March, 2008
Legislative News
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



How to Hire a Lobbyist

JANET SWANDBY

Highlights from this article appear below. The article originally was published in its entirety in March of 2006 and of 2007 and can be viewed in the online ASHI Reporter at www.ashireporter.org in either of those archived issues. Issues of the ASHI Reporter from September 2001 to the present are available online.


Your ASHI chapter may, at some point, feel it requires the professional experience of a lobbyist. Here is a checklist of items to consider as you interview lobbyists to represent your interests in your state Capitol.

Experience

The best lobbyists have experience as insiders. These are the people who either have held elected office or served as staff to lawmakers.

It is easy to be impressed by the lobbyist who touts his relationship with key legislative leaders. Leaders can be important, but it is dangerous to put all of your
legislative eggs in the leadership basket. If your lobbyist is dependent on his relationship with a particular leader, your lobbyist’s stature can be diminished in the blink of an eye.

Be wary, too, of a former legislator or staffer who is aligned too closely with a political party. Home inspection issues are not aligned with either political party.

And be sure to ask who will actually do the work for you. Is it the lobbyist you are interviewing or one of his or her
less-experienced associates?

Reputation

What is the reputation of the lobbyist, both inside and outside the Capitol? Most essential is a reputation of honesty and integrity.

You want to retain a lobbyist who has a reputation as someone who gets the job done. Carefully review his or her accomplishments.

The two or three lobbyists in your state with the highest profile may not be the best matches for your ASHI chapter. Being the “little fish in an overcrowded pond” may be an uncomfortable, or even dangerous, place to be.

The best lobbyists will be those who can cite their experience working in coalition.

Communications

A good lobbyist has to be an excellent communicator. And in today’s world, that means both the written and the spoken word. Ask for examples of his or her work.

Be sure to discuss your expectations with regard to regular communication or updates from your lobbyist.
Beware of the lobbyist who is going to take care of everything for you. A good lobbyist will encourage grass-roots contacts and building relationships with
legislators.

Finally, communication is a two-way street. Listening is an important part of communicating. You want a lobbyist who listens to you and truly under-stands your chapter’s goals.

Comfort

More important than any other criterion, you need to feel comfortable with the lobbyist.

While you may feel most comfortable with someone who knows your profession or industry well, that person may not be the best choice to represent you. An important role filled by a lobbyist is that of translator. A good lobbyist has to play the role of the “naive legislator” to assist you in developing an effective strategy.

And the lobbyist must be able to translate the nuances of the legislative process into terms that you understand. Does this lobbyist project the image you want for your chapter?

How to find lobbyists

Talk to people you know who are politically savvy. Check the Internet for lobbying firms in your state. Check whether there is a professional association of lobbyists. Get a list from them. In a good number of states, lobbyists have to be registered with the state and, more often than not, these lists are posted on the Internet. And ask legislators for recommendations.

Be wary of Internet sites that list lobbying firms. If anything, these sites are most likely to include law firms that have a lobbying section.

Be Prepared

Don’t wait for a crisis to interview lobbyists.


Janet R. Swandby is the president and owner of the Wisconsin lobbying firm Swandby/Kilgore Associates, Inc. She has worked with ASHI since 1993. Janet’s firm provides legislative tracking services to chapters. If you are interested in tracking bills in your state, contact Janet Swandby to negotiate rates at 608-286-9599.