Managing Contract Lobbyists

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By Chris Micheli

For those government relations professionals who work with contract lobbyists, it is important that they effectively manage these valuable resources. Companies, associations, labor unions, and other groups may require the use of one or more lobbyists to be employed on a contract basis. These are “contract lobbyists” and they can play an important role in a successful government relations program.

There are numerous advantages to hiring a contract lobbyist, including having a leading professional working on your behalf, utilizing his or her expertise in strategy and advocacy, benefitting from extensive contacts in state government, and providing additional help in your lobbying efforts. Chief among the disadvantages can be the cost of a contract lobbyist.

As one would expect, there are several considerations in hiring contract lobbyists. The most fundamental one is whether the work of a contractor is needed. Just like in state legislatures across the country, in California, there are thousands of bills introduced, and hundreds acted upon, each year, as well as over 200 state departments and agencies that are constantly taking regulatory actions.

As a result, companies and associations that keep tabs on all these legislative and regulatory activities can easily be overwhelmed with this seemingly daunting and time-consuming task. As such, in many instances, these organizations need a contract lobbyist to assist with the monitoring and lobbying that is needed.

There are other benefits with a contract lobbyist. For example, a professional advocate will understand the inner-workings of the state’s legislative and regulatory processes, have an extensive network of legislative and regulatory contacts, and be able to assist with coalition building in ways that may be cumbersome and time-consuming.

As such, when hiring a contract lobbyist, one will want to review such an individual’s experience, political background, contacts, reputation, and record of success.

Again, in determining whether one needs to hire a contract lobbyist, the most crucial factor is understanding whether your organization has a specific need for the upcoming legislative session. Once that is decided upon, then you will need to find the right lobbyist to fill that need.

In other words, once you determine that a lobbyist needs to be hired, then you need to find the person who is best suited to handle the work of your organization, and then to set expectations for the lobbyist’s deliverables and outcomes. In making this determination, it is important to define the scope of work and how the contract lobbyist will work for your organization.

Once you have determined the need for a lobbyist, that will help define his or her scope of work for your organization. You may want to proceed by word-of-mount, relying upon recommendations from colleagues or event elected officials and their staff. Another avenue is to issue a request for proposals from interested lobbyists.

Once an available lobbyist is found, it is important that you get to know the lobbyist’s clientele and ask for references for their prior representation. You will certainly want to conduct an interview or two with the prospective lobbyist. And be sure to specify the terms of engagement, making clear the scope of work desired and the methods that will be used to lobby and communicate on behalf of your organization.

There can be great benefit to utilizing one or more contract lobbyists to help achieve an organization’s legislative or regulatory goals. In that regard, make sure that both parties are comfortable with working with each other and that there are clear guidelines for how both parties will interact.

Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in its Capital Lawyering Program.

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