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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 [email protected]