In last night’s State of the Union address, anti-lobbying rhetoric was relatively low. Sure, there was the jab that “a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code,” and the statement that constituents “deserve to know when [their] elected officials are meeting with lobbyists,”but all in all, no real lobbying talk. And really, it’s not a bad thing for citizens to know that lobbyists are working on their behalf to make concerns known in Congress.
One thing that many in the profession could have anticipated, but were probably still less than thrilled to hear was President Obama’s decree that “If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.” This idea is not unique to the president; there has been talk of a ban on earmarks all through the most recent campaign cycle. And while there is currently no ban on earmarks in either the House or the Senate rules, it is worth noting that the Republican Conference rules do ban them.
This was a great departure from the emphasis on special interest groups the president put on last year’s address, and lobbyists should be cautiously optimistic about what this means for opportunities for them to effectively do their jobs. If there’s one thing that lobbyists can learn from President Obama, it’s his ability to organize and effectively carry out a grassroots campaign. Prior to the primaries leading up to the 2008 election, many people did not even know who he was. It was his ability to organize and rally people behind him that launched him into the public spotlight and then the White House.
What does this mean for you? In this no-earmarks climate, one of the most effective lobbying tactics will be grassroots and grasstops efforts. In a session Monday before over 60 attendees, Dom Ruscio, of Cavarocchi, Ruscio, Dennis & Associates, LLC, and the Podesta Group’s John Scofield emphasized this point as being one of the best ways to lobby the budget and appropriations process, and indeed it is universally true.
A new study by the Partnership for a More Perfect Union and the Congressional Management Foundation indicated that the number one way to sway a Congressperson’s mind on an issue if (s)he has not already taken a firm position is in-person constituent visits. Take the opportunity to organize lobby days with key constituents set to appear. (Be careful to limit the visits to five people per visit, in consideration of space limitations within Congressional offices.) Go often and make the message clear. Because despite the talk, lobbying is not dead in this Administration nor in this Congress. It may just simply need to embrace one of the key themes in Obama’s speech last night: reinvention.