Playing the power game: in the arena of politics, lobbyists are the ultimate insiders.
But many mistakenly believe that representatives for powerful corporate interests are the only ones with any real influence. Lobbyists can level the playing field for minority and small business interests, those most in need of assistance, says lobbyist and entrepreneur Michael Brown, who happens to be the son of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. "We provide a very needed function: helping people through the maze and hurdles of the legislative process, which can get tricky."
Information, a lobbyist's most powerful tool, is at a premium for members of Congress and their staffs, since they must deal with hundreds of issues during the course of a legislative session. They rely on lobbyists to provide accurate information on industry trends and needs, according to one Judiciary Committee staffmember. "It's difficult to imagine how good legislation would function without the informed database of people," he explains.
Contrary to the image of backroom wheeling and dealing, a typical lobbying campaign begins at the grass-roots level. As politicians debate issues affecting women and small business owners represented by Joann Payne, president of Women's First National Legislative Committee, the lobbyist, in turn, alerts her clients to what's going on and encourages them to contact policymakers to ensure that their views are considered. "The most important thing is that [clients] not read about legislation after it's already law and affecting them," says Payne. She then follows up their letters, faxes and phone calls by meeting with House members and their staffs. If necessary, Payne will bring clients to Washington to knock on doors. The relationships that she's developed on the Hill help swing those doors open.
"It's about networking. It's about follow through. And it's about access," says Brown. He successfully lobbied Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to set aside airwave frequencies to be auctioned off to entrepreneurs. Payne's efforts ensured that women were included in the Department of Transportation's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program.
Minorities and small business owners should not limit their lobbying efforts to sympathetic senators and representatives. While cost is often a consideration that deters business owners from hiring lobbyists, both Payne and Brown advise entrepreneurs to form coalitions or associations to pool their resources. In Washington, where more rides on who you know than anywhere else in the country, having a true insider in your corner pays off more often than not. "If you don't understand the game," says Brown, "you can easily get left behind."
RELATED ARTICLE: LEGISLATIVE NOTEBOOK
The Istook Amendment to HR 2564, the Lobbying Disclosure Act, seeks to ban the lobbying efforts of nonprofits that use 5% or more of their budgets for political advocacy. Critics believe the amendment, which would make these organizations ineligible to receive federal grants, violates the non-profit's freedom of speech.
Although the Supreme court refused to hear California's case against the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the GOP hopes to repeal the act through HR 370, sponsored by Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.). The 1993 act, familiarly known as the "motor voter act" allows eligible citizens to register to vote while applying for or renewing driver's licenses. Across the chamber, the Senate will consider HR 736; S91, which seeks to bar the motor voter act until Congress provides money to pay for the bill.
A long-standing feud between the banking and insurance industries has forced the Glass-Stegall bill (HR 2520) to remain on the shelf in both the House and Senate. If passed, the bill would lift barries preventing banks from providing a wider range of insurance and services. Small, minority-owned banks, like their larger counterparts, believe this would make them more competitive. Both sides also await a Supreme Court decision on a key case that could clear the way for banks to expand their services.
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|Title Annotation:||Washington Report|
|Date:||May 1, 1996|
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