Advocacy Corner

Advocacy Playbook: The Lobbyist

Advocacy is only successful when all involved work as a team, and an important member of the team is the legislative lobbyist. All dental organizations utilize this important point person to successfully maneuver the legislative landscape to craft bills, make contacts, navigate the court of public opinion, and get bills through committees and onto the governor’s desk for signature. Can advocacy be effective without the lobbyist? No.

What are the qualities that a lobbyist in the dental world must have to be effective?  Lobbyist requirements include expertise of the world of dentistry and health care; knowledge of dentists and their relationships with the public and third-party payers; knowledge of the particular legislative processes, procedures, rules and calendars in the state of the dental organization, and excellent judgment, communication skills and overall political gamesmanship.

Lobbying the legislature on dental matters is not a quick process, and knowing when to act and react is a very important skill of a successful lobbyist. Timing necessitates a highly developed understanding of the political process, both formal and informal, by which the specific state legislature goes about its calendar and caucuses. The dental lobbyist must conduct their business on behalf of the dental organization at the right time and place and be aware of not bypassing important influential players in the process.

Persistence is critical to a lobbyist’s success since there are often many detours and obstacles strategically placed to give a bill an exhaustive examination on the way to obtaining passage. The lobbyist’s day often consists primarily of emailing, texting, phone calls and waiting. The successful lobbyist must have the patience to wait for meetings and hearings that often don’t start on time and for long agendas of unrelated items within a committee to be completed.  

The lobbyist has a “treatment plan” that must be followed to obtain the desired outcome.
The first aspect of an effective lobbyist’s approach to any dental matter is to diagnose all the issues of the bill and the players involved.  Who has a stake in the outcome? Why do they care about the issue? What can the dental organization present to them so they will respond and why? How does the bill relate with other issues?  This is where many lobbyists take a wide view of the legislative agenda for the year.

After taking into account the diagnosis, the next step is analysis and assembling the players i.e. a legislator to be the author of the dental bill, a legislative staff member, well connected dentists and affiliated dental organizations with a common interest.

A keen knowledge of legislative processes, procedures and rules is necessary but not sufficient for success. Looking at the totality of forces potentially at play and how they all interrelate, the dental organization and lobbyist must create a “treatment plan” in collaboration.

In the case of a sponsored dental bill, the “treatment plan” is essentially a guide that will navigate the dental organization from introduction of the dental bill to final signature and passage. The “treatment plan” includes strategies for dealing with dental partners and opponents; developing best scripts in favor, and rebuttals to counter-arguments, of the dental bill; identifying the best dental team members for the various appearances before the legislators; and how to manage the media. Even with the best “treatment plan” (including unforeseen events), the advocacy effort is still likely to be subject to detours and obstacles placed in the path of a successful outcome. The “treatment plan” must include the flexibility to re-evaluate and address additional options to successfully complete the procedure.

The last part of being an effective legislative advocacy team, with the lobbyist as the point person and those selected dental team players ready to perform, is the ability to implement the comprehensive “treatment plan” that was formed taking into consideration all aspects of the dental bill. This execution will NOT be a sprint, but a marathon through the legislative obstacle course, involving many hours of texts, emails, phone calls, meetings and waiting.  And if the dental bill doesn’t receive a reading or make its way out of committee or is defeated, then it is time to reassess and review the outcome. The performance of all the players of the legislative advocacy team should be evaluated and make the necessary changes for a successful result the next time.

L. Jeffrey Lowenstein, DMD

Legislative Correspondent