NOTE: This document is adapted from an essay originally prepared for use by city officials who attended the 1970 Conference on Revenue Sharing, hosted by then-Mayor Richard G. Lugar, Indianapolis. A small ad hoc group which drafted the document was led by Larry Landis (Marketrends' President and American Grassroots' Managing Partner), then an Assistant to the Mayor, and the document was inserted in conferees' packets for use as a "talking paper." The purpose of the meeting was to plan strategy for lobbying Congress to pass legislation creating a block grant approach to revenue sharing with state and local governments. Thirty years later, the strategies and tactics are still useful and relevant.


The purpose of a lobby is to persuade decision-makers to support particular legislation or practices which further the interests of members of the lobby. A lobby has essentially three tools to use in persuading decision-makers to favor its viewpoint:

1. Political and substantive information and arguments on the merits.
2. The capacity to aid the decision-maker's career and lighten his workload with regard to particular policies and/or legislation.
3. The ability to damage or end the decision-maker's career.

In many cases, carefully documented and clearly presented information and clear, logical arguments on the merits are all that are either necessary to win the support of the decision-maker or are advisable to employ in attempting to secure his support. In general, most decision-makers intensely dislike threats and tend to decide against the threatening agent, regardless of the merits of the case, other things being equal.

General Rules

Place yourself in the shoes of the decision-makers.

• Estimate the likely impact of your arguments from his perspective.
• Obtain information on his views, electoral base, nature of his district or state, and sources of any pressures leading him to oppose your position.

What issues (substantive and political) most concern the decision-maker?

• Tailor your arguments and questions to his specific concerns.
• Be prepared to modify the priority of your arguments with questions to be answered in accordance with his responses and any other intelligence on him as it is developed.

Give the decision-maker "yesable propositions."

• Always present him with a specific proposition to which he must either say yes or no.
• Each modification or compromise in your position must be presented to him as a yes or no proposition.
• This technique presses for honest decisions, and deters "waffling."

Rank the decision-makers in terms of importance and probability of support for your position.

• Who are the acknowledged experts on the subject of the legislation? Who are the key members of the appropriate committee? To whom do others look for guidance on legislation specifically?
• How likely is each to support your position?
• Courtesy calls should be made first to those solidly with you to express thanks and ask advice.
• After making these contacts, begin to work on those who are uncommitted and in the middle.

Have a general strategy before you begin lobbying.

• In general, make sure that strategy and arguments do not conflict with strategies and arguments of other lobbyists on your side of the issue, unless something might be gained, such as opening a possible compromise route.
• Determine who the major spokesmen are for you and the role of each member of the lobby. There should be one person or group of persons responsible for adjusting the tempo, cutting others off, breaking off any meeting, responding to "feelers" from decision-makers and so forth, as circumstances might change in a meeting.

There should be a central intelligence center for all proponents of an issue who are lobbying.

• Before each meeting, stop and get the latest information available from the center on decision-makers' positions, concerns and reactions to other lobbyists.
• After each meeting or set of meetings, debriefing should take place at this center.

The initial approach should be to provide information and arguments in support of your position.

• This should include information, whenever possible, on sentiment in the decision-maker's home district or state.
• Often this is useful for decision-makers who are very busy or plagued by staff shortages.
• There should be a presumption in favor of starting on the "high road."

Avoid threats if at all possible; treat decision-makers with respect.

• Threats tend to insult them and to lead them to oppose your position regardless of its merits, or order to maintain the appearance of independence and integrity.
• Only threats which the decision-maker perceives as real threats and which can be fully implemented are even potentially useful.
• Don't make threats unless you have both clear intention and clear capacity, as seen from the decision-maker's perspective, to carry them out. The same is true for promises of assistance.

Articulate clearly to the decision-maker in what specific capacity you speak and your credentials for making your arguments.

• Don't make arguments unless you have the credentials to back them up (technical expertise, political office, etc.,) or you lose credibility.

Give at least as must attention to the key staff person or persons for your issue as you do to the decision-maker himself.

• Key staff members are usually trusted completely and are influential in shaping the ultimate presentation of the decision to the "boss," a fact which will have an important influence on the alternative selected by one decision-maker.
• These persons' advice may be the basis for a decision-maker's opposition.
• You are more likely to get sufficient time for presentation of all ramifications of your argument if you deal with the staff member responsible for the issue. Although the decision-maker will give the amount of time you needed to placate you, and although the more important he perceives you to be, the more time he will give you, this still may not be enough time to explore the issue completely.
• Don't feel you are being put off if the decision-maker does not drop everything to talk with you. Remember that he is as busy as you are, and take advantage of the time to work on his staff.

Give special attention to staff members (majority and minority) of committees responsible for legislation (both authorization and appropriations), and present your arguments to them.

• These staffers do the technical work and generally are highly regarded by the members of the Committee. If compromises are worked out, they may well present the alternatives to the Committee members, and it is to your advantage to have your alternative before them.
• Try to get persons who have worked with these staff members in the past and who are still friendly with them to introduce you. Because of executive/legislative competition norms, this should preferably be a person who is not directly connected with the Executive departments.

Focus first on the committees and members having direct responsibility for the legislation.

• Legislators in particular tend to be procedurally "correct." The Committee system is particularly important to those whose support of any reform legislation is important. Legislators may be jealous of attempts to encroach upon their respective domains, and will be very suspicious of avoidance of established "channels" and attempts to make an end run around the system.
• Generally other members will defer to the final judgment of the committees, though they may try to influence it.

Try to get members of each chamber to do as much lobbying for you as possible.

• They have the opportunity to follow up on your presentation under information circumstances which are not available to you.
• Members react best to the presentations of respected fellow Members.

If you want a Legislator or a staffer to do a particular thing for you, (give a speech, insert a statement in the record, write an article or introduce legislation or an amendment), do as much of this work for him as possible.

• Members' schedules are as tight or tighter than yours.
• Staff shortages are commonplace.
• Having a pre-prepared draft will help induce the Member to say yes to you.

When a key decision-maker opposes your position, consider asking him for a bill of particulars.

• Proper use of the media's interest in the issue can cause him to respond, indicating areas of your proposal which he feels are vulnerable.
• When this information is available, it will aid greatly in the preparation of rebuttal material. You might get a friendly colleague of your opponent to place your rebuttal on the record, but you should always keep his perspective in mind when choosing the best way to approach his opposition.

Preparation for Lobbying

First, master the case against your position on the subject.

• Anticipate and understand the arguments the opposition will make.
• Evaluate, categorize and rank these opposition arguments.
• Prepare rebutting arguments again each opposition argument. The rebutting argument should provide statistical details which will help to bolster your case.

Develop you own general scheme of argument to support your position.

• In general, take the offensive and present the positive case for your position, not the negative case for not accepting the opposition position.
• Be prepared, nonetheless, to rebut some opposition arguments to make your case. When so rebutting, draw the decision-makers' attention to it.
• The precise content and emphasis on your argument should vary for each decision-maker as your intelligence information enables you to determine major concerns for each.

These concerns may be:
Different aspects of the merits of legislation
Derivative of internal politics in Committee or on the floor
A function of district politics

Coordinate with other major groups which will be lobbying in support of your position.

• Meetings should be held with all key decision-makers.
• Iron out conflicts ahead of time. Be prepared for the fact that all legislation or rule-making in support of your cause may not be assigned the high priority you think it deserves, if the agenda is particularly crowded.
• Pool information, and divide work whenever possible.

Develop a general strategy.

• Agree on points of priority and emphasis.
• Determine on whom to concentrate and develop specific arguments tailors to each individual. If an opponent might be more susceptible to lobbying from a group other than yours which is supporting the legislation, pass that information on to the group more likely to make points.
• If necessary, determine what compromises, if any, might be acceptable. Try to draft language ahead of time and prepare arguments to defend them.
• Determine who should introduce the compromises, if they are necessary.

Determine who are to be chief spokesmen and what the roles of others are to be. If necessary to assign roles to persons, make sure that they are settled upon in advance.

Establish an intelligence center and briefing/debriefing procedures.

© 2000, Marketrends, Inc.

American Grassroots Applications for Public Policy and Lobbying