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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