Most industries are the subject of reports about the effectiveness of the various players. Why would the lobbying industry be any different? Let me introduce you to Bloomberg's quarterly report on the Best-Managed Lobbyists in the government sector.
We're going to look at the third-quarter report from 2015, and it starts by laying out the challenges of the current DC.
For lobbyists, Washington is growing more complex and more competitive. Lobbyists say their clients are more sophisticated. Clients expect more, despite there being fewer opportunities to influence legislation. Competition, lobbyists say, is intense–and growing.
Bloomberg notes that (in a sign of These Tough Times) that out of 1300 lobbying groups, only 22 are Bloomberg certified awesomesauce proficient performers who exceed expectations.
To be influential, firms need to be savvy about how they use information to get ahead. “There was a time when personal relationships were the only thing that mattered,” Greg Nickerson of the #1 ranked Washington Tax & Public Policy Group tells us (page 4). “Those days are gone.”
So what does the report tells us about these days. Well, there's a list of the top ten issues for which lobbies were filing (that's out of 79 possibilities). Budget is #1, followed by taxes. Number ten on the list? Education. So we're still in the lobbying world's top 10. Which begs the question-- why are so many lobbying firms lobbying education, and who are they lobbying for?
Whatever they're up to, it's not cheap. Bloomberg ranks the top ten industries on lobbying spending, and "Education Services" comes in at number three with $16.8 million spent on lobbying in just the third quarter.
The report rates the best of the lobbying world, based on four criteria (remember, relationships aren't enough any more)--
Growth (are they making more money every year?)
Accretive growth (they need to be getting more money from each client every year)
Client retention (can't just be churning up every year)
Employee profitability (keep talent happy and productive)
Says Tony Costello, Bloomberg's head of lobbying product and analysis, notes, "Quite frankly, these are the criteria you would track for any kind of business." Let's keep that in mind the next time someone is talking about treating schools like businesses.
The report also includes some brief interviews with leading lobby guys. Here are some choice moments.
Greg Nickerson: I truly believe the single most important factor to success in this business is earning the trust of your clients and of members of Congress and their staffs.
Matt Keelen: Lobbying has gone from “what can you do for me as a firm over the next several years” to “what have you done for me this week.”
Steve Clark: Lobbyists help clients understand, and effectively influence, the full range of politics and policy, whether it be lobbying, fundraising, agency expertise, coalition building, grassroots or working with press and media.
Dan Fans: We believe lobbying today is simply shorthand for a person who can provide solutions to diverse, complex issues in a proactive manner while dealing with unforeseen variables pretty much 24/7. Lobbyists provide critical information to policymakers that allow them to be better informed on the issues, which is coincidentally why lobbying is one of the few professions enumerated in the Constitution.
David Lugar: The biggest misconception is that somehow the profession is this awful group of people. But, during many legislative battles, the lobbyists help to give an honest assessment of how a particular policy might affect the economy and/or employment in a particular district or state. Often times one of the lobbyists might be one of the few with institutional knowledge. So in general there are a number of beneficial things we offer to the process.
Lugar makes me wonder-- what lobbyists in DC know anything at all about actual education? Making money from education, perhaps. The corporate ins and outs of benefitting from education policy, probably. But actual education? I suppose it doesn't matter. Nothing in this report suggests that top quality lobbyists actually do legwork, study and connecting with people who really know the business. Just keep making more money.