The following are true stories from lobbyists, association legislative chairs and staff,
legislative staff, lawmakers, and my own lobbying experiences.
On the Importance of Being Seen
Never miss a session day if you can avoid it. Sick day? Funeral?
Negotiations all day? My old boss told me always take one lap around the
capital and carry a binder, people will think you’re working and people
will remember seeing you at the capital that day. When I needed to miss
a session day for a board meeting, the opposition used the opportunity to
try to sabotage/highjack my bill and I caught them in the process. People
are less likely to do these things if they think you’re in the building. After
that I learned to never reveal my own schedule- business trips out of town,
plans to attend the organization’s conference, plans for public speaking
were all confidential so that absences from the capital building would not
be well known. Once I took a sick day and a top government staffer
called my hotel room and told me to get to work. I said, I don’t have a bill
in committee or up for a vote right now. She said, "lobbyists don’t get sick
days." Government affairs director, national association
former Illinois Legislative Staffer email to
"How come you don’t have a presence here?"
"What do you mean? We have a lobbyist."
"We never see him up here."
Needless to say we fired our lobbyist. State Association Government Affairs Committee Chair
2009 “state government relations boot camp” at which I spoke
What Would Jesus Do?
The full committee was considering a bill to allow drivers licenses to reflect the sex change of license holder. According to sponsor, morticians are concerned when they undress a body and find that the sexual organs do not correspond to the sex listed on the deceased’s driver’s license.
After some at times emotional (and at other times joking) committee discussion, the bill was clearly headed for a negative vote. In a last minute effort to gain committee support the bill sponsor tearfully asked her fellow lawmakers before they cast their vote just to ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?”
Despite her plea and what introspection each member may have had prior to the vote, the bill was defeated.
RLG personal experience 2008
I’ve had many different experiences with lobbyists during my career at the Florida Legislature – some good and some bad. I would say that my best experiences have come at times when lobbyists have come to legislative staff with a “heads up” on various issues of importance coming before the Legislature. Most recently, my best experience with a lobbyist was a situation when a controversial bill was moving through the committee process. On one side of the issue were a group of highly paid lobbyists representing several special interests supporting the measure. On the other side was one lobbyist representing another organization in opposition to the bill because of the bill’s negative impacts on consumers. During a Caucus meeting one morning, representatives on both sides of the issue made a presentation before the Caucus. After supporters spoke on the bill’s behalf. The other lobbyist, in opposition to the bill, made her case. After speaking, I could tell that she felt defeated – a “David vs. Goliath” sort of feeling. She thanked me for giving her an opportunity to speak; after which I gave her a pep talk on how well she did. I felt that it wasn’t about how much money she was being paid to lobby the issue, it was about how she truly cared about the people her organization represented.“
Current Florida Senate Staffer email to RLG 2009
When a bill would come up for a vote my boss would ask me,
1. Who was for the bill?
2. Who was against the bill?
3. How much did it cost?
4. Who is the lead sponsor? Former Congressional staff now lead state lobbyist for DC trade group
told to RLG 2009
Just Don’t Ignore Me
I went out to lunch in New Haven a couple of years ago with a friend. People kept coming up to our table to say hello, to share their opinion on something, to ask how I felt about this or that. After a while my friend said, “God, this is rough. You don’t have any privacy. People don’t leave you alone.” I responded, “You know, one thing worse than all of these people coming over like this would be if no one came over.”
Senator Joseph Lieberman
In Praise of Public Life (2000) page 29
I’d rather be heckled than ignored. Rep. John Boehner
Lobbyist Admits to Forging Bush Signature
A Tampa lobbyist admitted he forged Gov. Jeb Bush's
signature on a letter that caused a stir in Washington by urging a vote against a bill to
ban online casinos...
The letter was signed "Jeb Bush" but when the governor's office found out it was circulating
on Capitol Hill, it said the governor never wrote or authorized his signature on the document.
Lobbyist Matthew Blair admitted to state investigators that he forged Bush's name, according
to a report by the state Inspector General's office.
However, according to the inspector general's report on its investigation, Blair admitted that
he forged Bush's signature and - on another letter - that of Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan.
Blair, a freelance public relations consultant and lobbyist, had been hired by a Washington public relations
firm to get letters signed by prominent people to help kill the bill, which was closely watched on
Blair told investigators he was "under the gun" because he hadn't gotten all 10 letters
from prominent Floridians he ws supposed to get. Source: Tampa Tribune
October 20, 2000
My Lobbyist Dad Slipped It In
Michael Spinelli stood out among dozens of other lobbyists crowding the Capitol on the last night of the legislative session.
In a sea of tailored suits, Spinelli wore a sport coat, an open-collared shirt and jewelry around his neck.
He also represented a unique special interest.
Joseph Spinelli is a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He wanted to attend the University of Florida's medical school this fall,
but his application was rejected.
Dad came to the rescue.
After heavy lobbying by Spinelli, the Legislature amended a health care bill late Friday night so his son can attend medical school in Florida.
"I helped out a little bit," the Orlando lobbyist and GOP fundraiser said Monday.
The amendment sought by Spinelli is just one paragraph on page 287 of a 318-page health care bill. It says any Florida resident who is a
student or graduate of any of the U.S. military academies and is going into the military's medical corps "shall be admitted to any medical
school in the state university system."
In different versions, the amendment was sprinkled through several health care bills. It also pops up on page 125 of the state's $48-billion budget.
Under those rules, the state's three public medical schools would be required to admit two students each year.
As it stands now, there's only one sure-fire beneficiary: Joseph Spinelli.
The Spinelli amendment illustrates how legislators manipulate public policy to help friends or settle old scores,
particularly in the session's final frenzied hours.
University of Florida medical school officials did not return telephone calls.
Kathy Betancourt, USF's chief lobbyist, called the Spinelli amendment "a source of concern." Source: St. Petersburg Times May 8, 2001
No Sure Things
I was working a bill in California during Rep. Willie Brown's speakership. The Speaker lost the vote. Speaker Brown assembled to the side of the well the lawmakers who voted against him. I do
not know what he said to them. However, after a few minutes each went to the microphone and changed his or her vote in
favor of the Speaker. RLG personal experience 1994
The American Cancer Society got New Mexico First Lady Dee Johnson to be the point person for the ACS legislation. She testified before the legislature, worked for the bill, and the legislature enacted the bill. Supporters of the bill thought they had a sure thing. Her husband Governor Gary E. Johnson vetoed the bill. Per the ACS lobbyist Dee did not speak to her husband for two weeks following the veto.
Current telecommunications lobbyist former American Cancer Society Lobbyist
told to RLG 2009
Governor Tommy Thompson (R, WI) used to veto individual letters in words in legislation sent to him.
The subcommittee chair refused to take up amendments to the bill I was working. The amendments were major and were
presented to her subcommittee just moments before. She said that the subcommittee needed time to read the amendments and would
take the bill up next meeting. As she sat in her chair the microphones were turned off, the full committee chair stood behind
her and the sponsor of the amended bill stood in front of her. After a few minutes the microphones were turned on, she took the
bill up, and the
subcommittee voted unanimously to report the bill favorably to the full committee. RLG personal experience 2008
Value of Legislative Counsel
They can help you and your legislator avoid pitfalls in the legislative process.
Our senator was helping us get an amendment that would uniquely qualify us, and not our
out-of-state competitors, for grant programs that were being authorized in a bill.
We drafted an amendment citing a provision of tax code that affected us, but not the
other organizations. Legislative counsel said that if we cited tax code, then the
bill had to go through the Ways and Means committee, which would cause heartburn for the
bill's sponsors and not make our freshman senator any friends among leadership. Instead,
they rewrote the amendment using words from the tax code, without actually citing it.
The amendment passed cleanly, "without objection."
Then we pointed out the amendment to our supporters in the agency. They simply pasted
the language into their next request for applications, which brought the provision to the
attention of the agency's legal reviewers. Ever since, the same language has appeared in all
of the agency's RFAs and we've won numerous grants because of it. But imagine how the agency's
lawyers would have reacted to a citation of tax code! Lobbyist for a government contracting organization
email to RLG 2009
As Arbitrary and Capricious As They Want to Be
Lawmaker criticized fellow lawmakers for attending an Orlando, Florida workshop on how to be better lawmakers. Complaining lawmaker said it is a waste of $20,000 of taxpayer money for his colleagues to attend and that they can learn to be better lawmakers by staying home and doing their jobs. Henceforth, complaining lawmaker can’t get any bills out of committees.
For the last couple of years a Democrat senator was the lead sponsor for my bill. This year looked to be year the bill would finally move with strong bipartisan support. However, the Republicans became the senate majority that same year. Republican leadership ordered that anything with my sponsor’s name on it would “dead on arrival” - DOA without regard to the content of the legislation. This was because in two years, the senator would be up for re-election and Republican leadership wanted to deny him a record of legislative achievement. I got a Republican to be the lead sponsor and my bill became law.
RLG personal experience 1996
Places Not to Lobby
Basically, I was lobbying against a bill regarding mandatory sentencing for
certain crimes and the bill sponsor was drawing little attention to her bill--just
pushing it through committee without any fanfare. Our group began bringing
attention to the bill to the other committee members and that caused them to
rally against the bill. The sponsor got really annoyed with us as she just thought she
could slip her bill through without much discussion. She was bad mouthing us
around the building and so we wanted to talk to her and explain why we were
fighting her bill. She refused to see us, but, later, I saw her going into the bathroom.
I followed her in and tried talking to her at the sink and she let loose, yelling at me
about privacy and respect. Really, she was correct and I had overstepped my
boundaries. At the time, I was mortified and apologetic and I learned a huge
lesson about being effective in my meetings, not just having meetings. Current Missouri lobbyist email to RLG 2009
My dad and I were I church waiting to go to communion. A lobbyist came up to
my dad and put his business card into his hands. My dad ripped up the business
card on the spot. Son of former Nevada governor
Personal conversation with RLG 2009
Who and What Really Matters
In politics the voter is always right. TN Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to my professional association, the Tennessee Lobbyists Association 2009
Abstract propositions should never be discussed by a legislative body. US President James Buchanan Great Presidential Wit (2001) page 220
Dangers of Partisan Lobbyists - A Media View
While lobbyists are pursuing the agenda of a client, the lobbyist must make sure that he or she does not anger lawmakers by being seen as partisan. I can provide you with a couple of examples or “war stories” from the Missouri General Assembly and Missouri politics.
During the 2006 campaign for one of Missouri’s U.S. Senate seats the Missouri Farm Bureau held a candidates’ forum for incumbent Republican Jim Talent and Democrat Claire McCaskill. The forum turned out to be little more than Jim Talent speaking to Farm Bureau members because McCaskill opted to pass on the invitation. Her thinking was that the Farm Bureau had become little more than an organization that works on behalf of Republicans and GOP interests. While it might be true that Talent and the Republicans were more in tune with farmers and the agriculture community than was McCaskill and the Democrats, McCaskill’s thoughts have been echoed since then by other Democrats in the state. It is my
belief that the Farm Bureau might have hurt its effectiveness by being too closely associated with the Republican Party and its candidates.
Another example of this can be seen with a group known as the Missouri Budget Project, which is made up of numerous individuals on the left of the political spectrum. Therefore, this group is considered, by Republicans, to be little more than a front group for Democrats. While the Missouri Budget Project might have ideas that would benefit a client or clients, the group has little power at the State Capitol, where Republicans control both the House and the Senate. Republicans automatically dismiss this group because of its perceived partisanship, meaning its effectiveness as a lobby group is compromised severely.
As reporters, many of us are less likely to pay much attention to a group which is seen as being “in the tank” for one party or another. So, the bottom line for any lobbyist is to fight hard for the client … but to avoid being considered a branch of either the Republican or Democratic Parties – especially when the lobbyist is associated with the party that is on the outside looking in. There is no way this can be good for the client. The lobbyist must play both sides of the street, even if one party is seen as more friendly to the cause.
Bob, it is my view that too close an association with one party can be the
kiss of death for a lobbyist and the interests he or she represents... You
might do well for a year … or four … but in politics the pendulum will swing
back the other way. And, when that happens, the lobbyist must not be on
the outside looking in.
From a Missouri Reporter and Commentator email to RLG 2009
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DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C.
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