Finding the Right Lobbying Job: Some Advice for Prospective Lobbyists

By Chris Micheli and Rex Frazier

Members of the “Third House” are often asked for advice by individuals interested in finding a job as a lobbyist. Our advice to those prospective lobbyists is usually similar to job seekers in many other professions. Nonetheless, we will try here to give some specific advice on obtaining a lobbying job at the state level.

There are three initial issues that an individual seeking a lobbying job should consider: First, understand the types of lobbying jobs that are out there. Second, understand what you want to do in the lobbying profession. Third, target potential lobbying jobs that suit your interests and your strengths.

Types of Lobbying Jobs

What are the types of lobbying jobs out there? There are essentially four of them:

Contract

In-house / GR

Association

Government

Although most lobbying jobs are easily understood by their titles, let’s look at each one of these types: A contract lobbyist is contracted by one or more “lobbyist employers” to work on behalf of that employer. With over 2,500 lobbyist employers at the state level, a contract lobbyist could be employed by a company, a union, a trade association, or others. These individuals must register with the Secretary of State/FPPC, take the lobbyist ethics course, and be bound by the laws regulating lobbyists, such as the $10 gift rule. Contract lobbyists are employed by a lobbying firm.

An “in-house” or government relations position is one in which the lobbyist is a full-time employee of a business. For example, car manufacturers, high-tech companies, health care companies, and many others employ a lobbyist in-house. This individual may have a title such as Director of State Government Affairs or Vice President, Government Relations. Many of these jobs are located at the company’s headquarters, so these jobs may or may not be based in Sacramento.

Some of these individuals do local, state and/or federal lobbying on behalf of their employer. And a number of these lobbyists employ contract lobbyists to work on behalf of their business. Assuming these individuals meet the legal definition of a “lobbyist,” then they must register with the Secretary of State/FPPC, take the lobbyist ethics course, and be bound by the laws regulating lobbyists, such as the $10 gift rule.

An association lobbyist is a full-time employee of a trade association. Groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Labor Federation employ full-time lobbyists to advocate on behalf of their association’s members. They have titles such as Policy Advocate,

Legislative Director, or Vice President, Government Relations. These individuals must register with the Secretary of State/FPPC, take the lobbyist ethics course, and be bound by the laws regulating lobbyists, such as the $10 gift rule.

A government lobbyist fills the role of working for the Governor’s Administration as a full-time employee of a state agency, department, board, or commission (they are similar to the private sector’s in-house lobbyist). Individuals engaged in lobbying on behalf of the Governor’s Administration often hold a title of Deputy Secretary or Deputy Director in charge of legislative relations. These individuals appear before the Legislature to advocate on behalf of the Administration based upon the jurisdiction of the state agency or department.

For example, the Deputy Director, Legislation for the Department of Toxic Substances Control will advocate in favor of or in opposition to legislation before the Assembly Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials Committee for which DTSC has an “approved position” by the Governor’s Office. These individuals, as state government employees, do not have to register as a lobbyist with the Secretary of State/FPPC.

Working in the Lobbying Profession

The major point here is whether you want to be advocating on specific bills before the Legislature or particular regulations at a state agency or department. Or do you like to analyze bills and regulations and write policy papers or advocacy documents? In other words, some jobs in the lobbying profession are “behind the scenes” while others require daily interaction at the State Capitol or at regulatory bodies around Sacramento (and even a few located elsewhere, such as the Public Utilities Commission that meets regularly in San Francisco).

Many lobbyists spend much of their time attending meetings and hearings, monitoring bills and amendments, writing bill analyses and advocacy papers, and writing update reports for their clients. Other lobbyists are walking the halls of the State Capitol on a daily basis, meeting with legislators and their staff, and testifying before policy and fiscal committees. Which role suits your strengths and interests best? Do you want to work in the lobbying profession “out in front” or “behind the scenes”?

Narrowing Your Job Search

Once you determine what type of lobbying job you might want to pursue, you need to think about ways to narrow your search, such as based upon your area of interest or subject matter expertise. For example, is there a subject matter or cause that you believe in or that particularly interests you? Perhaps you have long supported environmental efforts or you enjoy the natural resources policy area, so seeking a job with the Sierra Club, for example, may be of interest.

Or, do you have substantive background in a specific public policy area? Maybe you have previously been a certified public accountant, or you have worked for years with bills before the Revenue & Taxation Committee. Would being a lobbyist for the California Society of CPAs be of interest? Or would you like to work for a business that has tax and fiscal issues?

Whether you work for a business as an in-house lobbyist, or at an association in a lobbyist capacity, you need to decide which one(s) you will pursue. Most in-house positions do not turn over very often. However, in recent years, more businesses located in California or even out-of-state have begun employing in-house lobbyists for the first time. While some of these companies will often promote from within their current employment ranks, several each year recognize the value of hiring an experienced Capitol staffer.

Trade associations generally see more employee turnover than companies, but even those do not occur with great frequency. If you want to work as a contract lobbyist, you will need to consider whether you want to work in a small firm or a large firm. Most lobbying firms are either sole practitioners or ones with 2-3 lobbyists. There are only a handful of very large lobbying firms in Sacramento that hire individuals on a regular basis.

Where to Find That Lobbying Job

Once you have decided on the type of lobbying job you want to pursue, and the likely employer, the next step clearly is finding that particular job. There are many routes to take, the most obvious of which are word of mouth or a recommendation by a colleague. That traditional route is most often used, especially in a tight-knit community such as Sacramento. Letting folks know that you are looking for a position or talking with individuals in the lobbying profession will help get your name out into the community. The more “eyes and ears” that are open looking for a position for you, the better off you will be in hopefully finding your desired job.

More often than not, potential employers looking for a lobbyist will advertise for the position. There are open job listings that are regularly posted on the websites of Capitol Morning Report, Capitol Weekly, The Nooner, and Capitol Daybook. These days, almost every open lobbying job can be found in these job postings. It is important to look at these each and every day. Some jobs are posted for several weeks, while others may be there for just a few days.

Getting Your Lobbying Job

Once you have that ideal lobbying job in mind, you need to make yourself an attractive job candidate to get your foot in the door. First, understand the profession and the players. Research and know your prospective employer(s). Second, have a solid resume and good references. Potential employers will appreciate your work experiences and individuals that they know who can vouch for your abilities. Third, know how best to advocate your employment attributes to a potential employer. Engage friends and colleagues and walk through several mock interviews.

We are often asked how an individual looking for a lobbying job can be a solid candidate. As attorneys and individuals who got their first lobbying jobs as a member of the State Bar, a law degree is helpful, but definitely not a prerequisite to any lobbying job. Most often, lobbyists get their positions because of their contacts and experience, with the vast majority having previously worked in California state government. Of course, there are many exceptions to this general rule.

We often hear that the lobbying community in Sacramento is a small profession. In other words, everyone knows most everyone, so your work is what will distinguish you most often. The more people who see and know your work, and it is respected of course, the more likely you will have an easier time finding the lobbying job that fits you. Many times individuals working at the State Capitol, for example, will be recruited by an employer.

It is critical to have solid work experience where you have developed an area, or even areas, of public policy knowledge and where you have made important contacts that will help you be an effective lobbyist. Many employers are looking for lobbyists who are experts in their fields or who have practiced law in a particular area, or who have worked at a particular legislative committee, state agency, or state department.

Finally, having the right temperament and good written and verbal analytical and advocacy skills are also important. Some have described lobbying jobs as being an advocate versus an analyst. Perhaps an analogy in the legal profession would be a courtroom attorney versus a research attorney. Again, which position best suits your strengths and interests?

For those individuals not currently employed in the Legislature or in the executive branch of state government, we have always strongly advised those individuals to get a staff position at the Legislature or in an administrative agency. This will enable you to develop an area of expertise in a policy area, to thoroughly understand the legislative process, and to develop working relationships with individuals inside and outside the State Capitol.

For those individuals already employed in the State Capitol, you generally have an advantage in the job search. There are distinctions between working on a Member’s personal staff versus being on staff for a legislative committee. There is also a difference between those working in the executive branch in a legislative position versus an executive or legal position with a state agency or department. Those positions will provide distinct benefits for a potential lobbying job. Determine whether your potential employer is seeking a lobbyist with a particular government background.

Finally, it is always valuable to talk with lobbyists who are working as a particular type of lobbyist or at a particular firm, company or association so that you can understand how that person got his or her position, what he or she does in that role, and how you might get the same or a similar position. Most lobbyists are happy to talk with prospective colleagues to share their insights and experiences and help you with your job search.

Chris Micheli is an attorney and legislative advocate for the Sacramento government relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in their Capital Lawyering program. Rex Frazier is President of the Personal Insurance Federation of California. He has been an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law for over five years and serves as the President of the Capital Lawyering Program’s Advisory Board.

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