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Common Mistakes Made by Lobbyists

Don’t rely on other persons’ description or understanding of the bill that you are working on

By Chris Micheli, August 21, 2021 2:49 am

By Ray LeBov and Chris Micheli

Particularly with new lobbyists, but even with some more experienced ones, there are some common mistakes that are made. We offer some observations and suggestions for addressing some of these common mistakes.

Not Reading the Bill

Don’t rely on other persons’ description or understanding of the bill that you are working on. Instead, actually read the bill, any committee and floor analyses, and understand the bill yourself. Be able to articulate what the bill does and does not do in your own words.

Not Having Paper

Every legislator and staffer want a piece of paper, whether you deliver it personally or electronically. So, it is important that you have a one-pager (maybe two pages for more complicated or detailed bills) that you can give to those that you are lobbying. This leave behind paper helps jog the memory and they will have something to reference after you talk with them.

Taking Votes for Granted

Even if you think a legislator will vote with your position, at least pay a courtesy visit to confirm your belief. Make sure that legislator will, in fact, be voting with your position.

Even if you think a legislator will vote against your position, check because you may find a pleasant surprise on occasion that the legislator will actually vote with your position.

Failing to Meet with Both Committee Consultants

There are majority party and minority party committee consultants. Be sure to communicate with both of them and supply them with the same paperwork so that everyone has the same information to complete their bill analyses.

Not Finding the Right Bill Author

It takes time and effort to determine and secure the best possible author for your bill. An entire article can be written about guidance regarding how to select the right author for your bill, so we will only mention that there is a myriad of factors that go into selecting the best bill author. A good lobbyist will take the time to determine a few of the top candidate to carry their client’s bill and then work diligently to secure one of those candidate legislators to carry the bill.

Not Reading the Situation

Whether you are sitting in a legislator’s office lobbying for or against a bill, or whether you are sitting before a legislative committee preparing to testify in support of or opposition to a bill, read your audience. For example, when the committee chair, “there’s no opposition to this bill, so please keep your remarks short.” That means limit your testimony to one or two sentences! We can’t count how many times we have seen witnesses read their entire testimony for several minutes right after the committee admonished the witness to “keep it brief.”

Not Understanding the Lobbyist – Client Relationship

Many lobbyists don’t reach an understanding with their client about the client’s expectations. How is information provided? What information is to be provided and when? How are substantive decisions (e.g., amendments to accept or reject) made? Who determines strategy and tactics?

Not Telling the Entire Story

While few individuals outwardly lie, not telling the entire situation is not the right approach either. It is better that your bill author, client, colleague, etc. hear bad news from you directly, rather than from someone else. And, eventually everything becomes public in the legislative process. So, it is better to let everyone know in advance, rather than having them learn about a development one their own. Also, when the information comes directly from you, then the recipient can trust that you are an honest broker and are a team player, two important characteristics of an effective lobbyist.

Forgetting to Be Careful with What You Put in Writing

In today’s electronic age, and the prevalence of social media, word travels quickly, especially in legislative circles. So, if you don’t want information widely known, then it is better to not put something in writing. In addition, because it so easy for messages to be forwarded to other recipients, if you don’t want sensitive information or comments to reach unintended persons, don’t put it in writing.

Of course, there are many other mistakes commonly made by lobbyists, but those discussed above are some of the main ones we have most often encountered.


Ray LeBov began working in Sacramento in 1975, when he was appointed as counsel to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Structure of the Judiciary. He served in various other legislative staff positions until 1991. Since 2006, Ray LeBov & Associates’ Capitol Seminars division has presented its Lobbying 101 and 201 seminars throughout the year in Sacramento and other locations, enabling some 2000 governmental advocacy and public affairs professionals.

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One thought on “Common Mistakes Made by Lobbyists

  1. “The Chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee raised around $1 million this last election, and just about all of it came from Special Interests. Exactly nine contributions came from actual people; not a single contribution was under $100. Every legislator gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Third House. It’s easy money, and all other funding pales in comparison. But if you cross the biggest players, they’ll spend millions against you in your next election. So they always get their way at the Capitol. That’s how Sacramento works—and it’s why our state is crumbling……As Special Interests have taken over the State Capitol, what we’ve lost is our institutions and traditions of self-government—a trend that has also reached a breaking point during the COVID response. While for years the architecture of self-government has been dismantled, brick by brick, in 2020 the entire edifice came crashing down, leaving the people of California trapped in the rubble. For years, local communities have lost ever more power to Sacramento; last year, they lost everything to a single person. For years, public access to policymaking has diminished; last year, it disappeared altogether. For years, state bureaucracies have grown larger and more controlling; last year, they all but took over our lives. The Recall is thus about something more fundamental than placing a new occupant in the Governor’s office. It’s about repudiating everything the current occupant stands for. That means restoring government by the people, so Californians are no longer subjects of state power but once again authors of our own political destiny. It means repairing our broken political institutions, so they are capable of reversing our state’s decline and saving the California Dream before it’s too late.” – Recall Newsom (Kiley,2021) p.20-21

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