What K Street Does All Day

And what it doesn’t do.

National Journal
Brian Mcgill, Brian Resnick and Michael Catalini
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Brian McGill Brian Resnick and Michael Catalini
July 11, 2014, 1 a.m.

How do lob­by­ists spend their time? Not ex­actly the way their bosses would like them to.

Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s stra­tegic-re­search team asked 95 heads of gov­ern­ment-af­fairs of­fices how they wanted their or­gan­iz­a­tion or di­vi­sion to be al­loc­at­ing its hours—and then asked them to as­sess how the time was ac­tu­ally be­ing spent.

What the team found was that or­gan­iz­a­tions were spend­ing more time than their lead­ers con­sidered ideal on “in­ward fa­cing” and ad­min­is­trat­ive activ­it­ies, such as event plan­ning and cli­ent man­age­ment, and less time on “out­ward fa­cing” and stra­tegic activ­it­ies, such as policy-po­s­i­tion de­vel­op­ment and “¦ ac­tu­al lob­by­ing. On av­er­age, those sur­veyed said their of­fices spend 22.4 per­cent of their time in a giv­en day on lob­by­ing. They’d like them to spend 28.2 per­cent.

Over­all, nearly half of those polled said their of­fices were do­ing less dir­ect lob­by­ing than they wanted them to, and lar­ger firms or di­vi­sions—those with six or more em­ploy­ees—didn’t fare much bet­ter than smal­ler ones: Of those that said they were un­der­in­vest­ing in lob­by­ing, the lar­ger of­fices saw a 9-per­cent­age-point gap between real­ity and their ideal, while smal­ler ones re­por­ted an 11.2-point gap. Those gaps come at a cost: The av­er­age 10-per­son shop is los­ing the equi­val­ent of one full-time lob­by­ing staff mem­ber to work that its top ex­ec­ut­ive con­siders less than crit­ic­al.

So why the time-man­age­ment dis­con­nect? Some lob­by­ists ar­gue that there really isn’t one—that bosses have wrong­headed ex­pect­a­tions about how a shop should spend its days.

One area on which heads of gov­ern­ment-af­fairs of­fices thought em­ploy­ees were spend­ing too much time was trade-as­so­ci­ation, mem­ber, and cli­ent man­age­ment. But the lob­by­ists we spoke to say that’s not a dis­trac­tion—it is a cru­cial part of the job. Some folks spend a lot of time on the Hill, one former auto­mobile lob­by­ist says; oth­ers spend “huge blocks of time” on con­fer­ence calls, re­port­ing to cor­por­ate cli­ents. “If all you have is shoe-leath­er lob­by­ists … that won’t work,” she says. “Cli­ents are very de­mand­ing.” One lob­by­ist whose port­fo­lio in­cludes edu­ca­tion policy agrees. “A lot of your time as a lob­by­ist is ser­vi­cing the needs of people who call you,” he says.

And that’s as it should be, says one health care lob­by­ist: “If any­thing, I think we need to do a bet­ter job of reach­ing out to our mem­ber­ship and hav­ing sub­stant­ive con­ver­sa­tions. We can send out as many emails as we want, but if you’re not hav­ing sub­stant­ive, in­ter­act­ive con­ver­sa­tions, we can’t ef­fect­ively rep­res­ent them or get their buy-in.”

The cur­rent health care land­scape also re­quires lob­by­ists to un­der­stand policy at a dif­fer­ent level, she says: “You can’t ef­fect­ively rep­res­ent your mem­bers un­less you know what’s hap­pen­ing on the ground.” Nor can you bring much to your re­la­tion­ships on the Hill if you’re not well-in­formed. “I think a lot of people can get in the door by name alone—people will be po­lite and ac­cept meet­ings—but in or­der to have a good chance to in­flu­ence policy, or even to be ef­fect­ively heard, one needs to un­der­stand that policy to have a cred­ible voice.”

And speak­ing of man­aging re­la­tion­ships on the Hill, does that count as “lob­by­ing”? Even some lob­by­ists them­selves aren’t en­tirely sure. “If you’re an en­ergy com­pany and you haven’t spent a whole bunch of time get­ting to know John Din­gell, you’ve com­mit­ted mal­prac­tice,” says one to­bacco lob­by­ist. “You want to have some re­la­tion­ship with every sen­at­or, every­one from the South­ern del­eg­a­tion. Is that lob­by­ing? You’re not ne­ces­sar­ily talk­ing about bill A or bill B.” And if you’re in the Wash­ing­ton of­fice of a big com­pany, you’ve got to spend some time main­tain­ing your re­la­tion­ships with Hill staffers. “Every time you go in, you don’t want to be ask­ing for something,” he says.

If the heads of of­fice are in­clud­ing re­la­tion­ship-build­ing in their defin­i­tion of lob­by­ing, then the as­pired-to num­bers “might be right,” he al­lows. But “just say­ing, “˜I want my guy to lobby more,’ is ig­nor­ant without know­ing the con­text of each in­di­vidu­al per­son.” He says he thinks the gap mainly re­flects the av­er­age head of of­fice’s view that “my people should be work­ing harder.” He adds, “That does tell you something, which I’ve known for a lot of years: Most lob­by­ists are “¦ lazy un­less you put the spurs to them.”

The ear­marks ban has cer­tainly af­fected the way K Street does busi­ness, but the to­bacco lob­by­ist says its im­pact has been over­blown. “If you hon­estly think that I haven’t figured out a way around the ear­mark ban, you are not giv­ing me suf­fi­cient cred­it,” he says.

But the way Con­gress op­er­ates—or doesn’t—def­in­itely in­flu­ences how lob­by­ists spend their time. “Con­gress is only in town a couple of days a week,” says the lob­by­ist who works on edu­ca­tion policy, adding that it can be “very hard to ac­cess them.” The health care lob­by­ist says that the op­por­tun­it­ies to lobby dir­ectly—the mo­ments in time, the points of ac­cess—simply di­min­ish the less act­ive Con­gress is. And in its first year, the 113th Con­gress passed few­er sub­stant­ive bills than any Con­gress in the past 20 years, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

In oth­er words, it’s not al­ways simple to find some­body to lobby, or something to lobby on these days. Which leads to more anxious cli­ents, which leads to more cli­ent man­age­ment, which leads to more K Streeters spend­ing less time on the Hill.

For more from Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s stra­tegic re­search team, go to our Present­a­tion Cen­ter.

What We're Following See More »
WITH LIVE BLOGGING
Trump Deposition Video Is Online
13 hours ago
STAFF PICKS

The video of Donald Trump's deposition in his case against restaurateur Jeffrey Zakarian is now live. Slate's Jim Newell and Josh Voorhees are live-blogging it while they watch.

Source:
SOUND LEVEL AFFECTED
Debate Commission Admits Issues with Trump’s Mic
14 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Commission on Presidential Debates put out a statement today that gives credence to Donald Trump's claims that he had a bad microphone on Monday night. "Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump's audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall," read the statement in its entirety.

Source:
TRUMP VS. CHEFS
Trump Deposition Video to Be Released
14 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A video of Donald Trump testifying under oath about his provocative rhetoric about Mexicans and other Latinos is set to go public" as soon as today. "Trump gave the testimony in June at a law office in Washington in connection with one of two lawsuits he filed last year after prominent chefs reacted to the controversy over his remarks by pulling out of plans to open restaurants at his new D.C. hotel. D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman said in an order issued Thursday evening that fears the testimony might show up in campaign commercials were no basis to keep the public from seeing the video."

Source:
A CANDIDATE TO BE ‘PROUD’ OF
Chicago Tribune Endorses Gary Johnson
17 hours ago
THE LATEST

No matter that his recall of foreign leaders leaves something to be desired, Gary Johnson is the choice of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. The editors argue that Donald Trump couldn't do the job of president, while hitting Hillary Clinton for "her intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Which leaves them with Johnson. "Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles," they write, "and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016."

NEVER TRUMP
USA Today Weighs in on Presidential Race for First Time Ever
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."

Source:
×