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Brian Sullivan’s Guest Blog Post

I asked Brian Sullivan to write a blog post on lobbying. Then, I realized that I needed to write a quick introduction to this guest blog post. So… Brian  came to work at the firm a few months ago, with an emphasis on governmental issues. Even though he is not a lawyer, he has a diverse background in political/oversight/non-profit organization.

He was present at the 2015 Virginia General Assembly and  worked on/monitored legislation that impacted our firm and practice. We sure enjoyed his reports.

I asked him to write a guest blog on lobbying. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did…

From the desk of Brian Sullivan… 

What is a Lobbyist?  You are!

Dinners, trips, gifts and deals.  These are a few of the things you may think of when hearing the word “lobbyist”.  Things aren’t always what they seem in the movies, or even in the news; so what exactly is a lobbyist?

Strictly speaking, in Virginia, a lobbyist is:

“any individual who is employed in any manner or who is reimbursed for expenses, or who represents an organization, association or other group for the purpose of influencing or attempting to influence executive or legislative action through oral or written communication with an executive or legislative official; this includes anyone who solicits others to influence an executive or legislative official.”

That’s quite a broad definition.  However, paid lobbyists aren’t the only ones who are involved in the process.  Anyone who has ever written an email or called their representative is in fact “attempting to influence executive or legislative action”.  By the above definition, “lobbying” even includes soliciting others to advocate as well.  So, if you’ve ever had a heated discussion on a public policy issue, it could be said that you have engaged in “lobbying”.  Congratulations!

As members of a Representative Democracy, it is our right, and even our duty, to contact our elected officials; it’s an integral part of the process.  Not only do our elected officials want to hear from us about the issues before them, they actually rely on it.   While a legislator’s role is to represent a group of people and cast votes based on that representation, the role of a lobbyist is to represent a single or group of interests, and to provide information to support those interests.  The process just doesn’t work without everyone involved.

This year’s session was 44 days, with 2,775 bills, 10+ hour days packed with Committee, constituent and voting session meetings, not to mention the hundreds of daily phone calls and emails.   To say this time is busy, would be like saying Boston got a bit of snow this year!  As busy as the schedule is, the hallways (and especially the elevators) are even busier! On any given day, the building is packed with hundreds of registered lobbyists, and as many non-registered individuals and groups.  It would be safe to say that the ratio is 50:1.

But as hectic as this all may sound (and it is!), as each bill comes up in Committee, the question is always asked: “Is there anyone from the public here to speak in favor or against this bill?”.  More often than not, the side with the most support from the public is the one that prevails.  From time to time, a legislator will even cast a vote based on a single communication from a constituent!

So, do you need access to private jets and expense accounts to get your voice heard?  No.  All you need is the time it takes to make a call, write an email, or even make your way downtown.  Don’t have time for any of that?  Well then……….……just hire a lobbyist!

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