If you have read past blogs, you know that there are many types of lobbyists and they fulfill different purposes – legislative, regulatory, procurement, land use/zoning, to name a few. There can be obvious advantages to using a lobbyist if you are a business looking to advance your interest in the government.
But, what about if you are a government official?
Let’s be honest. Government officials are busy people and meeting with lobbyists is probably not high on their to-do lists. But, sometimes a lobbyist can be very helpful to departmental officials and actually help them save time.
Here are five reasons why a government official might want to know a lobbyist:
Relationship Continuity: If you are new to government, you may not have experienced how a lobbyist can be a familiar face. In these economic times, sales account executives typically don’t last 15 -20 years - try a few years. As a government customer, it can be hard to keep up with the changes. But a lobbyist can serve as another point of contact with a company. And, a lobbyist will likely remember the various sales account representatives and be able to help you connect the dots. Another important point to keep in mind - In jurisdictions, like Arizona, that have term-limits, elected officials turn over often. Lobbyists keep abreast of who the current key decision makers and influences are in the legislature.
Past Government Experience: Most lobbyists have served in some capacity in government, or they have interfaced with the government for so many years that they are very familiar with government operations. This perspective can be helpful if you are sorting through challenges, you don’t understand why a certain program operates a certain way or aren’t sure how a statute applies. Of course, lobbyists offer perspective only – and hopefully it is objective and in the state’s best interest. It does not, however, take the place of making the actual decisions. That’s still the official’s job.
Escalation Path: Lobbyists may have relationships with other parts of an organization. For instance, the local account representative usually does not hire a lobbyist; it is the director of government affairs or a senior level sales manager who would. So, if something is going wrong with a project, it may be worth a call to the lobbyist. A lobbyist can reach out to those higher in the organization. Having fielded these calls in the past, government officials receive answers quickly.
Information: We all know that companies hire lobbyists to help gather information –about agency operations, budgets, legislation, and other topics. Lobbyists can also be a source of information for government officials. Certainly a lobbyist can share information about his or her clients, but lobbyists can also connect government officials. One of my favorite aspects of being a lobbyist is connecting people – people working on similar projects in different counties, connecting state and local officials with common goals, and even introducing officials who work in the same city or state, but have never met.
Compliance: If dealing with lobbyists still makes you feel uncomfortable, it is important to remember that lobbyists are regulated by most jurisdictions. That means that lobbyists must disclose whom they represent and must report any expenditures made on a government elected official or employee. At the state level, our Secretary of State’s Office allows you to search this information online. You can check out Secretary of State Michele Reagan’s Office here.