The Top 12 Qualities of a Great Lobbyist


HandshakesThere is an old saying that “Lobbyists are paid to be your friend.” I once asked a legislator who had just lost his race for reelection what the biggest difference was the day after the election. He thought for a minute and then said, “the phone stopped ringing”. Government, lobbying and politics is largely a transactional experience.

Since I just wrote on what it takes to be a great legislator having never been one, I thought certainly I could write on what makes a good lobbyist.

1. Find the right solution for the right problem – Many times government sees a problem and then crafts a solution that doesn’t solve the problem. Sometimes symptoms seem to be the problem. Sometimes bad advice and data cloud the picture. Sometimes the intentions are good, but the solutions don’t do what they are supposed to do.

2. Find solutions that legislators will embrace – Be savvy. Knowing where legislators are at philosophically and then crafting solutions that fit their world view is important. In a generally conservative legislature, crafting big government solutions doesn’t work.

3. Know process – The person who knows the bill passing process best, usually wins.

4. Know appropriations – Many lobbyists have made a living off of their knowledge of how to appropriate state funding.

5. Know the vote before the meeting begins – The ability to know how legislators vote is hard work.

6. Spend time with decision makers right before a decision is made – Maybe it is dinner the night before a vote, a phone call, breakfast the day of the vote or just a conversation right before the meeting begins, this is how you know the vote before the meeting begins.

7. Have a strategic plan and a tactical plan – The legislative process is fluid. Things change almost every day. Sometimes you may have to change your tactics multiple times in a day, particularly towards the end of the session.

8. Institutional memory – Over the years, the same issues are resurrected. Knowing the debate of previous years, the interests for and against issues, how legislators voted all help a great deal.

9. Relationships matter – Did you work on campaigns the last election cycle and help good people get elected? Did you contribute with time and/or money? Did you get to know the elected official? Name of family members? Profession? Hobbies? Values?

10. Integrity matters – The quickest way to become ineffective as a lobbyist, don’t tell the truth. Other things not to do: rumormongering, calling people names, character assassination of both legislators and fellow lobbyists, or implicit threats of retribution. So what takes place a lot on Capitol Hill? All of it. And almost all of it anonymously.

11. Integrity matters! I cannot say it enough times.

12. Don’t get personal – You can be on the same side of a legislator one minute and find him/her on the opposite side the next issue. Assume that legislators are all trying to do the right thing. Be honest and persuasive and then accept their vote. If you fail, there is always next year.

I was in sales for a number of years and have felt the thrill that comes from making a big sale. I must confess, there is nothing quite as satisfying as working on a difficult issue and finding a legislative solution. Particularly when you know of the benefit it can be to the people of Utah.

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