Making the case for legislative advocacy Email
Written by Stefan Stathopulos   
Tuesday, May 12, 2020 04:00 AM

advocacyIn this age of special interest politics, trade associations, industry groups and business concerns face a difficult, but not impossible, task of impacting the public policy/political process to protect and enhance their business goals. What is often missed by groups and trade associations is the power and influence they already possess but do not take advantage of. Local contacts have great influence! Members in trade associations and industry groups can have a significant influence on the legislative process and legislators by creating relationships with local representatives and engaging in the political process.

Members of any group need to realize that a powerful force impacting their business’s success is the government. Trade groups and associations need to commit to and engage in the political process, create relationships and educate their representatives on the issues of their business. Who knows better than you what it takes to do your business, service your customers and meet the demand, of your offerings? That knowledge and expertise is often lost because business people do business, not politics. As business owners, the sooner you realize that you are either at the political table or on the political menu, the sooner you can start to impact and protect your business future.

10 steps to gain political clout

To influence the issues that come up at the state legislature, city council or county commissioners, remember what matters most.

  1. Money matters in politics. It seems obvious, but what most people don’t realize is a campaign donation of $50 can put you on a list that a candidate or legislator will remember.
  2. Relationships matter. Just like in your business, where relationships with customers and vendors matter, legislators or other politicians will care more about your issues if you establish a relationship with them.
  3. Honesty matters. You must be willing to deal with both sides of an issue, not just your side of the story. If you can tell both sides and show why your side should be acted on, you will gain trust and influence.
  4. Presentation matters. Keep your message short and on target; don’t wander off the subject. You need to be able to present your story and ask for support in about two minutes. Using a one-page fact sheet produced by your association helps both member and politician.
  5. Public relations matter—keep focus local. Be willing to write a story about your issues for the local paper. Be sure your story and facts are accurate. Politicians pay attention to local news stories. They also pay attention to voters from their districts.
  6. Personal communication matters. Write a letter to your legislator, call them on the phone, email them with information about your association and industry. Invite them out for lunch and bring your efforts down to a personal level.
  7. Courtesy matters. You may get frustrated when someone doesn’t vote your way or see an issue your way. Don’t say anything to offend the legislator. You can restate your case, but don’t be discourteous. Gain their respect, and you might earn their support on future issues.
  8. All legislators matter. It is critical to learn to work with legislators from both parties. You never know who will be in power next year. Starting early matters. If you wait until your issue is up for vote, you have waited too long and you will probably lose your opportunity to have an impact. Meet with legislators before the session to discuss issues. Remember, personal relationships matter.
  9. Campaign involvement matters. If you find someone you can support, volunteer to work for their election. The candidate will remember you and you may get access and attention others won’t. Business needs champions in the process. You create those by developing relationships.

Remember, politicians are people too. They count on people supporting them, offering information on issues and expect people to call and voice their opinions. It may feel intimidating, but follow these simple rules:

Find out who your representative is at  

Make sure you have your issue and facts lined up so you can present your information  in a quick but concise manner. Use an association fact sheet if there is one on the issue.

Practice on your wife or husband first if you feel nervous about making the call. Time yourself and ask for their honest opinion on how well you presented the material.

Make the call—do not put it off. Call and if need be, leave contact information for the legislator to call you back. Be sure to leave your name, phone number, business name and the issue you are calling about.

When you speak to the legislator, be sure to identify yourself, your business and that you are in their district. Speak clearly and stick to the information you have before you. Give them the facts and answer any questions they may ask. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make it up; say you will have someone get back to them with the answer.

Ask for their support. This is important. Get a response from them: support or oppose. Thank them for their time.

Lastly, offer to help on this issue if needed in the future. Also offer to assist them on other business issues in the future.

Advocacy is like planting a crop. You may not see the results of the seeds you are planting right away. But politics is a long-term investment needing long-term support and relationships.

Stefan Stathopulos is an associate lobbyist at Hicks & Associates.

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