Whole, 2%, Skim: Legislators like it all

Peter Schrappen On Watch

I would forgive you if you do not know the name James Unruh. He was the former California state treasurer who coined the expression that “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” The thinking is that money in politics provides the nourishment candidates need.

That begs the question: Can you tell me more about lobbying and boating? When questioned about how lobbyists fit into the United States’ representative democracy, this gaggle will recite chapter and verse that their occupation is part of the U.S. Constitution. (First Amendment: …the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.)

On a more practical level, lobbyists represent various interests. You can name the group, and they probably (or should have) a lobbyist. To that point, in 2015, there were 915 groups that had registered lobbyists laying claim to some part of the 3,704 bills introduced that legislative session.

That number means that 147 Washington lawmakers may get quizzed at any point on 3,700 different ideas that made it into bill form. No easy chore for a part-time legislature and a chief reason that lobbyists have value to lawmakers: Lobbyists provide the Reader’s Digest executive summary of the bills to lawmakers.

If lobbying is all about sales, which is my belief, then the techniques that leads to successful salespeople of traditional products translate here. At their essences, lobbyists take complex ideas and sell them in a language this is meaningful for lawmakers. The best way to harness energy from a bunch of (let’s say boaters) is start where the lawmakers are, not where the lobbyist and boaters are. One quick way to do this is to provide a financial contribution at these legislative “sales visits” (excuse me, meetings).

This very experience happened to me the other day when I was invited by two recreational fishing lobbyists (Coastal Conservation Association and Fish Northwest) to visit with two key legislators about sportfishing policy. The state wants to increase fishing licenses. We want more fishing opportunities and this meeting (and campaign check) was the perfect time to deliver this message. Okay, more perfect would have meant that we were at a physical sportfishing business to reinforce the point that sportfishing isn’t just about relaxing and vacationing, it’s also about the thousands of jobs that depend on this activity.

OWPullquote_oct16Ah, that brings me to the money part. The Legislature is graded by the leaders of their party and by their peers by how much money they can raise. Keep in mind that incumbents win over 90 percent of their re-elections. Rarely is money used to win the lawmaker’s race with whom you are visiting. Instead, this donation is just “pass through” to the overall party structure. Money from Legislator X’s bank account is donated to the party (Republican or Democrat) and that money is then invested in tight races, swing races, and open seats.

And the amount of currency (curro = to run) flowing around the system staggers the mind. In 2014, the last election when the entire state House and half of the state Senate ran, lobbyists and regular citizens donated $26.8 million to their favorite candidates. This year, to no one’s surprise, means more of the same. As this issue goes to print, candidates have raised $17.9 million.

Okay, that’s all well and good, but how does that affect boating? Well, depending how you look at it, it’s good news that organizations like the Northwest Marine Trade Association, Northwest Yacht Brokers Association, and recreational fishing groups like Coastal Conservation Association and Fish Northwest are pooling our resources to have a bank account (also known as a “PAC” or “Political Action Committee”) that totals over $100,000. The lobbyists of these groups are regularly trading intelligence to ensure that we are supporting the candidates who most need our help and the safe incumbents who hold the prized committee chairs. There’s always a long list of legislators that we want to support but there’s only so much money.

The NMTA and the other organizations have transitioned from “peanut buttering” the donations (meaning that we spread the donations thin around to as many lawmakers as possible) to a targeting approach where we pick a few champions and shower them with love (okay, money) to thank them for a job well done. And it’s this money that elected officials want, so they’ll take the meeting to learn more. Without the money, our collective schedule would be much less hectic this time of year.

Given how close the state Senate and House are, it’s vital that we are coordinated. With so much power that could shift on election day (November 8, both the House and Senate are in play), we better be calculated and coalesced around priority legislation and legislators.

Peter Schrappen

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Peter Schrappen currently works for the Northwest Marine Trade Association as their Government Affairs Director and the Clean Boating Foundation as their Executive Director. Additionally, he serves on boards of the Boating Safety Advisory Council, the Washington Boating Alliance and the U.S. Superyacht Association.

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