The New York Times recently noted that 60% of all lobbying yields absolutely nothing. This is a startling number for anyone considering hiring a lobbyist and certainly for these late to the game clients. Does the successful 40% occur at the very end of a two year Congressional session, and, if so, what does that say about all those who have employed a lobbyist for the last two years? Are these late-comers savvy investors who have some kind of inside information or are they needlessly spending money that would be better preserved for the beginning of the 112th?
Perhaps the seller is to be blamed for trying to sell a golden goose that’s not laying any more eggs. Many lobbyists are still pitching earmarking services which appear to have long dried up. With most of the House of Representatives banning earmarks and, as it has been noted in various media outlets, with more than 15 Senate hopefuls wishing to ban earmarks, perhaps some lobbyists are pitching what is fast becoming a dead service that will damage their ability to sell their services in their entirety for the upcoming earmark-free session.
Other questions pop-up when considering this late hire. Were the elected officials who your lobbyist knows just sitting around for nearly 2 years waiting for your project? Surely the lobbyist has spoken to these same elected officials numerous times to push forward other legislation from other clients. Have the Lumbee Tribe and Jersey City really not spoken to their own elected officials for two years, or have their internal and external “consultants” advised them to go hire a lobbyist regardless of existing relationships if they really want something done? Regardless of these additional questions, something is wrong with the picture of a client hiring a lobbyist when the probability of passing favored legislation is so dim.
I believe that both the lobbyist and the client truly want to believe that their partnership will work even at the 11th hour. It isn't naivety on the part of the client or deceptiveness on the part of the lobbyist but instead a real desire to fight for the issue regardless of the odds. Although such an approach is gutsy, it isn't realistic or helpful to either party. Clients leave disappointed and lobbyists leave without a clear win that will enable them to continue to sell their services. Rather than this last minute “guns blazing” approach, both parties need to be more serious in this partnership. Clients need to get serious with their issue and understand what they are trying to accomplish and be realistic about the odds of passage. To recognize that an issue may move somewhat in the last few minutes of session is realistic, but to believe that your lobbyist knows some legislative wizard that none of the rest of us do is setting your issue up for failure. Lobbyists need to force clients to go through a more constructive and thoughtful process before signing a contract. Setting up false expectations and stretching existing contacts only does a disservice to the entire enterprise. If both sides viewed the hiring of a lobbyist as an important part of a longer comprehensive Washington advocacy plan it would place their issue in the 40 % category of those who can get issues passed.
Maury Litwack is the author of the recently published book “Capitol Plan – A Comprehensive Washington Advocacy Strategy.” Maury has worked with elected officials, municipalities and a national non-profit on major aspects of their federal and state agendas during the last seven Congressional Sessions. Maury served on the staff of two Congressmen during the 108th and 109th Congress, where he provided legislative expertise and political strategy. Maury left the Hill to expand the Washington office of Miami-Dade County, the 6th largest county in the country, and now serves on the federal affairs staff of a national non-profit. Maury has been published frequently and spoken at a variety of national forums and university events.