By Bob Miodonski
of Contractor's Staff
ARLINGTON, VA. — Lobbying members of Congress should be part of every contractor's business plan, lobbyist Michael Graham said April 18 at the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Leadership and Legislative Conference '07 here.
"If you don't tell members of Congress what you want, they will decide it for you," said Graham, quoting advice from former U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood of Georgia who died this year. "Either do it, or they'll do it to you."
Graham, a lobbyist for the American Dental Association, gave PHCC members practical advice on how they should interact with members of Congress and their staff:
1. Be early for your appointment. "Don't be on time — be early," Graham said. "Never leave a staff member of a member of Congress waiting."
2. Pick one person to be the spokesman, if you're going in a group. This person should take one minute to give an overview of what the group's issues are.
"Pick three issues," Graham said. "At the end of the meeting, staff will ask: 'What's your No.1 issue? Then, what's your next? Then, what's your next?' They want you to leave happy, so they'll pick one they say they can do for you."
3. Tell a story. The job of the other people in the group is to tell a story that will leave an impression on the staff member after the appointment ends.
4. Be brief. "Do it all in five minutes and rehearse what you want to say with the group," Graham said. "Their attention span is extremely short."
5. Don't argue, either with the member of Congress or among the group. Constituents should be polite and stay away from arguing at all during the visit.
6. Let them talk. "After your five minutes, guess what? People in Congress like to talk," Graham said. "Give them the opportunity to respond on how great they are and how they can solve your problem."
7. Put it all in a leave-behind. One sheet of paper should contain the group's position on an issue.
8. Send a follow-up letter. This could be the most important part of the visit, Graham said.
"If they ask you a question that you don't know the answer to, it gives you a golden opportunity to get back to them," he said. "Now you have a dialogue with someone that you want to have a dialogue with."
9. Don't write a check for less than $200. Federal election laws require that checks greater than $200 must be recorded.
"And you want it to be recorded," Graham said.
10. Give a staff person the same respect, which you would give a member of Congress.
" Staff is very important, but it doesn't take the place of the relationship you need to build with the member of Congress and staff back home," Graham said. "You've got to do more than visit once a year. You have to have a relationship back home."
11. Present your solution to the problem. Constituents should not just present the problem. The member of Congress or staff will ask for their solution as well.
"It's fantastic that you're here for the democratic process, but it is essential for your business," Graham said. "These are the people who will decide what will happen to you."