One of the most critical things for a lobbyist to get right is the lobbyist-client relationship. This is something my colleague Ray LeBov and I have written about before and the most important advice we can impart is that expectations need to be set early by both parties – what does the client expect from the lobbyist? What does the client need or want?
Sometimes those questions are easy and clear. Pass or defeat a specific bill, for example. However, there are other times where it may be less clear. In other instances, maybe they want to increase their presence or develop certain relationships. At a minimum, the client expects to be treated with respect, to be kept apprised of all major developments and to not have a lobbyist who has a conflict in representing the client.
There are a number of obligations to the client that can be found in the Institute of Governmental Advocates Code of Conduct. First, the lobbyist has definite ethical obligations to a client to be truthful, to follow the law, to protect any confidential and proprietary information that the lobbyist obtains. Second, the lobbyist should be an effective representative for the client. She or he must have knowledge and confidence throughout the legislative process when representing his or her client.
The lobbyist’s goal should be to under-promise and over-deliver, as Ray likes to say. Do not set unreasonable expectations or suggest the ability to achieve something that cannot realistically in fact be achieved. That does not bode well for a successful engagement between the lobbyist and her or his client. And when it comes to major decisions, remember that the client is the ultimate boss. It’s their money and interests at stake.
Some clients are located in, or frequently visit, Sacramento and may want to be much more involved in the lobbying effort whereas others never come to Sacramento, and some the lobbyist may never even meet face to face. Regardless of the location or the level of involvement of your client, the lobbyist needs to educate the client about the legislative process, about the personalities, about the policy and the politics, and of course, what the client should expect throughout the legislative process. The more the client understands what is happening under the Capitol dome, it’ll be better for both parties to this engagement.
You can find the transcript audio in this post here.