Recess is no time to rest

This is the summer of the Rotary Club pancake breakfast, the political party barbecue, the church picnic and the synagogue dinner.

No, this is not a food review, although any politician will tell you that all those events can easily add to one’s waistline. Rather, this is a note about how we on K Street ought to be thinking of lobbying as the summer recess approaches and members of Congress return home to their districts. Summer, with its relaxed pace, is a time to ease back a bit on the lobbying throttle, right?

Actually, no. I believe this summer’s recess represents the best opportunity we have all year long to make those key connections and build support.

While many of us would like to sit back and enjoy the summer recess, the fact is we need to be mobilizing our local lobbying forces. Obviously, this is an election year, and members of Congress will be back in their districts this summer doing what they can to lock up votes. From a K Street perspective, this means our local association members need to be making all the rounds.

Frankly speaking, this is the time to strike. If you are representing a group that has a strong grassroots constituency, it is a very good time to get your members out to every political and public event. As a former member, I can tell you personally that representatives, senators and their staffs take special note of organizations that make constant appearances at local district events.

Put another way, between now and November is the best time in the two-year cycle to lobby members. They know more than ever that they want your vote.

This means that organizations need to have a “T-shirt message” that can be passed on at every town hall meeting, barbecue or ribbon-cutting. A simple “support our credit unions” or “take care of our firefighters” is enough to make an impact. If a lobbying group stations its members at every event during a public campaigning day, the group will get noticed.

I tell our local leaders there should be someone at every event who walks up to a member and/or staff member and says, “Hey, Congressman, I really hope you’ll support our credit unions.” If that member or staff person hears that message five times a day at various events, they will surely remember that our support is very important.

Of course, one needs to be respectful. There is a time and a place to lobby a member. A church barbecue is fine. An interruption during a church service is something else. I still remember the constituent of mine years ago who started lobbying me right after services in our church parking lot. My wife and I — not surprisingly — did not take kindly to the man’s aggressive and intrusive demeanor.

But yes, public events or scheduled visits are fair game to have a respectful discussion or at least a handshake with a minute to speak about key issues. This is why local association members should call district offices for members’ public schedules. They should read the newspapers daily to know which events will have congressional presence. Furthermore, association chapters should be setting up meetings with members and staff at their local offices. These rules, by the way, also apply when it comes to lobbying incumbent challengers.

I recognize, of course, that many on K Street are mindful of what needs to be done, and they are always working to make sure their voices are heard. But again, it is one thing to make sure one is being heard during the congressional session; it is another thing to make sure one is being heard when the House and Senate are out of session.

As a former member, I know firsthand that a local, visible presence can have a significant impact. One summer during my tenure in the House, I was home for a recess in my Palm Beach County district.

Everywhere I went, from a ribbon-cutting to a breakfast to a lunch, a well-known foreign policy group made sure someone came up to me with a note or a greeting that included, “We really need your help.”

Everywhere — I mean everywhere — someone reminded me that my support was needed. After about five visits in one day, I got the message. And yes, no surprise, the group ultimately got my vote.

My friend the late Tip O’Neill was right then, and he is right now. Politics really is local. It is the voters at home who make or break the member. This is why members will be home this summer, and why our associations will need to be in the home district as well.

Mica is the president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), which represents nearly 8,500 credit unions with 90 million members. Rep. Mica (D-Fla.) served in the House from 1979-1989.