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Top Ten Things Your Board Needs to Know About Government Affairs

Top Ten Things
Your Board Needs to Know About Government Affairs
by Ariella Herman, Associate, Turner Government & Public Affairs

It’s an old adage that business just doesn’t like government interference. However, often the government may already have a law or legal scheme in place that may have a negative impact on your bottom line. Sometimes a government agency delay is keeping you from meeting your deadlines or a prime contractor is requesting your legislative support. Other times, lobbying and government affairs can help you solve a problem your Board and your lawyers can’t.

Here is how to make Government Affairs work for you.

1. Know that there are many ways to run a Government Affairs Campaign
Government Affairs encompasses a large range of activities, from passively monitoring legislation to actively advocating for a piece of legislation or a position. These activities can be done in a variety of ways, from a simple call to a legislator, to a full-blown grass roots lobbying campaign. An assessment needs to be made as to what makes sense for the Company.

2. Understand the Corporate Benefit
There are many ways a Company can benefit from Government Affairs, from increasing its knowledge about what’s happening on the Hill to building its own reputation in the halls of Congress, finding solutions to business problems, correcting an injustice, expediting regulatory requests and taking defensive actions to competitors actions and procuring profitable government contracts, grants and earmarks. Many companies now have government relations departments and counsel. They are quite aware of methods to slow down government approvals to the detriment of their competitors. This may take the form of an investigation into the company or an inquiry into tax, environmental or antitrust issues. The desired corporate benefit must be determined before any government affairs campaign is undertaken.

3. Know the Elements of a Good Program
Every Government Affairs program, no matter how large or small, needs balance, fairness and integrity to be successful. In terms of balance, it is critical that both sides of the issue are addressed or else positions and arguments will be dismissed as being too “heavy handed.” In terms of fairness, facts and figures must be accurate and reliable or the Company will be viewed as an untrustworthy source. In terms of integrity, to put it simply, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to read about in the Washington Post the next day.

4. To Capitalize on Success, it is Critical to Understand the Details of your Program
The relative strengths and weaknesses of the Company’s position needs to be assessed. Research must be done on current law, pending legislation and the momentum or strength of any such pending legislation, including the number of sponsors, strength of the sponsors, bi-partisanship, committees & leadership support. There may be natural alliances to your position and the formation of a coalition should be considered. Likewise, it is important to figure out who, if anyone, will lead an opposition. The company’s legislators and the committees they sit on will play in important role.

5. “Beware the Savvy Lobbyist”
It is important to be aware of and know how to use essential internet government affairs tools. Thomas provides legislative information from the Library of Congress and a search engine for pending and past legislation, among other things. An internet search can be done of lobbying registrations and activities as well as campaign contributions. There are services that provide ongoing and comprehensive news and information on Congress, politics & policy and of course, never underestimate the importance of a Google search.

6. Integrate the Program with your Corporate Goals & Objectives
It is essential to ensure that the Board and management of the Company is aware of the Company’s Government Affairs program and goals. While the CEO should have the ultimate authority on any program, legal, marketing and public relations need to have a say. There must be unity in the message the Company is conveying on the Hill with what the Company is doing in the trenches. Scheduling monthly or even weekly conference calls among pertinent players is key to keeping everyone up to date. The absolute worst thing that can happen to your program is find out that someone from the Company unknowingly undermined the Company’s position.

7. Determine who has the Ultimate Authority and Responsibility
Government affairs is the station where all trains meet. It affects the actions of the CEO, General Counsel, outside Counsel, Marketing, Sales and Public Relations. There needs to be a point-of-contact in the Company who will represent them all and interact with the government affairs firm and legislators on the Hill.

8. Set up Metrics to Measure your Success
If the Company is monitoring, can it access information in a timely fashion? If they are advocating for legislation, has the law passed? If they have taken defensive action, have they successfully thwarted their competitors actions? Metrics can also be measure along the way, for example, the bill should be introduced within six months, within the next six months there should be ten co-sponsors, etc. If you’re meeting your metrics, things are going well, if you aren’t, the program may need to be altered.

9. Adhere to Governing Laws
It is imperative that the company adhere to the laws governing lobbying activities. These regulations cover everything from registration with Congress to campaign contributions and gifts and meals for legislators and their staffers. Recent events in the industry have led to new reforms and reporting requirements which went into affect January 1, 2008.

10. Be Prepared
Always expect the unexpected. The halls of Congress are an exciting place. It’s likely you will run into a Senator or Congressman in the elevator, you will need to be quick on your feet to get their attention. Congressional staffers will surprise you with their youth but don’t underestimate their intelligence and “know how.” Always approach legislators and staffers with a one page position paper, written ask and follow-up request. Send a thank-you note, prepare to compromise, and remember, government affairs is a marathon, not a sprint.