Believe It or Not, Lobbying Is a Profession
Professional lobbying is, in fact, a profession. Yes, I said it! Just like any other profession (dentists, teachers and yes, even lawyers), professional lobbyists are governed by a professional code of conduct. Lobbyists are also known as “Governmental Affairs” personnel—I believe as a way to get away from the negative stigma that goes with being called a….*cue scary music….lobbyist. But no matter what you call them, professional lobbyists play a crucial and important role in ever level of our American government. So, love them or hate them, professional lobbyists all deserve to be assessed based on facts and not myths. So this article is designed to put some of those myths to rest from my perspective as an “insider”, an elected official.
Now, I cannot speak for any other state, but in Georgia, lobbyists are a valued resource for those of us in the Georgia legislature for information. In the past few years, we passed sweeping ethics legislation that deepened the transparency and ethical standard for lobbyists (I know because I voted for it.) So I hope this article helps to dispel a few myths that many in the public believe about professional lobbyists and their profession. I feel a personal obligation to set the record straight because I am not only going into my 5th term as a legislator—but also because I wanted to be a lobbyist right out of law school.
Now, at the end of reading this article, you may think I am way off base and continue to believe these myths. That is certainly up to you. However, I wanted to give a perspective that probably hasn’t made it mainstream about the importance of this profession and the work that I see them do each day. (I have a private program later that helps give out accurate information as well—so keep reading!)
Before I begin, I must caution you (as every good attorney does): This is NOT an exhaustive list of all the misconceptions and myths about the professional lobbying industry—but I do highlight the ones I think are most prevalent in the media and public. Enjoy and consider with an open mind.
It’s Just Not True: Myths #1-#5
Myth No. 1: Professional lobbying is just a hobby.
Uhhh–no. Lobbyists are people who spend countless hours and energy working for their clients on a particular issue or industry. Like others in a professional environment, they have a professional and ethical obligation when it comes to their jobs. Unlike most in other professional environments, they are there with legislators until midnight on the longest days of the Georgia legislative session and work around the clock, it seems, during the 1st three months of our legislative session. They are answering calls, texts and emails at all hours of the night to work through an issue for their client or research information to provide to a stakeholder. Believe me—their work seems anything BUT a hobby. With a hobby, you can choose when you want to engage in your hobby; professional lobbyists don’t quite get that flexibility. For most professional lobbyists, lobbying is 100% of their livelihood and how they provide for themselves and their families. No part-time, half-hearted efforts here!
Myth No. 2: Professional lobbying is a unethical, immoral profession.
Listen, I cannot speak for EVERY lobbyist just as I cannot speak for EVERY lawyer as a lawyer. But the ones I have the pleasure of working with are some of the most outstanding, ethical and hard working people I have ever known. And I get that the media sometimes wants to highlight to worst in lobbyists or a few bad players. But the question that I will ask is this: Have you gotten to know any professional lobbyist on a personal level? They are humans just like you and I and they understand the negative connotations that come with being called a lobbyist. However, consider that there are bad actors in EVERY profession, even churches,for example, the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal. I’ve had the pleasure (read: misfortune) of being a lawyer AND politician. So I hear all the fun jokes about each of those professions. But I have never worked with more honest, ethical and transparent people—well 90% of them anyway. And that’s the truth!
Myth No. 3: You need a law degree to be a professional lobbyist.
You don’t need a law degree if you are interested in being a professional lobbyist. Now, to be honest, it certainly helps since you are talking to people who make laws. Not to mention the critical thinking skills and automatic credibility that comes to most people when they have a law degree. But more than a degree, you need to KNOW people. Relationships are everything in business but it is particularly important in politics. This is why I developed the program I will tell you about at the end of this article—to develop relationships. While it’s probably true that a good number of professional lobbyists have higher degrees such as a law degree or Master in Public Policy, it’s not necessary. Even law firms with Governmental Affairs divisions hire non-lawyers to work in those departments. So no need to go through 3 years of pain to be a professional lobbyist. I’ve already done that for you!
Myth No. 4: Professional lobbying is easy.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Most people say to me “I could lobby. You just talk to people right?” Wrong. More than talking, professional lobbyist are persuading. And they don’t just show up and start talking. There is a lot of research and background work that goes into preparing to talk to a policy maker. Most people forget the work that goes before taking a legislator to lunch or calling a legislator to the ropes outside chambers to advocate for a position. I am certain every elected official isn’t the easiest to deal with either, given the propensity to develop a bit of an ego once elected. So professional lobbyists have to manage egos and legislative research at the same time. Additionally, the process of passing legislation is not as linear as most people were taught in their high school text books. There are surprises, detours and crafty maneuvering in any piece of legislation and lobbyists have to be prepared to deal with that and constantly adjust. On top of all of this, the professional lobbyist still has a client or several clients they have to deal with on a consistent basis. I’m certain lobbying during our legislative session is like drinking water through a firehouse while babysitting 2 year old twins. This ain’t easy!
Are The Myths True?
Well, here is your opportunity to find out. I mentioned that I develohttps://goo.gl/forms/cDkHjcX9d2yq7MRt1ped a program that may interest you if you read this article this far. It’s called the GA P.A.T.H. (“Providing Access to The Halls”) Program. I developed it after wanting to see more minorities and women as professional lobbyist at the Georgia State Capitol. This program is not associated with and unaffiliated with my legislative office or the State of Georgia but it’s a unique, one of a kind program in the state of Georgia. The 1st class graduated last year with twenty (20) alumni and applications are now open for our 2nd class, the class of 2019. We currently have thirty-seven (37) professional lobbyists as mentors of this 7 month program. Applications are due Aug. 31st at 5:00 pm EST so check out the webpage and apply!
NOTE: There are 2 events on the webpage to learn more- Aug. 14th at 6:30 pm is an Interest Call and Aug. 15th at 6:00 pm is an in person “Meet & Greet” in Atlanta.
I am Chief Diversity Activist and Consultant of Kendrick Advisory & Advocacy Group, LLC. I serve as a board member of the Technology Association of Georgia’s corporate development society, Co-Chair of the Policy Committee for the National Association of Women Business Owners—Atlanta chapter and co-chair of the Education committee for the Georgia Diversity Council. Additionally, I am the founder of a non-profit, Minority Access to Capital, Inc. as well as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives since 2011.
I practiced private securities law for over a decade before this transition to more meaningful work. I was featured in the Huffington Post as 1 of 25 People Poised to Scale Atlanta’s Growing Technology Start Up Ecosystem for Black Americans and Beyond.