Here’s why would-be presidents court us

During the past couple of months, there has been an increasing level of news coverage detailing K Street support for 2008 presidential candidates. Why are so many presidential candidates quick to announce the support of influential lobbyists? Why do the campaigns spend so much time and energy wooing those who work on K Street?

The answer: Lobbyists operate every day at the nexus of policy, business and politics, and have much to offer a presidential campaign — previous campaign experience, policy expertise and connections to the business community and the media.

• Campaign veterans. Many lobbyists have a deep understanding of what it takes to run a successful campaign. Either they have been candidates themselves, or they have served as senior campaign staff. Charlie Black, who recently announced his support for Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDemocrats hammer Trump for entertaining false birther theory about Harris Trump rips Bill Maher as 'exhausted, gaunt and weak' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The choice: Biden-Harris vs. Trump-Pence MORE (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 campaign, has been involved in every presidential campaign of the last 30 years. Campaigns have helped shape who lobbyists are professionally, and they understand that if you want to govern, you must win at the polls. It is impossible to implement policy priorities without winning campaigns. Recent political history is littered with campaigns that had plenty of money, but didn’t catch on with the voters. Or policy giants who failed to connect sufficiently with the electorate to win on Election Day.

ADVERTISEMENT
The key is finding the right combination, and focusing a candidate and his or her campaign on the policy, communications, funding and grassroots activities it will take to secure a victory at the polls. Surrounding yourself with the right advisers who have been with other winning and losing campaigns can help a candidate make adjustments. Importantly, the advice of campaign veterans can help candidates avoid the disastrous decisions that could lead to electoral defeat.

• Policy expertise. Because the vast majority of government-affairs insiders worked for years in the federal government, honing policy expertise on Capitol Hill or in the administration before joining the business side of town, they have expertise in policy. Naturally, lobbyists would want to continue helping candidates who share their fundamental public-policy views and are open to their ideas on current policy matters. In addition, many have worked at public-policy think tanks in the past, where new ideas are constantly debated, and so their ties to the intellectual side of Washington can help bolster the policy shop of a campaign.

• Money. It’s estimated that top-tier presidential candidates will need to raise at least $50 million dollars this year; if a candidate would turn down matching federal dollars, he or she would need to raise roughly $300 million between now and the general election to finance a winning campaign. Not only does it take a lot of time to raise that kind of money, but it will have to come from a number of sources. Because lobbyists work with business leaders on a daily basis, they are uniquely situated to help candidates with campaign fundraising. Fundraising is something they are used to doing for elected officials whose policies they support, and lobbyists understand the necessity of raising money in the current political system.

• Buzz. As a function of their profession, K Street insiders communicate with corporate and business leaders on a daily basis, providing counsel on policy and political matters. When a candidate has respected K Streeters saying positive things about him on Wall Street and among other corporate leaders, the business community becomes increasingly comfortable with that candidate. As more and more credible lobbyists signal support for a candidate, business leaders can have greater confidence in the future decisions of the candidate and the belief that his decisions will be advantageous to the economy.

• Generating media interest. Through years of political and policy activity, many government-affairs professionals have built relationships with influential members of the media. In short, lobbyists are a rich source of background material and insight. As the campaign progresses, and reporters search for information and details to place in their stories, the opinions held by key lobbyists on policy initiatives of a particular candidate may inform news coverage.

ADVERTISEMENT
• Caution. And though K Street support is important, candidates must be aware that perception can quickly become reality. If a candidate’s main power base is on K Street, he runs the risk of being painted a Washington insider — a part of the problem. Balance is key. At the same time candidates work to gain K Street support, they must be careful to also look outside the Beltway for policy ideas, fundraising, and grassroots backing. One mistake many people in this town make is to believe that they have all the answers.

The fact of the matter, as shocking as it may seem: Not all the answers to the world’s problems are found inside the Beltway. This is a truth that the electorate knows inherently, and doesn’t need to be reminded. Candidates would do well to remember this as the race heats up.

Vin Weber is chief executive of the business, government and public-affairs consulting firm Clark & Weinstock. He is policy chairman for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) 2008 presidential campaign. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1993, representing Minnesota’s 2nd congressional district.