Why livingroom lobbying may be here to stay


The Investment Adviser Association had scheduled its annual Adviser Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill for June 11, but the coronavirus pandemic changed those plans.

Instead of sending members to meet with lawmakers and their aides about the organization’s policy agenda, the IAA regrouped.

It is trying to determine whether to reschedule Capitol Hill day for the fall —assuming the Capitol itself resumes normal operations — conduct the event virtually or encourage its members to meet with legislators in their home states and districts.

“It’s all so new,” said Neil Simon, IAA vice president for government relations. “We’re all feeling our way around in this new normal and trying to determine how to advocate most effectively.”

Their ability to influence legislation and regulations is one of the primary ways trade associations prove their worth. Over the last several years, they’ve become increasingly aggressive in getting their members involved in directly lobbying federal lawmakers by scheduling Capitol Hill days, which mostly occur in the late spring and early summer.

The Financial Services Institute, which represents independent broker-dealers and financial advisers, had scheduled its FSI Forum and Capitol Hill Day for June 24. Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, instead of storming the Hill in person, FSI is arranging teleconferences for its members.

As of the first week of June, FSI had 64 members registered for its virtual lobbying effort on June 24 and had requested 100 meetings with congressional offices.

“We’ve had to be nimble and adjust our approach,” said David Bellaire, FSI executive vice president and general counsel.

ADVANTAGES OF VIRTUAL LOBBYING

Lobbying by phone – although it doesn’t allow face-to-face interaction that form relationships – does have some advantages.

For instance, more FSI members could participate because they won’t have to take on logistical hassles such as arranging flights to Washington and booking hotel rooms. In addition, FSI members and their Capitol Hill audiences can concentrate more on the phone calls because they’re not running around from meeting to meeting.

“It really gives us the ability to connect our members with their legislators in a smaller and more effective virtual environment,” Bellaire said. “Members of Congress and their staff focus a little more on the meeting they’re having at that moment.”

Outreach to state legislators also is being done differently.

In April, the Financial Planning Association held its New York state advocacy day virtually via conference calls or Zoom meetings with state representatives and state senators, said Josephine Collacci, FPA public policy counsel. The group is determining whether its fall advocacy days also will be virtual.  

The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors’ advocacy days moved online this year. The event included virtual visits Reps. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y. and Tom Reed, R-N.Y. The group did not try to repurpose individual members’ meetings with legislators.

“You can’t replicate bringing member from all 50 states to D.C. in a virtual environment,” said Diane Boyle, NAIFA senior vice president of government relations.

But the group has continued grassroots lobbying through emailing letters and other outreach to members of Congress. In the pandemic environment, NAIFA has balanced “asks,” such as provisions it would like to see in recovery legislation, with offering itself as a resource to answer questions from constituents about small business loans and other financial challenges.

“We’re here to help. That’s been our approach,” Boyle said. “It was kind of a soft rollout. We want to make sure we’re in it for the long game, not just a quick show.”

PANDEMIC RECOVERY PUSH GOES VIRTUAL

Over the last few weeks, the Insured Retirement Institute has been promoting a five-point plan to strengthen retirement security that it hopes lawmakers will include in an upcoming pandemic recovery bill. All of those talks – which totaled more than 90 in early June – have occurred over the phone.

The IAA and FSI are promoting the inclusion of a tax break for advisory fees in the next pandemic recovery bill.

Simon said he’s “been spending an awful lot of time on my phone and on Zoom talking to lawmakers” about the fee deductibility and has gotten a good response. But he said lawmakers are being “inundated” with requests for special provisions.

“We’ve had some very productive discussions,” said Hanna Laver, FSI director of legislative affairs and senior counsel. “The conversations are similar to what I would have on the Hill. You’re just not sitting across the table and reading their body language.”

That lack of personal interaction poses a lobbying challenge.

“They can look you in the eye and know you’re credible and reliable in telling your story to make your point about what you’re asking for,” Richman said.

But after three months of “lobbying from the living room,” there may be no turning back, Boyle said. “I don’t think we flip back to way things were.” Lobbying “is going to evolve.”

Written by Investors Wallets

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