How to lobby for the public policy issues that matter to your company Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2010

It’s a fact: government-related policies affect businesses, from unions and health care to labor law and workers’ compensation. Rather than sit on the sidelines and deal with the outcomes of the decisions made by state and federal governments, it only makes sense that businesses should make efforts to make their opinions known to those who make the policies.

“There are thousands of different points of view from different interest groups, and public policy makers try to take those things into account,” says Elise Spriggs, a director and the chair of the Government & Legislative Affairs practice group at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. “The concern is if they’re not hearing from you then your issue may be forgotten or they might not be aware of it.”

It’s not only large corporations that can have an influence; any company can simply take part in the process. And for those with a greater stake in the outcomes of these decisions, hiring a representative provides the guidance needed to more effectively, and legally, develop relations with government entities.

Smart Business spoke with Spriggs to learn more about what companies can do to make their voices heard on the policies that impact their practices, employees and operations.

What types of companies should concern themselves with including a government relations and lobbying strategy in their business plan?

This should concern most companies that are impacted directly or indirectly by government regulation. This can include such issues as changes to workers’ compensation laws; business taxes; anything related to health care, whether it be in its delivery or employee benefits; environmental regulations; or proposals to regulate current business practices. We in Ohio have an unemployment compensation trust fund problem, in that we’re under-funding it. We’re not yet sure what the outcome of the decisions regarding this issue will be in the future, but it is likely to impact companies when they decide what those changes might be.

Government policy impacts a wide spectrum of businesses. That’s what makes government relations and lobbying so important; it’s basically advocating a point of view.

How might the upcoming elections affect budget disbursements?

As it relates specifically to state elections, the state of Ohio is looking at anywhere between a $4 billion and $8 billion budget deficit going into the next fiscal year, which will start in July 2011. I think the upcoming elections will impact how public policy makers think that they want to address those budget deficits, whether it be by increasing different revenue enhancements through fees or taxes, or if it’s through cuts, collective bargaining agreements or consolidation. The election will impact how public policy makers decide to proceed.

How can businesses lobby effectively?

The key to lobbying effectively is that it involves more than just trying to persuade legislators/government officials. Businesses need to analyze and recognize the impact that current regulations and statutes have on them or how things that are being introduced or offered may impact them. They need to understand how to effectively communicate their concerns. Companies need to start developing relationships with public policy makers, whether it’s on their own or by hiring a lobbyist to do that for them, in order to educate public policy makers on what impacts their business.

Are there certain restrictions companies should be aware of?

You need to be aware of campaign finance restrictions in general. Specifically, if you get some type of government contract, there are going to be even more restrictions that relate to you. When hiring a lobbyist, it’s part of his or her job to make sure that companies are aware and counsel them on what they can and cannot do related to contributions and/or gifts and how to go about advocating their case in a proper, legal fashion.

What are the issues that companies should concern themselves with today?

The biggest issues to impact businesses are changes to the unemployment compensation fund, changes to the workers’ compensation fund and any proposed changes to Ohio’s business taxes as a result of the upcoming budget shortfall. The state also needs to determine how it is going to implement federal health care reform and how it will impact the state and its citizens.

Elise Spriggs is a director and the chair of the Government & Legislative Affairs practice group at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. She also works in the firm’s Administrative Law and Gaming Law areas. Reach her at (614) 462-5451 or espriggs@keglerbrown.com.