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Direct Lobbying: Everything You Must Know To Do It The Right Way

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Published: Oct 30, 2020

Direct lobbying lets legislators be human. 

A world without lobbying would require public officials to be prophets, experts in a vast range of areas with the ability to foresee the future consequences of their policies. 

Fortunately, that’s not the case. Political lobbying eliminates the need for legislators to have prophet-like abilities by bringing the shortcomings of policies to their attention. That is how change is initiated at the highest level. 

So, what is direct lobbying, and how does it fit in the journey of change and progress? That’s what this post will answer. 

What is direct lobbying?

Direct lobbying is defined as any attempt to influence existing or proposed legislation through interactions with:

  1. Any member (or staff) of a legislative body
  2. Any other government official or employee (apart from a member of a legislative body) who may participate in formulating legislation.

This interaction could be in the form of:

  1. Verbal or written communications
  2. Electronic or social media communications
  3. Attendance at a meeting with a public official
  4. A phone call with the public official

Direct lobbying communications are typically carried out by a representative of an interest group. For example, a lobbyist appointed by an agricultural interest group trying to propose a farm subsidy bill. 

The lobbyist could either be a direct stakeholder or from an independent agency helping out the group. 

What is NOT Direct lobbying?

It’s easy to confuse direct lobbying with other forms of communication with public officials to garner support for specific interests. 

To be considered direct lobbying, interactions with officials must:

  1. Refer to specific legislation – either an existing one or one to be proposed by the interest group.
  2. Reflect a view on the bill – specifically with the technicalities of the bill and what must be changed. 

It is not direct lobbying if communications are unrelated to specific legislations, including: 

  • Attending a meeting with a public official only to provide technical information or provide administrative assistance regarding the interest group activities.
  • When a person schedules a meeting or a call in a purely administrative capacity (even if lobbying is expected to occur in the meeting).
  • Nonpartisan analysis, study, or research that presents all sides of an issue. Such discussions may not lead to a decision favoring the interest group. 

These interactions are not considered direct lobbying, even if they directly or indirectly support it. 

What is direct and indirect lobbying?

While direct lobbying is often used alongside grassroots lobbying (or indirect lobbying), there are a few aspects that distinguish both. Let’s compare direct lobbying vs. indirect lobbying: 


Direct LobbyingGrassroots/indirect lobbying
ObjectiveAn attempt to change an existing policy or propose a new policy by an interest group.  Attempt to bring social, economic, or political change through public influence. It doesn’t necessarily relate to specific legislation. 
How is it carried out? Interest groups appoint a representative (or lobbyist) to interact with officials and change/introduce policies. Using mass mobilization. People take collective action (rallying, emailing officials, texting, etc.) to get the administration’s attention. 
Communication techniquesAny form of direct, one-to-one communication like a meeting, phone call, email, or direct mail. Any form of communication carried out on a mass scale like patch through calls, click to call, social media tagging, etc.
For more insights on grassroots lobbying, check out these articles:
Grassroots lobbying – Effect change through public support
Grassroots advocacy – Definition, strategies, and tools to get started

What does direct lobbying entail? 

For direct lobbying, there are a few critical tasks that lobbyists need to take care of in order to achieve the objective. While the lobbying strategies and techniques they leverage may be different, the end result of these tasks is the same. 

Direct lobbying typically involves the following:

1. Making personal contact with key legislators.

Meeting with legislators you’re trying to persuade in-person is a crucial objective of a lobbyist. A personal interaction helps the lobbyist to:

  • Clearly explain the issue they are trying to resolve and what legislation they are trying to change.
  • Build a relationship with the official or staff member. Apart from helping them convince the official better, a healthy relationship also strengthens their network to help them with future lobbying efforts. 

Emails, letters, phone calls, etc. are ways to make the first point of contact for the final objective of meeting with legislators in-person. 

For more insights on how to prepare for the meeting with the legislator, check out this article: 
How to effectively lobby in person

2. Providing expertise and research results to legislators.

Public officials can’t just take the word of a lobbyist or an interest group and propose a change in legislation. They need proof to back these claims. It is the lobbyist’s responsibility to:

  • Conduct extensive research on the issue with multiple groups and present the findings to the official to support their claims.  
  • Provide expert testimonials to add credibility to their findings. These testimonials, along with the research results, help them make a stronger case to the administration. 

3. Providing legal advice and assistance to legislators.

Since the legislators may not be experts in the technicalities surrounding legislations, they would also need legal help to move forward with the proposal. Hence, lobbyists also have to assist officials to:

  • Draft new legislation to be proposed. This includes suggesting amendments to existing law or creating one from scratch (proposing a bill).   
  • Ensure there aren’t any loopholes to contradict the proposal. Even if there are, you’ll have to guide them on how they can bypass it. 

Direct lobbying is not just about influencing legislators. Lobbyists have the end-to-end responsibility of the process and are responsible for guiding key officials through it. 

Related reading:
A guide to legislative drafting

Direct lobbying communication techniques

1. Personal meetings with elected officials

Personal visits or face-to-face meetings with key legislators are the most common forms of direct lobbying and the most effective.

Lobbyists often leverage their network to get an introduction with the official and then schedule a meeting. Alternatively, they can also try to get in touch with the official over email or phone to schedule a time. 

Pro tips

  • Prepare a “one-page” synopsis of what you want to discuss. You may not get to talk to the public official for more than 15-20 minutes so leave out the fluff.  
  • Get the official’s personal contact information. You’ll need this information to follow-up with them and ensure they are actively working on your issue. 

2. Personal visits to the staff of public officials

If you’re unable to get a hold of the public official, your next best bet is to get in touch with one of their staff members. You can schedule a meeting with them either over a call or through your contact. 

Senior staff members wield considerable power and can push your issue forward to the legislator. Hence, don’t miss an opportunity to meet with them and build a good relationship. 

Pro tips

  • Make sure to discuss all the technicalities of the issue in detail. These staffers can give you more time and attention. The better they understand the problem, the more they may prioritize it and pass it to the official. 
  • Ask them for guidance on the best way to appeal to legislators. They have more insights than anyone and could guide you on crafting the appeal to make it more effective. 

3. Sending a letter/email to public officials

Emails or direct mail are generally used as the first point of contact for direct lobbying. The objective of these letters or emails is to give the official a gist of the problem and your plan to solve it. 

Apart from that, emails and letters are also used to follow-up with officials after a meeting or a phone call. This is to thank them and to make sure they stay on top of your issue. 

Pro tips

  • Keep it simple and focus on critical points. Don’t make the email or letter too wordy. Make sure to use simple terms and save the complex technicalities for the meeting. Explain the potential impact of the issue to get their attention. 
  • If sending a letter, send it as an email too. While direct mail is highly personal and direct, they are often delayed due to security concerns. This, in turn, may delay your timeline. Send the letter as an email also to ensure deliverability. Even if the letter arrives later, it’ll serve as a reminder to the legislator to meet with you.  
Related reading:
How to write a letter to your legislator

4. Phone calls to public officials or their staff

Given that phone calls allow you to have a personal and direct conversation, they are the best alternative to in-person visits. Phone calls with legislators can be leveraged:

  • When you are unable to match your schedule with the officials or their staff for a meeting. 
  • To follow-up after your initial email to schedule a meeting
  • For following-up, after a meeting to get updates on the issue and resolve any further questions. 

Pro tips

  • Prepare a calling script to guide the conversation. It will ensure that you cover all the key points you want to discuss with the official. Also, make sure to practice the call a couple of times and don’t read out from the script. You wouldn’t want to sound like a salesperson narrating a script.
  • Follow-up the call with a text or email to reinforce the conversation. The official may not remember all the key points you discussed during the calls. Send them a written copy to refer to later.  

That being said, here’s what a typical direct lobbying communication timeline would look like:

Direct-lobbying-communication

Direct lobbying challenges

While direct lobbying can help you bring about change, it comes with its own set of challenges that you need to tackle. The two significant challenges with direct lobbying include: 

  1. Accessibility 
  2. Motivating legislators

Let’s understand each of these challenges in detail and how you can overcome them. 

1. Accessibility

The first challenge with direct lobbying is getting access to key legislators. Getting their attention with a phone call or over an email is not easy. They get hundreds of such correspondence, so it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. 

Plus, if they are not as keen about the issue, they can even ignore your outreach efforts, making it harder to arrange a meet. 

Solution 

There two ways you can get the legislator’s attention and get them to schedule a meeting. 

  • Chasing

Quite literally, chasing is the attempt to get a hold of the senator on the fly. Lobbyists often wait around the capitol to catch the legislator when they enter or exit the building or move between houses.  

The aim here is to get put across a few points on the fly and get them interested in the cause. Once you have their attention, it becomes easier to schedule a meeting later. You can try this technique with the legislator’s senior staff members too. 

  • Throwing fundraisers  

Apart from chasing them, lobbyists also gain access to congresspersons by assisting them with campaign finance. Political fundraising is carried out by setting up PACs and seeking donations from people and organizations. 

This helps incumbent members cope with the substantial amount of time required to raise money when they decide to run for office again. This earns you a significant favor with the official and gets their attention. PACs are reasonably easy to set up; all you need is a lawyer and about $300.

Related reading:
How to register as a PAC 

2. Motivating legislators

Another challenge with direct lobbying is that it requires a lot of effort from the legislator. The issue itself may not motivate them enough to put in that effort. 

To get them interested in working for you, you need to offer an incentive. The incentive could be public support, funds for reelection, or anything on those grounds. But lobbyists may not always be able to guarantee that incentive. 

Solution

There are two ways you can guarantee these incentives and motivate officials to change legislation. 

  • Leveraging an influencer 

This could be a celebrity, a community leader, or anyone with a large following who could mobilize his/her followers when required. An influencer would be able to guarantee the support a legislator would need. 

Moreover, influencers may also carry a lot of clout in the office and help you connect with key officials. So, getting influencers on board early on in the campaign is worth considering. 

You could reach out to influencers or leaders who share your thoughts on the issues you’re fighting. Once you get them on board, let them spearhead the interactions with the official, along with the lobbyist, if required. 

For example, Angy Rivera is an influencer leading the efforts for equal opportunities for undocumented youth.

Direct-lobbying-influencer
Source: PRI
  • Luring staffers with lobbyist roles

As mentioned earlier, senior congressional staffers have considerable power and can exert influence over a legislator. Motivating a staff member can be equally effective as encouraging the officials themselves. 

Lobbyists often get favors from these staffers in exchange for the promise of a high-paying lobbyist job after they decide to leave public office. Such a reward usually motivates them to help lobbyists push the issue to the legislator and the administration. 

Conclusion

Direct lobbying is a critical part of the policy-making process in a liberal democracy. It’s only by bringing an issue to the administration’s attention that you can influence policy changes. And direct lobbying is an effective way to achieve that. 

Direct lobbying is a critical part of the policy-making process in a liberal democracy. It’s only by bringing an issue to the administration’s attention that you can influence policy changes. And direct lobbying is an effective way to achieve that. 

Hopefully, the points above help you create a solid plan for direct lobbying and bring change. You could also leverage software to boost your direct lobbying efforts. Here’s a list of the top 10 advocacy software that we recommend. 

Featured image: Romain V

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