Manifolds, Manolos, and Manure
For years, my mom refused to tell her friends that I was a “lobbyist” for the Farm Bureau. When asked, she’d say that I was helping farmers or that I simply worked for the Farm Bureau.
She, like many people, envisioned “lobbyists” as backroom wheelers-and-dealers who chain- smoked cigars and sipped whiskey while rubbing elbows with the government’s elite. I, on the other hand, don’t drink whiskey and have never tried a cigar. I have, though, sat around a negotiating table and discussed Farm Bureau’s position or advocated for a change to a statute or code.
The old, iconic view of lobbyists is just that, old. Basically every industry employs lobbyists from accountants to heavy equipment operators, from farmers to bankers. The role of these individuals is essentially the same: to advocate for the interests of their members. Having said that there’s a couple of things that lobbyists, Farm Bureau lobbyists included, would like members to know:
Lobbying takes time. There is nothing quick in government. Nothing. Government is designed to be slow. Anyone remember Schoolhouse Rock! and their hit “I’m Just a Bill”?
I'm just a bill. Yes, I'm only a bill. And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it's a long, long journey to the capital city. It's a long, long wait while I'm sitting in committee, but I know I'll be a law someday, at least I hope and pray that I will, but today I am still just a bill.”
Government is designed by the Constitution and chamber rules to be slow. It may take years for an idea to even be considered in committee.
Lobbying isn’t a desk job. Information is the most important currency a lobbyist ever deals in. Much of lobbyists’ time is spent in or around meetings. And not to be cliché, but sometimes it’s just as important for lobbyists to “be seen” by legislators and legislative staff as it is for them to engage with them. This goes directly to the next point.
Lobbying doesn’t fit in a typical eight-hour workday. Legislators are in Springfield or Washington, D.C. for a limited time, so lobbyists must be available during that same time to squeeze in as many meetings as possible. When I worked in Springfield, it wasn’t unusual for my day to begin at six a.m. with paperwork and a meeting over coffee and to end after committee and an evening reception.
Given that lobbying takes time, it comes as no surprise that sometimes the results of the effort aren’t easily seen. When’s the last time you saw a news conference about an idea that never got pursued or a bill that was held in committee?
Yes, it may take years for that bill sitting on Capitol Hill to become law, but Farm Bureau’s advocacy on issues is critical. Without individuals willing to contact legislators there would be no one protecting Farm Bureau’s interests.