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Monday, November 23, 2015

What Does A Lobbyist Do?

My name is Kelly and I'm a Lobbyist. I started making a point of using that term a few years ago, as opposed to saying I do Government Relations, or I do Health Policy work, or....well, I work in politics on the legislation/how a bill becomes a law side. Nope, I'm a lobbyist. I had had so many discussions with colleagues over the years about how it was safer to tell people what we did, but make it sound a lot less like Jack Abramoff, and under absolutely no circumstances use the term Lobbyist. After a while I decided, excuse my french, that that was bu$$sh#!. Are there some people like Mr. Abramoff, absolutely. But are there also some good people who work very hard every day to make an impact on people's lives through the legislative process, yes!

Once I tell people I'm a lobbyist they generally say two things. 1) Wow, I've never met anyone who actually does that! 2) What do you actually do? Well, I do a lot of different things. Some days are spent in Washington, DC working on federal issues and some days are spent in State Houses across the country on state issues. I work for a non-profit organization so we try and cover the most ground we can with a department of three. This means that I never have the same day twice (which is awesome), but also that I have to shift gears very quickly (which can be challenging).

Last fall I went through a day in my work life which you can read here. Since then, more and more days are becoming like this. Last week I found myself on the Hill in DC working on a piece of federal legislation that we just introduced. I thought I would take you through what I did that day in the hopes of giving you a glimpse into just that..... "what I do"......also note that I did the pics in black and white so they would look more like the opening credits of the West Wing and therefore make me look cooler. Enjoy!

Step 1: Get a bill introduced.

Well, that's actually like step 27. First you have to determine what the problem is that you're trying to fix. That's never hard for me because the people I represent are chronically ill and therefore very expensive. No one wants them, so they encounter a lot of barriers to care. If legislation is needed to overcome these barriers, that's where I come in.

First, I have to assess what we might actually be able to accomplish and in what time frame, what the bill language might look like and gather data and patient stories to make a case that it's necessary. Then I hunt for a sponsor, a Member of Congress or a State Legislature (depending on the scope of the problem) who might be interested in introducing the bill. It is also extremely helpful if you have a sponsor who is on the committee that your bill will be referred to. This means they'll be more aware of similar issues and also have more influence as the bill makes its way through committee.

That brings us to last week. Our bill was introduced by Congressman Kevin Cramer (At large district-ND) and now it's up to us and his staff to move things forward.......

Step 2: Hold a briefing.

A briefing is basically like a press conference. The sponsors speak as well as other Members that might be supportive, organizations who are leading the effort and everyday people who are affected by the issue. The goal is to generate awareness and try and gain support for the issue.

These are some of the people who came to our briefing. We had a packed house so I was happy. They're on their phones the whole time, but trust me, they're still listening.

This is a staffer taking notes at the briefing. She will then most likely go back to her office and write a memo for her boss (Congressional Member) about the issue and recommend whether or not they should support it. Let's hope hers was a favorable recommendation.

Step 3: Get co-sponsors.

You need as many co-sponsors, or other Members to "sign on" to the bill, as possible. Think of it as a formal show of support. In most cases, you need bi-partisan co-sponsorship as well, so an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. One way to help get co-sponsors is to bring constituents, or people who live in a Members District, to DC to tell their story and explain how they would directly benefit if the bill was passed. Here's a pic from one such meeting that day in Congressman Price's (D- NC) office. 

I like NC offices they always have peanuts.........

Step 4: Continued Publicity

I take a lot of pictures. These go on our social media sites, newsletters and publications. It helps us show that people are taking an interest in the issue.

Step 5: Don't kill the tourists!

These are the people's houses so they're public. Anyone can enter. This poses certain advantages and challenges. I'm mostly challenged when I have a meeting in 3 minutes in a adjacent building and I have to not run over a kid in a stroller.

Step 6: Work with staff.

The staff in most offices are great! This young lady maybe didn't want her pic taken. Sorry. They have literally dozens of meetings a day with different groups who all have legitimate issues and need help. They have to keep all of these issues straight, help their boss, do constituent services and liaise with other offices and committee staff. It's certainly not an easy job and I appreciate all of their help.

Step 7: Eat.

Well, sometimes we get to. After the mid-morning briefing we had several meetings and I got about 20 minutes to shove some food in my mouth. I don't look very attractive in these moments just FYI. Also, I think that's chicken on the salad but it could have been goat. Who knows...

Step 8: Take in the beauty around you.

At the pace we go, it's easy to overlook the beauty that surrounds us in these historic buildings. It really can be breathtaking. I hope if you have the chance to be in DC, or at your local capitol, that you'll take the time to visit and enjoy all they have to offer. Just call your elected official's office prior to your visit and they can let you know about free tours, etc.

Step 9: Rest.

It's really important. Our days are long and, especially for me, being around people all day and talking drains my battery. The couple hours home from DC on the train cocooned in my seat really help. I answer all the emails I haven't from the day, get ready for tomorrow and have a glass of wine.Yup, the train has wine!!!!!!

I hope you've enjoyed this tiny glimpse into what I do on a daily basis. It's hard work, but I really love it. Please remember that the next time someone denigrates my profession on TV or social media. The phrase "they should all be" is an extremely dangerous one. We are not a "they". If your car breaks down you call a mechanic. If your toilet breaks you call a plumber. If you need a piece of legislation passed you call a lobbyist. It really is that simple. There are bad mechanics, bad plumbers and bad lobbyists, but our professions are all still needed. I'll get off my soap box now:).

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