News Analysis: Lobbyists prepare for session

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ATLANTA - Two months before the General Assembly convenes in January, lobbyists are busy gearing up.

Part of their current job is learning the issues that will be debated during the session and reporting them to their clients or association members for instructions on which stance to take. The monitoring role is important, especially in a period with so many huge issues in play.

Many lobbyists also see their task as being a strategist. Should an unwanted bill be weakened with amendments or killed outright? Should it be fought publicly with newspaper ads, protest marches and letter-writing campaigns or quietly derailed in committee?

As corporate and nonprofit lobbyists plan their strategies, they'll use impressions from committee meetings on issues ranging from the regulation of tanning beds to funding transportation. They've been attending the meetings as much to strengthen relationships as for simply monitoring committee decisions.

At the same time, they're learning the personal agendas of lawmakers. Knowing Legislator ABC cares about job creation and Legislator XYZ is most concerned about traffic congestion helps in formulating an argument for each that emphasizes how a given bill may advance those personal agendas.

Once a lobbying strategy has been formulated, what's the most effective tool for success?

"Truthfulness and candor are absolutely No. 1," said Joe Fleming, lobbyist for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. "Your credibility is about everything you've got."

John Bozeman, a contract lobbyist for GeorgiaLink put it another way.

"In the end it goes to trust. If they're taking a leap of faith in you, they'd better be able to trust you," he said. "They're putting their political careers in your hands every time they trust you."

Working in the rumor mill under the Gold Dome provides opportunities to spread gossip, said Mr. Bozeman, one-time lobbyist for Gov. Sonny Perdue whose clients now include American Express, Georgia Hospital Association and 64 others. Breaking a trust or spreading gossip is as harmful to a lobbying relationship as in any other.

Nearly as important as the relationships with lawmakers are those among each other.

Combined, there might be 350 lobbying targets among 236 legislators, their staff and members of the administration -- all with an interest in a bill. To stay in contact with that many people either takes a team of lobbyists -- sometimes 50 for a major bill with a well-heeled client -- or an informal network that includes occasional tips from colleagues.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com

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