You must lobby at the state level. Legislatures have the power to do almost anything to help you or hurt you. If they want to help you, you’ll succeed. If they want to hurt you, success will be more expensive and failure may become more likely.
As long as I have been involved in government affairs, the federal government has been ceding authority to states to regulate domestic issues and the states have become incubators of policy. States have spent the past 65 years since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death building expertise, budgets and ambition. The result is that the states lead domestic policy formation and the federal government leads international and interstate policy. There are 52 state level jurisdictions in the United States, which means that there can and often are 52 different approaches to solving a problem.
“Great”, you say. 52 jurisdictions mean 52 different strategies. Not really. Fortunately, at its core, lobbying has certain common threads that almost universally apply. Here are my fundamentals of state lobbying that when applied will increase your likelihood of getting what you need, in no particular order.
* Facts matter, kinda, sort of. Legislators are human beings. They are limited in their decision-making by their intelligence, education level, friends and by their own likes and dislikes. In short, they can do whatever they want or need to do when casting their voted. If you offend a legislator, you will lose their vote. If you offend a committee chair or caucus leader, or senate president, pack up and go home no matter how good your case is.
* Time is of the essence. State legislative sessions are short. Most states have part-time legislators. These honestly dedicated public servants really do not have the time nor do they have the staff to completely understand all of the issues that they have to vote on.
* The media is correct. Lawmakers vote with the special interest groups that help them get and keep their jobs. They also vote with their constituents and will avoid exposing themselves to re-election challenges.
* Support people in office with time, money and/or friendship. Elected officials at all levels of government pay more attention to those who support them financially and otherwise. If you support an elected official, either with money, your time, your endorsement or your friendship, that person will listen to you. He or she may not vote with you, but you will be heard, which is 75% of the battle.
* Elected officials listen to those the serve. Anyone in elective office wants to hear from regular people and their other constituents more than they want to hear from me and my colleagues.
* Access is easy. Motivating an elected official to support a position is difficult. Generally, you need a few of those they serve with you.
* Building political influence means genuinely build lasting relationships with elected officials. Elected officials will listen when you need something, but unless you have a lasting relationship, you will only win some of the time.
* Targeting your efforts is key. Get the support of elected officials who care or can be convinced. The convincing must demonstrate a political benefit or eliminate a political problem.
* Lobby staff as you would the president. Staff cannot vote, but they can put up roadblocks.
* Committee hearings are a show. Lobbying has won or lost usually before you enter the room.
* Executive agencies must be a part of your lobbying efforts. Once a legislature passes a law, an executive agency then implements it. How a law is executed can sometimes be more important than how it is written. A governor or president can kill a piece of legislation by deciding not to implement it or by deciding to create rules and regulations that go beyond the wording of the statute or by only enforcing the sections of the law that he or she agrees with.
* When working with executive agencies, not only are facts important, they are critical. Executive agencies employ experts, scientists, and economists. Advocacy in this arena is technical and policy positions must be supported academically. Also, knowing the administrative procedure of the agency that you are attempting to influence is almost as important as your substantive case.
* Be nice. Be prepared to “sell” your position and show the appropriate respect to the legislator or executive branch official that you are speaking with. Legislators, staff and executive agencies dismiss those who don’t know their case, don't know the rules and do not show the proper respect.
* Everyone in politics is a special interest. You can't pretend to be noble or to be representing the greater good if you have something to gain or lose.