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News & Knowledge

USA: Before you hire a lobbyist, read this

28th April 2017

Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP

As the long session of the North Carolina General Assembly quickly approaches, many businesses and organisations are thinking about what might happen during the upcoming session. Those thoughts often evolve into a discussion about whether an organisation needs to hire a lobbyist to represent its interests in the legislative and executive branches of government. MSI's South Carolina and Georgia law member Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP provides some interesting insights into this matter.

Lobbying serves a valuable purpose in the political process. With 2500+ pieces of legislation filed every session and many of those bills containing numerous provisions, it is impossible for our legislators to know what is in each bill – much less what each of those provisions actually means. In addition, we must remember that serving in the NC Legislature is considered a part-time gig with the whopping salary for most members topping the charts at less than $14,000. These folks are true public servants who sacrifice a great deal of time with their families and working their “day jobs” to do what they think is best for this great State. Given these challenges for our Legislators, lobbyists provide valuable information about a wide variety of subjects addressed in legislation that many times morphs as it goes through the legislative process.

Your organisation may already have a lobbying presence at the Legislature, but your level of activity could take many forms. You may simply monitor bills as they are filed to assess direct impact on your members and then communicate that information in a timely fashion to the membership. You may take more of a proactive approach and draft legislation that you shepherd through the process as a huge benefit for your members. Or, you may, as many other organisations and businesses do, direct your lobbyist to read, watch and listen carefully throughout the legislative session so that provisions of concern are amended favorably or not enacted. You also may hire a lobbyist or team of lobbyists to work on behalf of your organisation in all of these areas.

Choosing and hiring a lobbyist can be a complicated process for both the organisation and the potential lobbyist, but it is very important to take the time to ensure that you are getting the right fit for your organisation. Of course, you want someone representing you who is interested in the mission of your organisation, able to be at the Legislature regularly looking out for you, and willing to communicate with you in a timely fashion when items of interest pop up.

In addition, you should strive to hire a lobbyist who, like the vast majority of lobbyists, abides by certain principles as they work the halls of the Legislature. For instance, good lobbyists always know their stuff and provide truthful information, including sharing all sides of an issue. Lobbyists should also be knowledgeable about the legislators themselves—what does their home district look like, what’s their profession, what legislative issues do they typically enjoy, etc? These traits serve the lobbyist and your organisation well in the eyes of elected officials.