A lobbyist is any person who exerts influence over local, state and federal officials to alter the outcome of pending legislation. While lobbyists like Jack Abramoff have soured Americans on the profession, most lobbyists represent small companies and industries that need help via government legislation. An aspiring lobbyist cannot simply set up shop in the state capitol or Washington, D.C., and begin to pester legislators to promote industry-specific legislation. Every lobbying business has to be registered, maintain impeccable records and tread lightly when it comes to political affairs.
Register with state or federal government agencies before opening your lobbying business. Most states require lobbyists to pay fees to the Secretary of State for each organization they represent. The U.S. Senate Office of Public Records requires registration for lobbyists who make more than $3,000 per quarter and spend more than $4,500 on lobbying in the quarter preceding registration.
Apply for a line of credit with a local commercial bank to pay for lunches, events and travel used in your lobbying efforts. Ask for multiple cards on the same line to maintain flexibility for your team of lobbyists as they gain support for legislation.
Lease office space as close to legislative offices as possible to ensure greater access for your lobbying business. Keep in mind that rents in Washington, D.C., and state capitols are exorbitant compared to rents in nearby neighborhoods. Lean toward a smaller office space with Internet and phone connectivity within walking distance of government buildings.
Recruit one or two veterans of the legislative process to mix with interns as you start your lobbying business. Look for former legislators, legislative aids and lobbyists with a track record of pushing laws for your industry. Take on a handful of interns each year to perform administrative tasks, handle the phones and conduct research to eliminate paperwork for professional lobbyists.
Procure lists and contact information for every legislator in state or federal government to identify targets for your lobbying efforts. Research the legislative record for each senator or representative to find a handful of sympathetic ears for the organization or industry you represent. Maintain daily contact with legislative aids to make lunch appointments, learn about committee hearings and preserve your presence in the capitol.
Leverage local newspapers, TV stations and radio shows interested in political issues to get your lobbying business in the public eye. Send out press releases daily to get your industry's voice into state capitol reports and newspaper editorials regarding hot-button issues. Offer experienced members of your lobbying business as commentators on public affairs shows on commercial and public TV to draw interest in your industry.
Invest in PDAs and laptops for your entire staff to make your lobbying business more mobile. Your researchers, lobbyists and administrative staff will be able to stay in touch with the central office by sending an e-mail or calling after meetings are complete.
Outsource the firm's accounting to an experienced CPA to stay on top of reporting deadlines to state and federal agencies. While the wages and fees given to a CPA may seem extravagant, the alternatives are run-ins with the IRS and Justice Department officials who are on the lookout for bad lobbyists. Collect receipts for deposits, withdrawals and expenses each day from your employees to create an accurate paper trail.
- Photo by Korean Resource Center (Flickr)