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Three Ways to Lobby

How do you lobby correctly and in an orchestrated manner?

Would it surprise you if I told you that the top 5 defense companies by revenue score one-third of all defense acquisition dollars? What if I told you half of all defense acquisition dollars goes to just 40 contractors? Both facts are accurate, as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics. Where is your company (by contract value awarded) on the list of defense companies registered in the System for Award Management (SAM)? Do you know how many millions of companies vie for defense acquisition dollars? Are you fully participating in the process to gain purchase in what appears to be an imbalance of opportunity? How well do you understand the playing field on which you are selling to the federal government? If your stomach is a bit queasy from the questions, my book “Pitching the Big Top: How to Master the 3-Ring® Circus of Federal Sales” might help you refine your approach.

For now, I’d like to explain one tool every one of those 40 contractors above use with significant effect. They know how to lobby correctly and in an orchestrated manner.

Lobbying is accomplished broadly in three ways: firm-level lobbying, contract lobbying, and coalition lobbying. Each has a purpose and can help achieve desired ends. High visibility scandals of the past still leave some with the impression that lobbying is a dark practice wrought with risk and bad actors. The facts reflect a far different landscape. Lobbying touches most aspects of your life. During policy decision-making, multiple views undergo review before a final decision comes to pass. This dynamic generally happens in both the executive and legislative branches of government.

I’ll explain each very simply.

Lobbying is accomplished broadly in three ways: firm-level lobbying, contract lobbying, and coalition lobbying. Share on X

Firm-Level Lobbying

Firm-level lobbying occurs by “in-house” employees who work for a company and focus their energy on external messaging and the influence of legislation and policy. Influence, as used here, broadly describes paying attention, making sure the company’s situation and the story are understood, and trying to support and achieve public policy outcomes that best align with the company’s objectives.

Contract Lobbying

Contract lobbying occurs by individuals or groups of individuals hired to perform those same influence functions an “in-house” employee might accomplish. This type of lobbying is cost-effective. A company doesn’t maintain the loaded cost of employees for a function that might not serve a full-time need. Further, contract lobbyists can devote more time to building relationships and information currency across a wide swath.

Coalition Lobbying

Coalition lobbying occurs by large groups of people linked by a common interest. Examples can be as prominent as AARP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or a large union, where millions of people participate (knowingly or unknowingly). On a smaller scale and more specific to the defense industry, it can be an industry association or a group of suppliers who support a particular program.

All three forms of lobbying have existed in the United States since its founding. Lobbying picked up speed during the 1920s when President Coolidge spoke the memorable line (paraphrased here), “the businesses of America is business.” As federal government regulations doubled and then quadrupled through the 1960s, lobbying became a widely recognized way to influence, shape, defend, and participate in the development of legislative and policy positions.

Lobbying is subject to a regulating regime of which I have written previously. It’s essential to understand the laws that govern each type of lobbying. Lobbying reforms have been a recurring theme over the past 25 years. In 1996, the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) required specific reporting of lobbying relationships; who represents whom or what, and for what compensation? In 2007, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) strengthened lobbying rules, notably surrounding gift-giving, expenses, and political giving. In 2011, an earmark moratorium severely curtailed the ability of Congress to direct funds to individual entities. In 2021, a rebranded version of earmarks is now available under the moniker Community Project Funding that allows Congress to direct funding toward local concerns except for for-profit companies.

Understandably, those not close to the regular back and forth of the policy process have limited lobbying knowledge. If one knows of the extraordinary stories of a few bad actors reported with great zeal in the media, one might have no reason to look further.

On September 15th, I released my second book, Make Your Move – Charting Your Post-Military Career. This book shares the story of my career to date, and is written to support military professionals who are facing a career transition. All proceeds from the book will go to the Freedom Fighters Outdoors, a charitable organization supporting injured veterans. You can read more and order your copy of Make Your Move – Charting Your Post-Military Career here.

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