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Manhattan Mortgage's Cohn named Stevie Awards finalist

National Mortgage Professional
Feb 06, 2007

Lobbying made easy: Climbing Capitol HillGary Opper, CPA, CFPLobbying, NAMB, Capitol Hill, FAMB, Washington, D.C., Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. President Ronald Reagan Would you like to know how to effectively lobby your elected officials? The Miami Chapter of the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers has been lobbying for many years. After several years, we have finally figured out how to lobby productively. Lobbying your elected officials is not difficult. They want your opinion! Your elected officials are generally not experts in your profession. You, as their constituent, serve as their expert. Be preparedthe Boy Scout motto, Be prepared, should be yours, as well. Your elected officials are very busy, and you need to be prepared to answer their questions and talk to them effectively and efficiently. Your meeting, whether it is in Washington, D.C., or your state capital, will be more formal than meetings back home. Elected officials meet with many constituents, lobbyists and concerned citizens, in addition to serving on several committees. Their calendars will be full. Below is a timetable to help you with your lobbying. Two months prior to lobbying You need to figure out which elected officials you want to meet. You should meet with all the elected officials or their staff who are represented within your organization. If your organization is statewide and you are meeting at your state capitol, you should plan to meet with all of your elected state officials. State capital In Florida, more than 75 FAMB members attend Lobby Day in Tallahassee. We meet with all 40 senators and 120 representatives or their staffs. The association is broken down by chapters. Each chapter represents a region. The chapter members meet with the elected officials that represent their region. The Miami Chapter visits with the 29 representatives and senators that represent the Miami Chapter members. Most recently, we met with nine elected officials and 20 staff members. National capital In Washington, D.C., at the National Association of Mortgage Brokers Legislative and Regulatory Conference, FAMB members lobbied Floridas 25 representatives and two senators. Again, the state is broken down by region, and the officials are visited by members who live in their regions (preferably members who vote in their districts). For example, the Miami Chapter is represented by six representatives. This year, we had meetings with three representatives and three staff members, in addition to meeting with our senators. Focus If your membership is not large enough to cover the entire delegation, then you need to focus on key officials or spend more time in the capital to accomplish your important goal. You need to meet with the chairman and key members of the committees that are important to your industry. For example, if it is a mortgage issue, you need to meet with the chair of the Banking and Finance Committee. (If it were regarding farming, then you would need to meet with the Agricultural Committee chair.) You also need to meet with key committee members. One month prior to lobbying Set up meetings Find out who in your organization knows a member of Congress or a staff member. Have that person set up the meeting. For officials who no one in your organization knows, have a member who is also a constituent set up the meeting. You can make the appointments by calling, writing, e-mailing and/or faxing. You may meet with the elected officials and/or a staff member. Meeting with a staff member can be just as important as meeting with the elected official, because the staff member may have the expertise in the area with which you need help. Elected officials hire staffs to help understand complex legislation, since they do not have the time to become knowledgeable. Schedule efficiently When you make your meetings, try to cluster them. Try not to schedule appointments that will cause you to travel back and forth between different buildings and floors. For example, the House of Representatives uses three office buildings on Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C. that are connected by tunnels. When you set your appointments, try to group all of your appointments in the Cannon Building at the same time, followed by your appointments in the Rayburn Building and your appointments in the Longworth Building, so that you are not running back and forth between buildings. These are very large buildings, especially the Rayburn Building. When you set up your appointment, ask the scheduler if there are any special rules that need to be followed. Be distinctive Elected officials see many lobbyists and other people. You need to set your organization apart from all the rest by wearing something distinctive, saying something distinctive and giving something distinctive. Hot and spicy The Miami Chapter of FAMB has made itself distinctive in addition to being prepared, professional and friendly by giving pepper plants to all the officials. With the pepper plants, we pronounced, Miami is hot and spicy. Were both from Miami, and therefore, we are all hot and spicy. As the pepper plant grows and bears fruit, so shall our relationship. When I call the elected officials office now and am asked who I am, I respond, Im the guy who gave your office the peppers! Then they say, Of course! and that separates FAMB and me from everyone else. Prepare a package Prepare a package to give to each elected official and any staff member who may attend the meeting or whom you want to attend. In the package, you should have a summary of your organization, your position papers and backup documentation. Make extra copies, so that if you meet elected officials and their staffs in the hallways or elevators, you can pass them out. During a trip to Washington, D.C., I met the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. We were walking from the Capitol to the Hart Senate Office Building for separate meetings. As we walked, I gave him a copy of the NAMB package. Coordinate with your lobbyist If your organization has a lobbyist, make sure your message is similar to his. Have your lobbyist review your package. Two weeks before Practice presentation Two weeks before your meeting with your elected official, you should practice what you will say to the elected official. This presentation should be between five and 10 minutes. You will probably have roughly 15 minutes to meet with your elected official. The time could be cut short, so be flexible. You should first establish some rapport, before you attempt to give your position on the issues. Prepared talking points will help, if you have to talk quickly. For example, our meeting with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was completed as we quickly walked from her office to the Capitol. As we walked through the tunnels underneath the buildings, through security and up the escalator, we had to give her our message. Having prepared it in advance made the message clear and concise to her. The day before the meeting Finalize your plan The day before the meeting, you should organize and finalize your schedule. Treat this as an interview for new employment. You should take business cards from all of the people who will be lobbying, put a rubber band around them and hand them to your legislator all at once. You should also make sure you and your group comply with any special security requirements. Make sure you have photo identification. Bring any appointment letters with you. Make sure that you know where you will park, and if you have to use a parking meter, bring money. The meeting Arrive early If you are meeting in Washington, D.C. at the Capitol, you should leave at least two hours before your first meeting. That will allow enough time to get to the meeting. If you want to have breakfast, give yourself more time. Park at Union Stations parking garage and take a cab to your first appointment. Articulate your position At the meeting, you should discuss the issues emotionally, using stories and anecdotes to explain your position. Your lobbyist will also meet with these officials and can work out the details. Make sure that you tell your elected official that you have constituents in your organization, and if you have any constituents within your group, please point them out. Afterward Follow up After the meeting, send thank-you cards. You also need to follow up on any promises that you made for additional information. After the meeting, you need to stay in contact with the elected official or his staff so that the relationship will flourish. In conclusion, I hope that this outline will help you to better prepare for lobbying elected officials, whether they work at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., your states capitol or a more local level. Lobbying can be fun and easy. Lobbying is an important and accepted part of the American political system. This guide will help you use lobbying in an efficient and effective manner. Gary Opper, CPA, CFP is the president of Approved Financial Corporation and is past president of the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers Miami Chapter. He may be reached at (954) 384-4557 or e-mail approv01@aol.com.
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