I used to think that influencing government was restricted to calling legislators and voting. Now I understand that any group of dedicated individuals can directly influence laws through lobbying. This is your key to the Capitol. It’s not necessarily easy, but when we neglect the institutions of our liberty… it begins to crumble into a chaos of regulation.
If you have a friend to help and some fundamental tools, lobbying certainly isn’t hard. Plus, this kind of “Raisn’ Cain” is pretty fun! Whether you’re a one woman army fighting for our second amendment rights or six college guys working for THSC, lobbying is your key to the Capitol and here are some helpful tips you should know before you dive in:
Five Practical Tips on Lobbying:
Tip 1: Focus
It is a mistake to go into the Capital and say, “I’m just going to keep an eye out for any suspicious bills and kill them as they come.” That’s a noble thought… but you’re not the legislator, only they can do that. Even if you were a legislator, to approach law making that way would be setting yourself up for failure. You must be proactive, not reactive. The first steps to being proactive is finding your focus, setting some goals (do you have a bill you want to pass?) and sticking to your guns. It will take discipline and determination, but that comes more readily when you have friends.
Tip 2: Find some friends
Understand that even some of the “smallest” issues at the capitol will be a handful for just one person. Like the example I mentioned in the intro, you can have a one person army. Even then you still need sponsors for your bills and a crowd of supporters to make calls and write emails.
When you head to the Capitol, here are four kinds of friends that are crucial to have:
Sponsors: Unless you are paying for your own lobbying licensing fee, housing, food, and transportation, you may want to consider searching out an already existing organization or a group of like-minded others who will fund your efforts. For example, THSC covered our expenses in exchange for our full time volunteer work. Check with your local Tea Party too.
Authors: If you have bills that you want passed you will need legislators to file and then champion them throughout the session. This is called “Authoring,” where a legislator takes on your bill as if it were his or her own. Just because they are authoring it doesn’t mean that the work is over for you. Legislators are busy people. You are going to have to walk the halls keeping the other legislators informed about your legislator’s bill. You will have to find co-authors, joint authors, and counter arguments and literature against it. Then you feed what you find to your legislators staff so that they can use it to better your bill.
Team Members: Consider finding like-minded friends to go at it with you. Here are a few different functions that are best assigned to a specific person:
- Leader: you need someone to keep the group focused on the goal. It’s best if your leader has some prior lobbying experience. Paul Hastings was our group leader and he had lobbied with THSC before. Because of this, he knew the strategy and a lot of the personalities at the capitol.
- Lead Policy Analyst: the lead policy analyst heads up the efforts of the Policy Analyst Team. It is a very good idea to find someone who has experience in law for this (like an attorney or law student). If you are focusing on a specific topic area, this lead analyst will make sure that the team reads every single bill that might be relevant to that area, write (or delegate) the writing of legislative literature (for or against a given bill), and lead brainstorming sessions with your whole crew.
- Policy Analyst Team: this can be made up of as many people as you think are necessary. The THSC Watchmen had two policy analysts plus the lead policy analyst, and this worked great. Each of the guys we had understood how to read and decipher legislation.
- Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and you-name-it are tools of mass destruction for you. It is imperative that you not only use them, but have someone who knows how to use them well. These social media tools can help you reach your crowd of concerned likeminded friends who didn’t even know you existed.
- Public Relations: Similar to social media, there is also print media (magazines, newspapers, etc), and visual media (local TV outlets). These media outlets are very important for giving your group credibility (a.k.a. klout) with legislators and your community. This person works on getting as many appointments, press conferences, articles, and show slots as possible and makes sure you are well represented at each occasion.
Followers: You need to find a large group of people that feel your pain for a certain issue. Build a facebook page, website, make calls, speak at conferences, do whatever you need to do to get the word out and get a following. Wield that social media to build some tight communication within your group.
Tip 3: Organize your tools
There were 11,678 bills were introduced during Texas’ 83rd Legislative session (extended sessions included). How in the world are you going to keep track and find all of the bills within your focus area? Texas Legislature Online is the tool to master if you want to effectively keep up with bills. Go to the website, click the “My TLO” in the menu, and create an account with them. This way you will have access to all the bill searching, tracking, and notification tools it has. There is a feature where you can set the topics you are interested in and TLO will send you any bills that match those topics as soon as they are filed. You must continually keep up with it though. New bills are filed daily and you need to be perpetually checking to make sure they are actually relevant to your focus area.
Tip 4: Establish and Evaluate Hot Spots
All the action for your bill is going to happen with certain legislators, in specific committees, and involve certain interest groups (other than yours). Find out the who, what, when, where, and why of these folks and meetings. These are your hot spots and you must never let them off your radar. Make it a policy to know what’s what and when.
Tip 5: Build Relationships
All the previous steps are useless if you don’t build relationships. Politics is all about relationships. Lobbying is all about relationships. This is good news for you if you are pretty social and you have the time to invest in the legislators. The bad news is that its time consuming. However, other groups are wielding this connection power to your detriment and have gotten some pretty crummy laws past. That’s why you’re here: to give those groups some competition. Go invest your life in the lives of your leaders. Give them something valuable, don’t just be another pesky visitor. Once you build a relationship with them, your interests will often become theirs.
That’s the gist of it. Focus, find some friends, organize (and become proficient at) your tools, monitor those hot spots, and most importantly, build relationships.
Tell me how it goes!