Local Lobbying

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Local Lobbying

How To Build A Coalition

How To Mobilize Your Supporter

Organize Your Group and Strategy

Tackle Hands-On Activities

TRA's Political Action Committee

How To Lobby Public Officials

Be a Source of Reliable Information

"Hired Guns"

Using Media To Make Your Voice Heard

 How to Build a Coalition

Organizing a group or coalition of business owners and individuals to impact government action will improve your credibility and influence with public officials. In addition, a coalition representing a wide range of industries demonstrates to officials that their proposal will impact more than just a few restaurant owners. Coalitions also have the benefit of providing a larger group to share the workload. Here are some suggestions for getting started:

  • Contact local and state organizations that take a pro-business stance on legislative issues, such as chambers of commerce, travel, hotel, tourist, entertainment and other industry associations. Discuss proposed ordinances or legislation and how they will impact your business and/or your industry.
  • Determine if other groups are interested in meeting to discuss how you can work together. If youre successful in organizing a large group, consider forming committees. If other groups are already working on the regulation, volunteer to assist them in some way. For example, if the local hotel/motel association is circulating a petition, offer to distribute it in your area or to your industry. Monitor media coverage on the issue. If you read about other organizations or individuals on your side of the issue, contact them to inquire if they would like to join your coalition.

One thing you should remember in forming a coalition is that while having greater numbers is empowering, taking on side issues or non-committed partners is not. Consider the potential conflicts which could arise before including others. Limit participation to those who have a vested interest in the outcome.

Ultimately, the strength of a coalition is the ability to function united. Opponents will attempt to divide and conquer by creating conflict within the group or by offering special concessions to one party in the coalition over another. In an effective coalition these issues are addressed up front and dealt with inside the framework of the coalition. This will enable you to maintain the united front necessary for victory.

How To Mobilize Your Supporters

Encourage other TRA members to get involved with your efforts to form coalitions. Inform your industry colleagues and coalition members of how ordinances or legislation may impact their business. Consider many forms of communication: telephone calls, faxes, newsletters, or even on-line discussion groups. Always stress the urgency and importance of getting involved.

Organize Your Group and Strategy

Hold an organizational meeting to get everyone on the same track. Since details can work for or against you, here are some tips to insure success:

  • Call your guests a day or two before the meeting to remind or encourage them to attend.
  • Provide name tags, which help people mingle more comfortably in larger crowds.
  • Provide a sign-in sheet to obtain names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails for your roster.
  • Photocopy your agenda and distribute it to the group as the meeting begins.
  • During the meeting, ask guests to introduce themselves to the group to foster community.
  • Discuss the issue at hand and its potential impact.
  • Explore possible actions and assign tasks.
    • Swift communication and effective response to alerts are essential and can be accomplished by forming a telephone tree to divide the phone duties.
    • Volunteers can contact the city council and county commissioners about upcoming issues.
    • Volunteers can phone TRA to learn the status of pending legislation.
    • Volunteers can call TRA or NRA to learn the status of federal proposals.
  • Ask your committees and volunteers to give reports at each meeting.
  • Agree on a date, time and place for the next meeting.
  • Have the telephone tree remind everyone one week in advance of the next meeting.

Tackle Hands-on Activities

Besides keeping informed, encourage your coalition members to contact politicians, building bridges of communication which will prove valuable when issues do arise. However, if a measure has already surfaced in your area, recruit supporters to contact officials immediately on that issue. Remember, while the issue at hand may drive you to establish a relationship with your official, those who maintain the relationship will have an advantage.

When an issue is at hand, ask your coalition members to take action. Give them the pertinent names and phone numbers and ask them to:

  • Write letters to public officials.
  • Telephone public officials.
  • Invite public officials to speak to their group.
  • Visit in person with public officials who may impact the issue.
  • Attend public forums or public hearings where the issue is on the agenda.


To avoid watering down or destroying your credibility, limit your letter writing to issues of direct impact on your organization. Letters can be used as written follow-up to personal meetings or to respond to a member's request for additional information.

Do not be disappointed if, after establishing an amicable relationship with an official, you receive a form letter response. Form letters and blanket mailings are standard procedures. To maximize the chances of your letter receiving the attention you want, make reference in it to any meeting or previous communication you've had with the official.

Keep your letters as short as possible without sacrificing the substance of your message. I you have been dealing with a particular staff person in the official's office, send the letter to that person's attention. The staffer will appreciate being remembered and will give your letter more attention. To compose a brief but effective letter using the correct salutations, refer to our Sample Letters.

Telephone Calls

Phone calls can reinforce letters. If you have enough "lead time" before a vote, you can use a combination of phone calls and letters to increase your impact. In some cases, you will want to call first to "soften them up" and, then follow up your phone conversation with a letter calling for action. Other times, you may want to mail a letter first and follow up with a phone call to reinforce your attention on the issue.

In emergency situations when there is no "lead time," a phone call alone may be the only way to exercise your influence before voting occurs on an ordinance or bill. Draft a script for your call to insure you don't overlook any main points. If the official is not available, speak to a staff member who deals with the issue. Ask the staffer to pass your message to the official and request a written response. Always be brief and polite

Inviting Public Officials

Invite public officials to your meetings. Invite them to address your group on a particular issue or to share tips on the political process in general. Provide them with an information sheet about your group and an agenda for the meeting.

Visiting Public Officials

The single most effective way to get your message across to public officials is to visit them in person. Personal contact often can influence their vote. Knowing beforehand where your official stands on a particular issue will help you plan your discussion for the meeting. During the meeting, keep the conversation focused on the issues confronting you and avoid speaking in jargon (like HVAC or HACCP) which may create confusion. Respect the official's time by limiting your visit to 15 minutes.

Always follow up in writing. Thank the official for his or her time. Briefly restate the points you made at the meeting. If the official supported your position, thank him or her again. If the official did not support your position, say, "I hope you'll reconsider in the future."

If you can't arrange a meeting with an official, the next best thing is to meet with a staff member. You should have no trouble finding someone with whom you can meet and who can convey your views to your official. After the meeting, write to your official. Mention that you met with his or her staffer. Reinforce the points you made during the meeting. You may want to include copies of backup materials and position papers. Urge your official to support you, and of course, send a thank you note to the staffer.

If you happen to be in Washington, D.C. or Austin, by all means, drop into the House and Senate office buildings at the Capitol. You'll be welcome and should feel comfortable. If you don't get to see your officials in session, sign the guest register and visit with a staff member. Later, when you write to your officials, mention that you visited their Washington offices.

Public Forums & Public Hearings

Many elected officials hold town meetings or public forums. Look for and take advantage of these opportunities. Usually the meeting or forum is held in a school or civic center. The official hosting the meeting begins with a short presentation, then the floor is opened for questions from the audience. Ask about the official's position on the issues and speak out on behalf of your group and its position.

From time to time, you and your supporters may choose to attend a public hearing, a time-honored forum in which citizens can air their views. Persons wanting to give testimony may need to sign a witness card or raise their hand at the meeting, or occasionally they will need to make prior arrangements with the city clerk for permission to speak.

If you plan to testify at a state or national committee hearing, please call the TRA Government Affairs Office at (800) 395-2872 for assistance. Since speaking time is usually restricted at these hearings, you should prepare a brief outline of key points and leave copies with the staff members in attendance.

Texas Legislative Affairs Conference

Encourage the members of your chapter to attend the Texas Legislative Affairs Conference, held by TRA during the legislative session in February of odd numbered years. It provides members of the foodservice industry with an opportunity to learn about legislation affecting your business and how something unfavorable might be turned around.

The conference includes visits with your area representatives and addresses by some of the highest-ranking government officials in the state. It concludes with a gourmet luncheon with an estimated 80-100 state lawmakers.

Similar to TRA's Legislative Affair Conference, the National Restaurant Association hosts an annual Public Affairs Conference in Washington. The conference includes briefings on national issues, visits to Capitol Hill and a reception with members of Congress. The NRA Public Affairs Conference is held around September. Online registration is possible at http://www.restaurant.org.

TRA's Political Action Committee

The process of deciding which officials to support with contributions can be difficult and expensive. Political Action Committees (PACs) were established to serve this purpose. Through a PAC, contributions are presented to elected officials as a reflection of the support they enjoy from TRA, and the impact can be significant.

While you can and should continue to make individual contributions to political candidates, there is no substitute for participating in TRA's political action committee for the clout it gives our industry.

Advantages include the opportunity to present a significant contribution at a dinner or party honoring the recipient, which will cause the official to focus on your legislative interests. Also, the official will view the association's support as something more than lip service. This results in increased access to the official by the association's staff and members. Very few successful legislative efforts today do not include participation in a PAC.

How To Lobby Public Officials

Despite its reputation, lobbying has only one indispensable commodity--integrity. If you lose it, you have lost the ability to work with your public officials. The problem is rarely that people tell outright lies. Rather, it's the gray area where the information presented may mislead the person being lobbied.

For example, if you approach a member of your city council to oppose a smoking ban and, in response to a question about local support, "forget" to mention the 10,000 signatures on a petition by the councilman's constituents supporting the ban, you have not made an honest presentation. There is no more important rule and no second chance on credibility. If you lose it, it's gone.

Build bridges before you need them; it is much easier to build a strong bridge over calm waters than during a raging flood. Far too many constituents come to their elected officials at the eleventh hour, on the brink of a political disaster, having never established relationships.

If you spend time getting to know the key players before the crisis, you can address problems in advance. If you don't know your city council, county commissioners, state representatives and senators, congressmen and U.S. senators, now is the time to build the acquaintance.

While it is true that "who you know" is important, the merits of your case also count. Spend time analyzing the merits of your case from the vantage of what is good for the public and your community. Make this the cornerstone of your presentation. Frame your issues with local politics in mind because all politicians are concerned about the impact on their constituents. Recruit allies from the districts of key decision makers.

When lobbying, one always has the tendency to go directly to the decision-maker, but don't ignore their staff who provides advice and guidance. Identify and court the staff members especially when the issues are complex.

Find out who really counts in the decision-making process. It's not always obvious. Do some homework. The person who seems to have the authority on the line chart, may not. Decision-makers will often delegate their authority to someone else. It isn't hard to find out who that person is, just call the office of the official involved to be sure. Consistently ask people who else you should contact. You will soon see a pattern that will lead you to the key player or players. It is a simple technique that can provide great results.

Most elected officials are very street smart, and it's easy to underestimate their ability to put your issue into perspective. One of the biggest mistakes is to generate a lobbying campaign that is not genuine. After receiving a birage of postcards, some officials will call a few of the senders to determine if they understand the issue. If they dont, the campaign can easily backfire. Generally, a handful of letters written with genuine concern in the words of the senders will be far more effective than a contrived postcard campaign from 100 constituents.

Next to integrity, civility is a key attribute for successful lobbying. It's essential to be gracious whether you win or lose. You may not win the issue at hand but don't destroy the relationships you have fostered. Burning bridges is one of the worst things you can do in politics. The person who is your opponent today may be your champion tomorrow.

The democratic process is designed to ensure the greater good for all. A moderate request which recognizes the positions of all interests will be viewed as more fair and thus more likely to succeed than special interests. Determining what the reasonable approach to your issue is may be a challenging task. TRA can be a valued partner in this step.

Address the views of your opponents with respect and never ever threaten political retribution. Demands should be avoided as well. Requests for a politician's support should always be made politely, with the justification of sound policy.

Always look to the politician's leaning or stance on an issue. If they are adverse to your view don't give them information which can prepare them to oppose you. If they are neutral, focus on them as the "swing vote" which can determine the outcome of any political battle. If you have a commitment from a politician to support you, recheck their resolve. Often the opposition can turn their view, and you must counteract this.

Since time is an extremely precious commodity to politicians, don't waste it. During your appointment, be friendly but get to the point in a serious fashion. This conveys that your issue is a serious one and worthy of significant attention.

Prepare a ONE-page summary of your issue for your coalition members and for the officials you are attempting to persuade. Plan to leave the summary paper along with any supplementary information. Send a thank you note after the meeting. Follow-up letters and phone calls convey your persistence and dedication to the issue.

A better means of thanking your elected official is to send a check at election time. The official will welcome your check if the contribution is legal and you understand the etiquette of political giving. This etiquette is simple. If you act as though your contribution has bought you a large piece of your official, you will be disappointed. No politician likes to consider him or herself as being in debt to campaign contributors. Some will even go so far as to return the contributions. Contributions help but they won't buy you a vote.

Be a Source of Reliable Information

In the political arena, information is power. To the extent that you are working closely on an issue and talking to elected officials and staff, you will occasionally hear information that will be of interest to others. A lobbyist who knows what is happening on a particular issue can rapidly become a person very much in demand but will become an outcast if they gain the reputation as a gossip.

The line is crossed when the lobbyist shares political rather than substantive information. Substantive information relates primarily to what has officially happened, details usually available from clerks or official publications. Political information is never available in official form; it relates to such things as the underlying objectives for a measure, the political dynamics of the process and such niceties as who is responsible for the development of an issue. Such details are anecdotal in character and hence unreliable.

You can offer to give officials feedback--the official, candid and confidential reactions about the affect on your industry. Tell the official to call you whenever he or she thinks your particular expertise can be of use, regardless of the issue. If the official's experience with you is positive, you will have made a major stride in establishing a valued friendship with your elected representative.

Without exception, politicians react positively to "no-strings-attached" offers of help. Use this approach to your advantage. Finally, don't be offended if your offer of help is declined. Often, the personality or working style of an official dictates that he or she keep a certain distance from constituents. For these officials, your offer alone may yield dividends.

"Hired Guns"

Paid consultants can be extremely valuable in helping you in a political fight. They understand the process and have spent a great deal of effort establishing their own entrees to the decision-makers. But shop carefully and understand that no consultant or lobbyist can do it all for you. When considering a paid consultant, here are a few of the questions you should ask:

  • What kind of experience does the firm and its principals have in your field? A famous tax lawyer will not be much help in obtaining a change in public health regulations. Don't finance their on-the-job training.
  • What is their track record? Have they handled issues such as yours and with what kind of success? If they haven't, why should they represent you?
  • How will your business stack up against other clients in terms of the firm's priorities? While a small, hungry firm might devote more time than a large one with a multitude of clients, it may not have the needed resources.
  • Who is really going to do the work? Ask to meet all the people who will be working on your account and what percentage of the work each will be doing. Then spend time with them. Find out how busy they are and make a judgment about your personal chemistry with them.
  • If they promise a magic fix or guaranteed results, beware. There is no magic and no one can assure you of success. Hiring a consultant won't relieve you of doing work. In fact, a good consultant will suggest things for you to do that you haven't thought of.
  • Do they understand the political process? Can they explain to you in simple terms what needs to take place for you to win your issue? If they can't, keep looking.
  • What kind of personal or political ties do they have with key decision-makers? Do they make political contributions to these people? Have they been visible supports of the opponents to these elected officials? Insist that they be candid in informing you of relations, good and bad, with the key players.

Using Media To Make Your Voice Heard

The press is the greatest force to sway public opinion, which effects every aspect of politics. When you meet the press, the outcome is usually a story, so you should be prepared with a media relations plan. Determine beforehand exactly what the story is, and seize the opportunity to get your message out to the public.

The more diligently you prepare for an interview, the greater the chances for control and success. Formulate your communication objectives in advance. Identify the message or response you would like to see reported and jump at every opportunity during the interview to make your point. Have all the facts at your fingertips. Anticipate questions and prepare beforehand.

Deadlines are crucial to the media. Just as you plan your activities, the media schedules deadlines which are critical to their performance. If you fail to meet a station's or publication's deadline, the story is going to be developed without your input. Disregarding media deadlines can also jeopardize your rapport with the media or even be construed as a "no comment" or unwillingness to cooperate.

When speaking, remember that a lie or even an exaggeration to the press can damage your credibility forever. When a question arises which requires detailed facts not readily available, do not guess. Simply say that you will get the answer as soon as possible after the interview, and do so. If it is entirely out of your area of expertise, say so. The following points will help you convey your message:

  • Arrive for interviews early, especially in the case of television talk programs. Some programs will review the question or introductions with you beforehand if time permits. In any case, an early arrival provides time to collect thoughts and calm nerves.
  • A ten minute taped broadcast interview may result in twenty seconds on the air; and a one hour print interview may result in a two sentence quote. Distill your thoughts into short quotable lines with key words. Begin with the facts and statements you want quoted, leaving explanations and details for the end.
  • Draw on previous examples. Use analogies to make your point clear. Use facts and statistics to reinforce your position. Cite outside experts. Structure your statement from abstract to concrete by supporting concepts with specifics. Start with an overview or conclusion, and follow with specific information that brought you to the conclusion. Be concise.
  • Be conscious of your attitude. A defensive, uncooperative, or irritable tone can affect the way the public or a reporter interprets your statements and result in a distorted story. Avoid the use of acronyms which are confined to a specific industry or profession.
  • Reporters are individuals, and some are tougher to work with than others. But all of them want to get the story. An interview will go a lot easier if you are aware of the personality of the reporter and respond accordingly.
  • Expect negative or hostile questions. Attempt to turn negatives into positives; use facts to destroy the hostile questions; maintain the image you want the public to have. Never repeat volatile words, even to deny them. Avoid all off-the-record statements.
  • If possible, give the reporter something new. Say something quotable; articulate your thoughts so that the reporter will want to use the statement as you expressed it.

Your objectives should become the basis of your interview strategy when dealing with the press. If you know in advance what you want to accomplish and what messages you want to transmit to what audience, the media relations job becomes much easier.

In any good publication, there is absolutely no correlation between advertising and editorial departments. Always operate on the premise that the newspaper is using your information solely because it is newsworthy. Don't try to use advertising dollars to influence an editor and don't claim that you will boycott a publication which treats you badly.

Another form of media is letters to the editor. Although structured much like letters to officials, their purpose is different. They aim to build awareness and gain the support of the general public. Use letters to the editor to address a specific issue while it's hot. The more timely and newsworthy they are, the more likely they are to be published. Keep in mind that you must promote your cause with a balanced discussion.

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