Lobbying Lowdown: Why Lobby?

Welcome to Lobbying Lowdown, S4 Group’s blog series on the lobbying industry. In our second post, we answer the frequently asked question: Why lobby?

Do you run a business or nonprofit organization that has never had an issue with government regulations and would not benefit from more robust relationships? Congratulations! Please write a book about it and send us a copy. Everyone else, read on.

The short answer to “Why lobby?” is that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. This modern proverb sums up what happens when you and your business are not involved in the decision-making process. You need to participate in order to advocate for your needs – no one else is going to do it for you (except your lobbyist, which we will get to in our next segment).

Whether you run a private engineering firm, a nonprofit service organization, or anything in between, you will interact with the government. The biggest challenge facing most organizations’ leaders in these interactions is how to reach a place of mutual understanding when government officials seem to speak a different language. When you consider the vastly different responsibilities, priorities, and even words used in government and business, you can see lobbying as the process that allows individuals, organizations, and elected officials to reach higher levels of understanding, to the benefit of everyone.

We elect government officials to make informed decisions in the best interest of all of us. But consider the breadth of issues legislators are responsible for acting on. It is completely unfeasible that any government official would know everything about each topic that affects his or her constituents. Thus, legislators and government agencies seek input from people who have a better understanding of the issues at hand before making decisions.

For example, when the Senate was considering whether or not to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, they sought input from economists, business executives, environmental advocates, and other stakeholders. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services routinely seek comments and testimony from healthcare providers when formulating new regulations. Since the information provided informs important decisions, the number one priority for many trade associations (which are essentially lobbying groups for individuals or businesses that share common industries) is education.

When government officials seek information on your industry, you want to be one of the people providing it. Your organization is at the center of your life, and you know the issues you face front, back, and sideways. Your elected officials, on the other hand, have a whole slew of other priorities they need to address every day, so if you don’t communicate effectively with them, you can’t expect them to make decisions with an understanding of your concerns.

Of course, sharing your information does not mean all future decisions will be made in your favor. Rather, it positions you as a reliable resource for decision-makers and opens the door for you to begin your advocacy efforts. The difference between advocacy and education is one of intent: you can educate someone without a larger goal in mind, but advocacy is sharing that information in the hopes of persuading someone to take a particular action. The most famous advocacy movement in recent history is the Civil Rights Movement, where activists didn’t just want to tell government leaders about problems; they wanted those leaders to make changes.

The bottom line when it comes to lobbying is that in order for elected officials to represent us, we need to communicate with them. Effective communication requires a deep understanding of government, civil society, and business, which most people simply don’t have. You must be able to speak all three of these languages well to advocate for your organization in the long term. If I were you, I would stick to what I know best and hire a lobbyist to do the rest.

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