Archive for January, 2012
Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 by Vbhotla
Every time I watch the State of the Union address, I always wish I was a more optimistic person. I remember being genuinely excited when President Clinton used the line (not very original) “the state of our union is STRONG” in 1998. I have always believed, whether a Democrat or Republican is speaking, that the State of the Union address should be used to inspire and present the ideas that we should aspire to. Basically, I think the perfect State of the Union should make me want to sing out a certain “Team America” song whose name I can’t print here. Last night, while listening to President Obama, I kinda, sorta felt that way.
And I don’t mean that in a partisan way. Like most of the people now on the outside looking in, I’ve always believed that for President Obama to maximize his potential in office, he needs to be more combative. Even when I disagree, I’d rather he or the Republicans in Congress take a bigger chance; it isn’t like either side’s poll numbers are that great now. At the moment, it feels like I am watching a football game where both sides are so scared of turning the ball over they punt every 1st down.
What’s more sickening is the idea that we need a rebuttal response from the opposition. The idea that it is even needed in the first place just rings of two kids going “No, you’re wrong!” Can’t we put aside partisan bickering for one night and let the President, whichever party they are from, have the limelight? Even when President Obama said something that traditionally is “right of center” he couldn’t catch a break. I really don’t know why you’d even want to respond. It seems like the better political strategy is to just let it go, not seem contrarian, and move on to the next thing. Also, because it airs right after the State, there is no way for them to truly prepare online casino poker to “respond” to whatever the President actually says.
Why do I say that? Because the rebuttal is just another chance to make a mistake when you don’t have to. Michelle Bachmann’s ‘tea party’ response last year was a great example of this. Also, despite popular opinion, it isn’t like it really makes a difference in the polls. The historic “bump” that people believe the State of the Union gives the incumbent (especially during an election year) is minimum, if at all. Gallup did a great break down in 2010. (Already two years ago!)The biggest bump since the ‘70s came from that ’98 Address, though granted it was the first time in most people’s lives they were hearing or remembering the President announcing a balanced budget.
One last thought. Legislatively, it seems like the big issue the President pushes for each State of the Union has just around a 50/50 shot of working out well. Just ask President Bush about Social Security. Even when it does work, like Obama’s health care plan, it can seem like a Pyrrhic victory. I think it is just hopeful thinking that in the Halls of Congress we’d all have a “come to the light” moment where everyone goes “Oooooohhhhhh, that’s what we should be doing! OK”.
While President Kennedy didn’t declare we would end up on the moon in his State of the Union Address (I’m cheating here because it was still a joint session when he did it) that is what I believe the Address should be about. It is supposed to be a night where we come together and say “ok, this is where we are as a country.” Now we can’t even agree what our problems are, much less the solutions. As an American, I want to hear the unbridled and hopeful optimism regardless of the “political lean” of the idea. For me, the State of the Union has always been about defining the impossible: and how we will turn it into possible.
Tags: President Obama, speech, state of the union, state of the union address
Posted in Congress Views, Executive Branch | Comments Off on State of the Union
Friday, January 20th, 2012 by Vbhotla
In the 1980s the National Rifle Association pulled off one of the great lobbying/advocacy moves that is still remembered to this day. In an effort to defeat Congressional action, the NRA was able to organize over a quarter of a million calls and letters to Congressional offices within a 48 hour period. And this was during the 1980s! Before the Internet, before email, even fax for the most part! Since they proved their ability to organize members and generate interest, they have rarely had to do so again on such a mass scale. While there is debate as to whether they are still capable of organizing the required numbers of constituents to affect legislation, few offices in swing districts want to call their semi-bluff. Since it happened once, it can happen again. This week Congress saw the 2012 version of that NRA plan, and moving forward there are going to be some important lessons to be learned about grassroots advocacy and organization structure.
First, grassroots, like most legislative activity, can be divided into defensive (for example: trying to organize to prevent Congressional action) and offensive (trying to make changes to the current situation that will require some kind of active action). Offensive action is more technically complicated, since everyone needs to be on the same page, asking for the same thing, giving the same reason why it needs to happen, etc., but has the advantage of usually choosing the time it is required. This allows thing to be planned out and, more importantly, gives the upper tiers of the organization time to mobilize their members. Therein lays the weakness of most defensive grassroots organizational efforts: you don’t get to choose the time they are required.
The dirty little secret to real grassroots political power isn’t the number of members your organization actually has, but what you can do with those members and whether those members can be used at critical legislative times. If you have 10 million members that aren’t actually going to demi moore pokies do anything and can’t be mobilized, then they really aren’t going to make a difference in your legislative agenda when you need them. The number helps you get into meetings or maybe access to more resources, but when it comes down to generating letters or votes then the cat is out of the bag and the group can lose one of their main legislative tools.
However, a smaller group with a good top-down structure that can generate calls, letters, and e-mails, hold town hall meetings, contact other constituents, etc., in a timely basis can be much, much more effective. The question has always been how do you find a balance between an organization large enough to make a difference, but nimble enough to come together quickly, when needed?
This past week might answer that question. The opposition to the Senate’s Protect IP Act was able to passively organize a defensive grassroots movement. People go to Wikipedia on a daily basis, and when it blacks-out, they then want to know why. All Wikipedia had to do is shut down and post some info on what they want to be done, the site’s users do the rest. Google didn’t even have to shut down to generate interest and action; they just needed to black-out the site’s name. Most of the sites didn’t really provide facts or briefings for their users, just the message “Protect IP Act = BAD”. When people contacted their Congressional offices, they often didn’t have the correct facts on the phone or e-mail, but they were able to register their opinion with the legislation.
By shutting down, Wikipedia and others fulfilled the dream of every grassroots organization: they activated their members, and changed legislative policy. While black-outs aren’t a long-term legislative strategy, like the NRA they only need to be done once and then everyone knows that you can. Maybe the real lesson moving forward is the best way to organize your grassroots is to not go to work the next day.
Tags: Advocacy, Communications, grassroots, PIPA, SOPA
Posted in Advocacy, Congress Views, Legislative Strategy, Lobbying Communications, Lobbying Communications, Lobbying News, Lobbying tips | Comments Off on Grassroots lobbying and SOPA/PIPA
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 by Vbhotla
A common mistake is to overvalue the recent past. It is easy to look at the last action or series of actions, and say that was the cause of success or failure for a given issue, when in fact the seeds may have been planted long before the legislation is ever actually introduced. As a result, the planning that was put into the introduction of legislation is rarely re-evaluated since it happened at the beginning of the process. One of the aspects of that planning that is often over-looked is the process of gathering co-sponsorships and that a genuine strategy needs to be developed, rather than just trying to get as many as possible as fast as possible. Because most issues aren’t going to lead the 6:00 news or become the point of major partisan policy, what determines their success or failure is the plan that is put in place at the beginning. To avoid getting bogged down, buried in a committee schedule, or become part of the partisan debate, a plan needs to be in place from the beginning that keeps these factors in mind when soliciting co-sponsors for your topic.
First, figure out where you are, where you actually need to go legislatively, and how many co-sponsors you need to get there. From that number, set your goal for 10 more offices than you need as your minimum in the House, 5 in the Senate. Throughout the year members that support you are going to retire, resign, etc., and you want to make sure you have enough lee-way to still pass your issue. Knowing from the start how broadly you need to craft your legislation to reach your goal will make life easier down the road and give you guidelines for all the co-sponsor decisions you will be making. If you make a deal that gets you one co-sponsor at the cost of not getting two down the road, it only makes sense if you are at or near your goal and not at the very beginning of the process. Sticking with a goal will keep you from mortgaging the future for the short-term, a more temping thought in the heat of the moment that people expect. It is an extremely dangerous game to start adding or subtracting things after introduction to get more co-sponsors and still keep the ones already on it happy. REMEMBER: you don’t need everyone! You just need enough to win and no one piece of legislation is ever going to make everyone happy.
Alright, so we have a number, how do we get to it? Getting co-sponsors is a lot like throwing a party. You’re going to want to make sure that everyone you want comes and, most importantly, you aren’t stuck with a bunch of pizzas by yourself at the end of the night. Therefore your first goal is going to be to introduce the bill with as large a number of initial co-sponsors as possible. In every Congress thousands of bills are introduced, sent to committee, and die. The initial co-sponsor offering and constant follow-ups are what is going to separate your legislation from those other dead pieces of legislation.
To do this, you’re going to have to consider the order in which to solicit co-sponsors. First, who are the friends of your issue and of the legislation’s sponsor? Consider those your first picks, they should be easy and added upon introduction. Who is on pokies hard the committee of jurisdiction for the topic
? Usually the Chair and Ranking Member won’t co-sponsor legislation in their committee, but you’ll want as many of the other members as possible, if for no reason other than they are easy to approach and “cold sell” as well as allowing potential legislative maneuvering later down the road.
Continuing on that train of thought, an often overlooked resource is the Congressional caucuses. People tend to forget about caucus membership (even those who actually belong to the caucuses), as well as “axillary” committees, for example Veteran Affairs for an Armed Services issue. Next, look at other members of the sponsor’s state or region of the country, especially if it is a rural issue. Lobbyists.info’s US Congress Online database of members will allow you to quickly locate good targets, especially the ones that fall under more than one of your groups.
Another good target group are the Freshmen Members. They tend to be “cheap dates” as they are eager to get their name out, do favors, and like being asked to help more than some of the more senior offices do. Finally, seek out the more “popular” members. People in leadership positions tend to make the issue “safe” for the rest of their party and makes recruiting other co-sponsors easier. Using the party analogy, people will often ask “is XYZ on it” when first contacted and you want as many people out of the gate since it is easier to keep the ball rolling than it is to jump-start it.
So while that gives you a good list of targets, there are a few pitfalls to avoid. First, make sure you don’t go heavy on either Dems or Reps early. Try to keep the ratio as close to even as possible and it will be much easier to recruit on both sides. Stray too far to one direction and you might pick up the “partisan” tag when it isn’t necessary. Same thinking for regional issues, make sure everyone isn’t just from the Mid-West or cities. Also, avoid anyone who might be seen as “toxic,” which I loosely define as “would you cringe if you saw their name next to your issue in the paper.” Very controversial members can sometimes cost more co-sponsors when other offices see their name attached to an issue than having their one co-sponsorship gains.
Keep in mind, even though adding their name to a bill doesn’t technically “cost” a Member anything, they are free to co-sponsor as many pieces of legislation as they want, most offices are hesitant to actually co-sponsor anything without getting something in return. This is primarily for two reasons. One, co-sponsoring something is basically a favor and it is rare in DC that favors are done without getting something in return. Two, because so many bills aren’t successful, offices feel that the odds of any one thing going through are low so why support a failure? Get ready to hear “we can’t help now, but come back when you have the required number and we will join then.”
After all, success has many fathers while defeat is an orphan. A good co-sponsorship strategy will often lead to an overwhelming victory, as it is not uncommon to see something like 90+ Senators on a winner. However, a poor effort with no plan or momentum will add yet another “Cosponsors (12)” tagline to the thousands of other lost bills on Thomas.
Tags: co-sponsors, congressional communications, Congressional strategy, government relations, legislative strategies, lobby, Lobbying, solicitation
Posted in Advocacy, Legislative Strategy, Lobbying Communications, Lobbying Communications, Lobbying tips | Comments Off on Legislative Strategy: Co-Sponsorship Solicitation
Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by Vbhotla
Too often, individuals and their organizations jump feet first into a new session of Congress without getting an idea of where they ultimately want to end up. That isn’t to say they don’t know what they want to do, certainly if you are taking a check you should know what your organization’s goals are, but rather they don’t know what they are realistically able to accomplish OR they don’t have a firm grasp on how they are going to accomplish it. When starting a new session of Congress, especially during an election year, it is important to sit down and come up with a legislative strategy for the year. Here are some things to keep in mind:
– What are the exact legislative objectives I am trying to achieve? Something as vague as “improve Metro transportation between Maryland and DC” will cause individuals and organizations to waste time once the Session gets busy trying to define and explain what is to happen. Make sure that your legislative language is good to go and ready to be shopped at a meeting. If not, sit down within your organization and start hammering out the specifics as soon as possible. Second Session Congress is more about doing than debating. By the end of the year, legislation should always have been introduced or discussed among Congressional offices so that, worst comes to worst, next Congress already has a kick-off point.
– What is the required legislative mechanism to achieve the above? Does it require a separate bill? Can it ride a larger piece of legislation or be added as an amendment? If so then must it be on the same topic? Approps bill? Executive Order? Write down everything that can possibly house your language and keep track of the movement status for each. Luck is preparation plus opportunity and this is one way to create your own luck.
– Is it the issue’s “turn” in the cycle? Some issues are brought up simply because they are required to be addressed every few years. Education is a perfect example of this. Just this week new language has been introduced on the House side to reauthorize ESEA (NCLB for some) because it is expiring. If it isn’t handled this Congress, it will have to be done at the beginning of the next. Thus is it going to education’s “turn” for discussion and major Congressional focus. It is easier to get on the schedule if it is an issue’s turn than if it isn’t.
– How time intensive is the topic going to be?
Is every Congressional office going to require some kind of outreach? Does it need to get 2/3 co-sponsors in both the House and Senate? If you only look at the legislative calendar, is there Pokies
enough time to meet with all the required staff? In an election year, always pretend that no one is going to be around except for days on the legislative calendar. While this obviously isn’t the case, the staff you’ll be required to meet with and who make decisions are going to be out this year more than usual. If time is short, try to think of larger meetings. Staff briefings aren’t always well attended or offer the individual impact of a one-on-on, but they do allow for talk with multiple offices at the same time.
– Risk vs. Reward Because there is less time available to exert influence there is less time to manipulate each part of the process. Take this into account when determining each risk vs. reward. Asking for less money might secure a few more votes quickly, but you will still end up with less money. Changing 10 regulations can be easier to accomplish than changing 15, but the 15th might be a deal breaker for someone in the coalition. Weigh the potential gains of asking for less to get more done vs. not doing enough to make the difference that is being aimed for.
– Political Capital While planning, try to get a sense of the amount of political capital that will be expended during the year. If it is decided that this is going to be the make or break year, then prepare to call in IOUs as needed. If not, then make sure not to start burning through favors in what turns out to be a half-hearted pursuit.
Plan for a major sit-down during the first week of August for a frank evaluation of where the topic is at and what needs to be done. That way during the rest of the Recess, adjustments can be made and you can be ready for a huge push out of the gate. Then, act like Congress is going to end in mid- September. After that point everyone will be home campaigning and it will be nearly impossible to get everything (or, for that matter, anything) done in a timely fashion.
Following the election, there might be a lame duck session, but never bank on it. Depending on the outcome, one party will usually hold-up a lot of work because they will be in a better position to negotiate next year when their new members get into office. Either way, consider lame duck sessions like Overtime in the NFL: yes the game is still going on, but it could be over before your team even gets a chance with the ball. Regardless of what happened, remember the following: there is always another Congress coming up, so final victories are few and far between. Luckily, so are the defeats.
Tags: capitol legislative strategies, Congress, Congressional strategy, legislation, Lobbying
Posted in Advocacy, Legislative Strategy, Lobbying tips | Comments Off on Election year legislation: Legislative planning
Monday, January 2nd, 2012 by Vbhotla
Maricopa County (Ariz.) prosecutors were investigating claims that Arizona politicians violated state lobbying gift laws by accepting tickets to College Football’s Bowl Championship Series Fiesta Bowl. County Attorney Bill Montgomery reported just before Christmas that he had found that the evidence presented was not enough to determine that the law had been broken.
Montgomery blamed the state’s lobbying ethics laws, saying, “Despite the public’s legitimate expectations that current laws ensure a reasonable degree of open and honest government, Arizona’s statutes governing receipt of gifts and reporting requirements fall short of meeting those expectations.”
State Sen. Russell Pearce allegedly received tickets and travel totaling over $40,000, and was voted out of office during a recall election in November Pokies, in part due to his connection to the Fiesta Bowl scandal. Pearce was also a staunch Montgomery supporter.
Also implicated in the investigation was Gov. Jan Brewer, whose top political strategists lobbied on behalf of the Fiesta Bowl for six years, beginning in 2005. Brewer was not, however, a subject of investigation.
Montgomery put the onus on legislators to hold public officials accountable, saying via emailed media statement, “I trust that members of the legislature, sharing my concern for upholding the integrity of our respective offices, will address these recommendations in an appropriate manner.”
A federal grand jury is also investigating charges related to Fiesta Bowl impropriety, though no charges have been brought against Arizona state politicians.
Tags: Arizona politics, BCS, Bill Montgomery, fiesta bowl, Jan Brewer, Sen. Russell Pearce
Posted in Lobbying News | Comments Off on Arizona Politicians Cleared of Fiesta Bowl wrongdoing