The Business of Lobbying | Federico Consulting: A Public Affairs Group
Emma Highfill | Photographer
For many, the common-but- often-misunderstood word conjures up thoughts of men and women in fancy suits and pricey dresses, dining at even fancier restaurants with even pricier wine. For others, the terms “rubbing elbows” and “schmoozing” might come to mind.
The best way to explain lobbying is the way I explain it to my mom. She always asks me, ‘Are you, or are you not, a lawyer?’” said John Federico, president and owner of Federico Consulting: A Public Affairs Group. Federico did indeed graduate from law school, but he immediately began working for a large lobbying firm. Not long after, he left to build his own firm, which became the successful business he still runs today.
WHAT LOBBYISTS ACCOMPLISH
“In any given year, 600 to 700 bills are introduced in the state legislature,” Federico said. “It’s nearly impossible for business owners throughout the state to know what’s going on, so we represent those different companies and associations, and our job is to keep an eye on their interests at the statehouse and make sure nothing bad happens to them.”
What that all entails can vary depending on the organization being represented and the nature of the legislation up for debate.
“In some instances, we do nothing more than serve as eyes and ears on behalf of our clients over the course of a legislative session,” Federico explained. “In other cases, we provide advocacy and prevent legislation from passing that would damage our clients.
“There’s nothing magical about it. It’s simply gathering good facts and data and going over and talking to people.”
THE PRINCIPLE VALUE
Smooth-talking and flattery can be found in any industry or business, and lobbying is no exception. But just because such behavior can make an appearance doesn’t mean that it is condoned or even necessary. On the contrary, Federico says that in lobbying there is one principle valued above all else: trust.
“I would say that ‘influence’ might be the wrong word,” Federico said, in terms of convincing an elected official to see his side of an issue. “It does help if you have relationships, but it comes as a result of a lot of different things. We hope it comes from a position of trust from working with us over the years and knowing we won’t give them misinformation. Just be a straight shooter.”
Now, do lobbyists and political advocates go out to eat with legislators? Certainly, just as a project manager might grab a bite to eat with one of the vendors he’s working with.
“Almost 100 percent of our time we are not talking about legislative issues at lunch or dinner. We’re just getting to know them, and hopefully they’re getting to know us,” Federico said of dining with elected officials. “At the end of the day, any legislator would prefer to hear back from their communities.”
Because of these relationships and open dialogues, lobbying firms are able to advocate quite effectively for the interests of Kansas businesses and associations once the legislature is in session.
Federico Consulting represents 23 clients from across the state. Some are large corporations, while many others are associations and small businesses that need a champion in the statehouse.
“We’re proud of the work we do for CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates), the nursing home industry, and firefighter associations.
“Everyone needs a voice.”
On a personal level, Federico says that lobbying is both challenging and rewarding, and entering his 27th legislative session, he’s seen plenty of both sides.
“For example,” Federico illustrated, “if the legislature is about to pass a bill that will affect nursing homes and senior citizens across the state, we are able to work with that group, go into the state house, have good honest conversations with the people that are making laws or funding budgets, and convince them that they ought to be taking care of the elderly.
“To know the elderly are being taken care of means you’re successful— that’s meaningful. That’s what makes it worthwhile.”
On the other hand, if there’s a major employer who employs thousands of people in, say, Kansas City, Kansas, Federico and his team are able to help make sure the state has good tax policies, which will allow the business to operate and grow and the thousands of workers to keep their jobs.
Of course, when working with elected officials, things don’t always go as Federico would hope. But, that’s just the way it is, he says. All in all, he believes it’s a good system, and one designed to help people.