s been tried, which policymakers to approach first, watch for crises, etc. It’s certainly not necessary, but access to a lobbyist, even just for consultation, can be immensely helpful.
If you are lucky enough to have the resources to hire your own lobbyist, be reasonable with their time and your expectations. If you can’t afford to engage a lobbyist, not, consider working with a group that does have a lobbyist - a coalition already working on issues similar to yours and your professional organization are good places to start. You may be able to advocate with other groups to include your issue on their legislative agenda, and get access to the services of their lobbyist. For example, religious and civic groups may take on a health issue if they realize that it fits with their goals and furthers their mission.
Some tips for working with lobbyists (and other consultants):
- Understand that they are not miracle workers. The best lobbyist in the world cannot get universal health care passed right now. While lobbyists can help make the process smooth, they can't walk on water.
- Be reasonable. Understand that they have other clients and that they have lives. Try to be low-maintenance. This is especially true if you are "borrowing" their services from another group.
- Listen. They were hired for their expertise, so take their advice seriously. They want you to succeed. You are paying for good advice, take it.
- Be open. Let them know that you want (and can handle) honesty. Too many advocates do not want to hear the truth and are puzzled by surprises when their lobbyist tried to warn them.
- Communicate. Let them know what you know. Fully explain the issue so they can answer questions. If you get a call from a policymaker, a notice about your issue, a new study is published, something important happens in DC, or anything that seems relevant, make sure that your lobbyist knows about it. They can't represent you well if they don't have all the pieces.
- Do not ask for personal favors outside the scope of your work.
- Be available. If your lobbyist calls and says it is a critical stage and you need to come to Oklahoma City to meet with a legislator who is wavering - Go. If they need a quick fact sheet to address a misconception about your issue - Write it.
Your lobbyist wants you to succeed. Support and trust him or her so they can help you.
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