What Business Owners Should Know about Lobbying

by Rana Lashgari

What do you picture when you think of a lobbyist? Perhaps an older gentleman, with a slick suit, power walking down a marble hallway in Washington, D.C., flanked by a team of big-money corporate executives congratulating each other on the deal they made on the golf course? Most people have a Hollywood idea of what lobbyists do; they have no idea what the day-to-day work of a lobbyist looks like.

The reality may come as a surprise.

Misconception: Only big companies can afford lobbyists.
The reality: Big companies often have a budget for government relations because they’ve seen the importance of remaining politically active and advocating at the highest levels of government. But an advocate at City Hall is an important asset for businesses of all sizes. Whether it’s a local business trying to land a government contract or a small momand-
pop shop trying to rezone a new storefront, a lobbyist can help the business owner understand the process and the players and customize a strategy to maximize success.

Misconception: Lobbyists work in Washington, D.C
The reality: While there are federal lobbyists, the most impactful and often ignored opportunity for advocating is at the local level. Even national companies suffer when they fail to understand the political dynamics of the local community they are operating in. Not only do local government regulations represent the bulk of the regulations a business and its employees encounter in their day-to-day operations, local municipalities can also be a great source of additional resources to aid the business in nontraditional ways.

Misconception: The only people who need lobbyists are the ones doing business with the city.
The reality: The scope of businesses, policy groups, community groups and politically active individuals that can benefit from the advocacy of a professional lobbyist is far larger than people initially imagine. A good lobbyist will not only connect a business owner with the appropriate decision makers, but will develop a comprehensive strategy encompassing guidelines, draft language, educational outreach to the right individuals and the right messaging to ensure success.

Working with a Lobbyist
Constituents and constituent groups should have access to the same level of advocacy as large corporations. If they see something happen in their community that they think can be improved, a lobbyist can help them develop the strategy and advocate for the changes they seek.

The following are some nontraditional examples of situations where a lobbyist can help:

  • A nonprofit that is looking for partnership opportunities with the city, whether for financial grant support, other public resources, potential sponsorship opportunities, city-owned land to build space at a discount, public notice networks to expand their visibility, or inviting the mayor to an event to boost media coverage.
  • A neighborhood group with concerns over such things as speeding vehicles in their neighborhoods, graffiti, inappropriate development or other public safety concerns.
  • A business affected by a specific regulation in an unfair manner hoping to amend the regulation or change the policy.
  • An entrepreneur with a new idea to improve a service a city provides.
  • A future candidate wanting to build the right relationships and understand the political lay of the land.
  • A national corporation with a robust lobbying team, that knows nothing about the local politics or personalities.
  • Businesses who want to forecast out one, three or five years, depending on demographic or investment shifts in city spending.

In the real world of local lobbying, too many businesses are relying on an antiquated understanding of what lobbyists do and how they can help further their business goals. A lobbyist with expertise in your community can help you better navigate the current political climate, which is intrinsically tied to the local business climate; develop support for your agenda; connect you to the right decision makers; shortcut red tape to avoid potential complications; and remove barriers inhibiting your success. In fact, your competition may already have one.

Rana Lashgari is president of Arizona Municipal Strategies, LLC, a leader in municipal lobbying, procurement and government relations. Advocating for people and organizations is a longtime passion. Lashgari’s unique background as an attorney, former prosecutor and political staffer gives her a competitive edge over a traditional lobbyist. She draws from her wide range of experiences to master the intricacies of her clients’ cases. Having worked at the municipal, county and federal levels, she has accumulated a network that spans Arizona at every level of government. Her depth of knowledge and reputation make her a go-to consultant for politicians, campaigns, community groups and businesses looking to succeed at the local level.

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