Expert: Political Advocacy
By Eric Stafford, VP of Government Affairs for The Kansas Chamber
Shopping and lobbying share the value of collective effort. Consumers, like the businesses the Kansas Chamber represents, have a stronger voice when working together toward a common goal. The goal of the consumer is to purchase a desired product at the lowest possible cost.
Collaborating alongside peers with the same objective is typically more effective than working on your own, especially at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. The Kansas Chamber has been remarkably successful in recent years securing passage of pro-business legislation because of the cooperative effort of our membership and leaders. Our unified voice at the Capitol on behalf of the business community is significantly stronger than one business owner trying to urge passage or defeat of a bill on his or her own.
Every fall, the Kansas Chamber conducts an Annual Business Leaders Poll to determine what issues are of greatest concern or importance to business owners across the state. This independent poll includes both members and non-members of the Chamber who are selected randomly each year. It is also designed to accurately reflect the industrial and professional makeup, geographical location and average size of Kansas employers.
For example, in 2014, 75 percent of employers surveyed were small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, and 84 percent of respondents had 20 or fewer employees. In the past 12 years, taxes have been the top concern coming out of the poll. Health care and energy costs typically come in a close second or third, especially in recent years.
This poll and other tools give our governmental affairs team a good picture of the current business landscape in Kansas and allows us to effectively advocate on behalf of the business community through one unified voice.
THE POWER OF A COLLECTIVE VOICE
Get Involved No matter your industry or profession, the odds are good that there is an advocate or lobbyist representing you in Topeka. For example, businesses, bankers, teachers, retailers, Realtors®, unions, farmers and even greyhound racing enthusiasts (not kidding) all have registered advocates in Kansas. Lobbyists are vital ingredients of the legislative process. With very few exceptions, Kansas legislators do not have paid staff to help them arrive at informed policy decisions. The role of the lobbyist is to educate and hopefully persuade lawmakers with regard to the impact that a specific piece of legislation will have on a particular business, industry or profession. Find a related professional association or business organization and join them in this effort. As the saying goes, “if you are not at the table, you may find yourself on the menu.”
Engage After you’ve joined the organization or association such as the Kansas Chamber, get engaged! Serve on the legislative committee, working groups or board of directors. Share your successes, failures and experiences with peers and provide input on how the laws and regulations that govern your industry affect you and help provide direction on how they can be improved or even eliminated.
Lobby This is not a dirty word. A basic definition of “lobby” is “the process of influencing public and government policy.” While talking to lawmakers can feel foreign or intimidating, remember that Kansas legislators are not unlike you or your neighbors. You will soon realize they are ordinary citizens serving in the legislature on a part-time basis during the winter and early spring and most have regular jobs to return to at session end. Don’t hesitate to contact them, attend legislative coffees, town hall meetings or even come to the Statehouse and testify before a committee on issues important to you. Legislators value hearing from Kansans directly involved in day-to-day business operations and who are directly affected by state laws and regulations.
Develop Relationships This is THE most important tip. Develop relationships with your elected officials so they know your name and profession. Become their go-to ‘industry expert.’ Never lie. Never mislead them. If you do, expect to lose all credibility under the dome. Saying you don’t know the answer to a legislator’s question but that you will find out is not an admission of ignorance. It’s a sign of honesty and integrity. Find the answer and follow through. Respect is earned that way.
Eric Stafford Vice President of Government Affairs Kansas Chamber