When most people think of “lobbying,” they picture high-powered Washington power brokers hobnobbing with elite D.C. insiders as they petition Congress on behalf of a major industry.
While this undoubtedly happens, the reality of everyday lobbying is much more mundane—yet no less important. In Pennsylvania, lobbying is done on behalf of a variety of industries, but also on behalf of individual trade associations, businesses, and non-profits.
This may come as a surprise to some, since the perception is that contract lobbyists are far too expensive to engage for specific projects or opportunities. All too often, organization leaders will opt to “save money” and engage in lobbying themselves. It’s a dangerous approach, since lobbyists are regulated by the Commonwealth and subject to strict reporting and registration rules.
The 20-Hour Rule
For example, an employee working for a non-profit may engage in government relations activities over the course of several months in an effort to advocate passage of a specific bill. That employee may not realize it, but logging more than 20 hours of government relations in a three-month period will trigger a reporting and registration requirement for both the organization and the individual. However, even if the employee logs less than 20 hours, both the employee and the employer may still be subject to the reporting requirement if they spend more than $2,500 during that period on lobbying activities.
Believe it or not, that is one of the easier lobbying rules to understand. Lobbying disclosure, reporting, and registration regulations can be quite complex and can easily go overlooked by non-professionals. And that’s just regular advocacy lobbying.
Procurement Lobbying Rules
Attempting to do business with the state can trigger “procurement” or “vendor” lobbying rules in addition to the general ones. Simply responding to an RFP can subject an organization to a host of regulations they may not even realize exist.
Procurement lobbying is a highly specialized discipline within government relations that focuses more on state agencies than on the state Legislature. Because government spending is so highly scrutinized, procurement lobbyists have to make sure the vendors they work with can demonstrate their products or services are cost efficient for the Commonwealth and that their manner of doing business is transparent. This is not always as easy as it sounds. Experienced procurement lobbyists understand what specific agencies are looking for and how they want proposals packaged.
Not only can lobbyists help increase the odds of success, they can also keep clients from making mistakes, or worse, violating the Commonwealth’s intricate Procurement Code.
Time and Money
The prospect of violating state lobbying laws is one reason to hire a registered lobbyist; time and money are two others.
Lobbying is a relationship business, and relationships take time to develop. Each lawmaker, department secretary, and staff member has a different personality and a different way of doing things. Getting to know these personalities is half the lobbying battle. Understanding how the system works is the other half.
For organizations whose business is something other than lobbying, the time and money necessary to effectively learn Pennsylvania’s various government procedures, cultivate the pertinent relationships, and comply with the state’s lobbying laws is simply prohibitive.
Many business owners, association leaders, and non-profit directors have learned the hard way that trying to save money on lobbying fees can become quite expensive.
If you are looking to do business with the Commonwealth or need an advocate fighting on your behalf, contact Pugliese Associates today. We have the experience and integrity to get you the results you need.