Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Which Pink Unicorns to Watch During Debates on the Fiscal Cliff

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, made the shocking revelation today on NPR's Morning Edition that pink unicorns do not exist and neither does a potential sequestration deal that would significantly raise taxes.  As the author of the "no new taxes" pledge that, in the 112th Congress, all but 6 Republican members of the House and 7 members of the Senate signed, his views carry some weight.  Although many in D.C. believe that tax increases on at least some portion of the population must be included in any fiscal cliff deal, there's been no wave of defections, as of yet, from Norquist's pledge.

This matters because it means that the partisan impasse that has plagued Congress over the last few years will continue for the next few weeks.  Remember, the members of the 112th Congress are still the ones calling the shots, not the newly elected 113th.

Let's look at the raw numbers for efforts to pass a deal:
  • 218 votes are need for any deal to pass the Hous
  • The Republicans hold 242 seats for the remainder of 112th (far more than needed)
  • Of those 242, 236 have signed the "no new taxes" pledge (again, more than needed to support passage of a deal)
  • 51 votes are needed for a deal to pass the Senate floor (or in the case of a filibuster, 60)
  • The Democrats hold 53 of those seats (including the Independents) for the remainder of the 112th
  • Of the 47 Republicans in the Senate, 40 have signed the pledge (i.e., 1 vote shy of the votes needed to break a filibuster)
It may seem like too much math, but these numbers, along with the tax pledge and the President's strong message that any deal must include tax increases on the wealthiest of Americans, lay out some interesting scenarios.  They seem to suggest that everything could boil down to the decisions of a few key Republicans in the House and Senate -- those who did not sign the tax pledge.

So who are these about to be inundated legislators?  According to the Americans for Tax Reform site, they are:

NY-24 Richard Hanna
GA-07 Rob Woodall
PA-19 Todd Russell Platts
VA-01 Rob Wittman
VA-10 Frank Wolf
KS-03 Kevin Yoder

IN-Sen Richard Lugar
IA-Sen Charles Grassley
ME- Sen Olympia Snowe
ME- Sen Susan Collins
MS-Sen Thad Cochran
WY- Sen John Barrasso
ND-Sen John Hoeven

And remember, again (I promise it will be the last time I mention it), even though some of these people will be leaving, they are still sitting members and will be part of the upcoming negotiations.

It's going to be hot and heavy in the next few weeks -- particularly in these offices.  I feel sorry for the staff.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving: The Recipe for a Perfect Meeting

Thanksgiving is an annual event where families come together, share stories, grow closer and stuff their face. Minus the stuffing their face part, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Thanksgiving and Lobby Days. Lobby Days are an annual event where advocates come together, share their stories on Capitol Hill, and build relationships with Members of Congress and their staff. Furthermore, the various components of Thanksgiving dinner can be used as a metaphor for the perfect congressional meeting (yes, these are the things I think about). Here’s a breakdown of how you can use everyone’s favorite holiday meal as a guideline for your upcoming Lobby Day:

1)      The turkey is the “ask”. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if we didn’t start with the turkey (or tofurky for you vegetarians out there). The turkey is the highlight of the dinner, the centerpiece that makes it Thanksgiving. If you take the turkey out of the equation, the rest of the dinner is almost pointless. This is why the turkey is just like the “ask” in your congressional meeting. You can have the most productive, friendly, informative meeting, but if you leave that office without asking your Member of Congress to do something specific then you have just wasted your time. Legislators and their staff have a lot on their plate, including taking time to meet with constituents like you, so unless you ask them to do something tactile they will likely shake your hand as you leave and then forget all about you.

2)      The stuffing is your story. The turkey might be the most important part of the meal, but the stuffing is always the fan favorite. At least in my household, the stuffing is the most enjoyed part of the meal and is usually what everyone leaves the table still talking about. That’s why the stuffing is like your personal story. Members of Congress and their staff want to meet with their constituents for one reason—they want to hear your personal story and how you are affected by what they do as a legislator. Leaving out your personal story would be like leaving out the stuffing in Thanksgiving dinner—the staffer will feel underwhelmed and unfulfilled.

3)      The green beans are your hard facts. Green beans certainly aren’t as popular as stuffing when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. That said, they are a necessary supplement that help to complete the meal. This is why green beans are like the hard facts of your congressional meeting. Not everyone loves eating their veggies, and not every staffer loves dealing with figures and percentages. Still, they need to be included in your meeting as a way of backing up whatever it is you are asking for. Using numbers effectively to show how a certain policy will affect you, your business or a large number of people in their district will help you to drive home the “ask.”

4)      The pumpkin pie is your follow up. Hours have passed, the football game is on, you’ve taken a little tryptophan nap, and you’re almost fully digested. By now you’ve almost forgotten that you ate this huge, delicious dinner—but wait! Suddenly it’s time for pumpkin pie, a reminder that Thanksgiving isn’t over yet. Pumpkin pie is like the follow up in a congressional meeting—you want to make sure the meeting isn’t forgotten without any action taken. It’s important to continue to build your relationship with a congressional office throughout the year, and you can start by following up a day or two after your meeting with a “thank you.” In the weeks ahead, make sure to send over any information you didn’t have in the meeting that you said you would get back to them on and remind them of your “ask.” This is a good foundation for maintaining contact throughout the year and developing that relationship further. Congressional staff always appreciate follow up, and I always appreciate pumpkin pie.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving/Lobby Day preparation meal. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Lame Duck Session Begins

Official Page

A week has passed since the election, and five House races still remain uncalled. You can view full election results and 113th Congress member list here. As the votes continue to be counted in these races, Congress returned to work today in what could be the busiest lame duck session in recent memory.

The most pressing issue confronting the 112th Congress continues to be the impeding fiscal cliff, a collection of automatic budget cuts and tax increases that will take effect in January and that could have a major negative impact on the economy. In a recent article, Politico outlined five scenarios in which this crisis can be resolved. In addition to the fiscal cliff, Congress still has to deal with payroll tax cuts, unemployment benefits, disaster assistance, and the farm bill.

Although this is a busy lame duck session, it is essential that your issues remain relevant to legislators and that you begin to prepare your organization’s advocacy strategy for the 113th Congress. Advocacy Associates partners Jason Jordan and Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru, will be featured in the second free webinar in the series “Winning, No Matter Who Wins” on November 15 at 3:00pm. The webinar will provide post-election analysis that will help you understand the new dynamics of the 113th Congress and what you can do today to be better prepared to get results in the next Congress.

For more details, visit the official page or register here.  

***Follow Nick on Twitter

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Phrase "Open Government" is NOT an Oxymoron

Happy Birthday!  The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) is now five years old.  But has it made government any more open or honest?  Many people might say “uh, no.”  In fact, most people would say “no.” and the George Washington School of Political Management recently released a report (available at that looks at this question from the perspective of lobbyists.  Survey respondents do, in general, believe that HLOGA has greatly increased the amount of information available to the public and decreased the ability of lobbyists to impact legislative decisions (an outcome the American people seem to want). 

I’m sure you greet that statement with a fair amount of skepticism.  But do you really KNOW that hasn’t happened?  It’s in vogue these days to say that it’s impossible to learn what special interests are doing in D.C..  Before you say that (or even think it), go to the lobbying disclosure database at or the Sunlight Foundation at  I promise you’ll learn more than you want to about who is lobbying for or against what.

Projects to increase government openness -- like the Sunlight Foundation, (a site that tracks campaign contributions) and (a site that tracks information about Congressional staff) flourished after the passage of HLOGA.  Indeed, many of these organizations were instrumental to their passage.  So before you get all outraged about the lack of transparency, go see what’s out there.  And check out who is lobbying for the issues you like as well as against them.  You might be surprised.  It’s not all corporations and business interests.  Many lobbyists are representing day-to-day interests – and they need your help to make a difference.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Post-Election Lobby Day Preparation

As election results continue to flow in, there are already some things you can be doing to prepare for your lobby day next year (not that you don’t already have enough on your plate):
  • Develop a strategy for new members of Congress. While it is too early to determine how many new members will be joining the House, there will be at least five new members in the Senate (possibly six), as well as six (possibly seven) members shifting from a House seat in the 112th Congress to a Senate seat in the 113th. It’s important to make sure your advocates are aware of these changes and are as prepared as possible to meet with new members and their staff. Guide your advocates to the resources that will help them research their new members, such as to look up campaign contributions. Show them how to look up a member’s record if they were once a governor or member of the State Legislature. If you have any advocates who have good relationships with the staff of a House member turned Senator, ask them to reach out to their connections to congratulate them.
  • Prepare for updates on the logistical side. If you schedule meetings for your advocates in-house, keep in mind that office locations and phone numbers for members of Congress are going to get moved around. If you don’t subscribe to a service like KnowWho, you will need to manually verify phone numbers and office locations as you schedule meetings (which can be a huge pain and time-consumer).
  • Begin the registration process. With your advocates freshly amped-up over the elections, you have an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot and increase participation for your next lobby day. If you aren't ready to begin actual registration, reach out to your membership with some helpful advocacy tools and include a plug about your upcoming lobby day to generate interest. 
***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Monday, November 05, 2012

How a Candidate Could Win the Popular Vote but Lose the Elections

I come neither to praise the Electoral College nor to bury it. I come to explain it. I get this question about the popular vote versus the Electoral College because, really, it makes no sense. In a democratic system, how could someone get more votes than another person but still lose? The simple reason is that the United States is not, contrary to popular belief, a true democracy. It is a democratic republic where citizen representation is based on a carefully crafted balance of federal and state rights.

The Electoral College is an important element of this balance, along with things like, well, the Senate.  It exists because the founding fathers believed that the best way to protect citizen rights is to both protect the rights and enhance the power of state governments. The way it works is that the states, not individuals, choose their candidates for President, and have as many votes as they have representatives in the House and Senate total. This approach was taken because state governments were seen as closer to the people and perhaps more understanding of the unique needs of that state. In addition, focusing the power to elect the president at the state level rather than on population gives states with smaller populations a slightly more powerful voice.  

How does that work?  Let’s look at Wyoming.  With about 568,000 people, Wyoming houses about .18% (yes, that’s point 18) of the 312 million people in the United States.  Yet with three electoral votes, Wyoming has about .5% of the overall votes in the Electoral College. Sure, .18% and .5% don’t seem like a big deal.  But the Electoral College gives this state over 2X the power it would have had based on population.  By contrast, California, with 12% of the population has just over 10% of the total votes available in the Electoral College. The differences may seem slight, but the intent is clear – to ensure that states with smaller populations have a proportionally louder voice than they would otherwise have.
How does that translate into the “popular vote versus the Electoral College” brou-ha-ha?  Let’s look at a specific example.  

  • The state of California has approximately 37,692,000 residents and 55 electoral votes.  
  • The state of Texas has 25,675,000 and 38 electoral votes.  
  • If Romney were to win 19,000,000 of the 25,675,000 votes in Texas (not going to happen, but let’s just imagine), he’s win the popular vote in that state and the 38 electoral votes
  • If Obama were to win 18,900,000 of the popular vote in California, he’d win the popular vote in California and its 55 electoral votes.  
But look at the differential: Romney has 100,000 more votes than Obama, but has still lost in the Electoral College. While this particular scenario of CA and TX is unlikely, it is illustrative of the overall potential in the 50 states.
Love it or leave, that’s how the Electoral College works – or doesn’t.  So stay tuned for all the fun tomorrow night!

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Fine, Don't Vote. But If You Don't Vote, Don't Whine

  •  My vote doesn't make a difference.
  •  It doesn't matter who wins. They're all the same.
  •  My candidate definitely will / won't win so why bother.
  •  I'm a conscientious objector to our democratic process.
  •  The lines are too long.

Yep, I've heard just about every excuse in the book for not voting.  And, frankly, I'm fine with all of them.  It's your choice. But if you choose not to participate in voting, you choose not to be effective in the rest of the process.  Think of voting as just one tool in the "effective influencer's" toolbox (which also includes citizen advocacy, lobbying, protests and, yes, even financial support for a candidate).

That said, those who vote wield far more power than that which comes from a simple hammer or nail.  President Lincoln had it right when he described ours as a government "... of the people, by the people and for the people."  "Of," means citizens make the choices through voting. "By" means those elected are chosen from among the citizenry.  And "for" means the choices elected leaders make should be in the best interests of "the people."  You'll notice Lincoln didn't say of, by and/or for the people.  Democracy is a package deal.

Certainly many, many, many people believe that elected officials aren't living up to the "for the people” part of the bargain.  I’m not ever going to convince a hardened political cynic that’s not true.  However, I continue to be mystified that the response to that for so many people is to abandon their responsibility on the “of the people” side of things.  What’s the alternative?  Government “at” the people?  We see a lot of that in the world and it’s not working out so well.    

That said, if you don’t want to vote, then don’t.  But later, please don't contact your elected officials or the President with any of the following messages:

  • I can't believe you didn't fund my favorite government program
  • I can't believe you continued funding that stupid program
  • I can't believe you're going to impose this tax
  • I can't believe you aren't going to extend this tax cut
  •     ... or whatever policy or funding issue you’re outraged about

Personally, I think we'll have a stronger and more responsive system of government if we all participate.  Not voting sends the signal that we really don't care how things turn out.  And maybe you don't.  But if that’s your perspective, than really don’t care -- even when things aren’t going your way.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.