Decision Vision Episode 133: Should I Engage in Lobbying? – An Interview with Jennifer Grundy Young, Technology Councils of North America (TECNA)
What is lobbying and should businesses be involved in it? Jennifer Grundy Young, CEO of TECNA, helped break down lobbying with host Mike Blake, why and when it’s necessary, what makes for effective lobbying, common misconceptions, and how businesses can use it for their benefit. Decision Vision is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Technology Councils of North America (TECNA)
TECNA represents approximately 60 IT and Technology trade organizations that, in turn, represent more than 22,000 technology-related companies in North America.
TECHNA empowers regional technology organizations and serve as their collective voice in growing the North American technology economy. They strive to deliver valuable services to member organizations fostering collaboration, innovation, and the exchange of ideas.
Jennifer Grundy Young, CEO, TECNA
Jennifer Grundy Young is a seasoned association executive with an extensive background in representing organizations that serve the advanced manufacturing, technology and life sciences industries.
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the Decision Vision podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
Decision Vision is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the Decision Vision podcast.
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Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:21] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:42] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols. If you’d like to engage with me on social media with my chart of the day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator, and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Mike Blake: [00:01:18] Today’s topic is, Should I engage in lobbying? And it might seem like a strange topic for a business podcast, but not when you look at the numbers. According to CNBC, lobbying is now a three-and-a-half billion-dollar industry. That’s a larger industry than many industries venture capitalists will put money into. So, it’s a big deal.
Mike Blake: [00:01:42] And, of course, lobbying gets a lot of attention in the political arena, generally bad. If you want to win votes, you bash lobbyists, right? That’s just sort of the way the political game goes.
Mike Blake: [00:01:55] But on the other hand, the amount of lobbying that goes on continues to grow and become ever more sophisticated, ever more pervasive. So, somebody out there must like it and must think that it serves a useful purpose, or we wouldn’t be experiencing that.
Mike Blake: [00:02:14] And so, you know, in particular, since I have a background in technology, I think lobbying is interesting because technology companies, generally speaking, have been very late into the lobbying game. I think Silicon Valley and the companies born out of that, such as Microsoft, and Apple, and Facebook, and Amazon and so forth, I think really for a long time have thought themselves, frankly, to be above lobbying. That it was simply a practice that was beneath them.
Mike Blake: [00:02:49] But we’ve seen them really pivot on that over the last ten years as there have become increasing concerns about privacy. There have been increasing concerns about monopoly market power, worker conditions, and so forth, use of foreign labor. All of a sudden, those companies as well have decided that they’re all about lobbying.
Mike Blake: [00:03:12] And, frankly, I don’t understand lobbying. I’ve never been a lobbyist. I’ve never engaged in it, at least not to my knowledge. But I think it’s something that many companies are thinking about. And, you know, I suspect there’s a surprise or two in this conversation, because there may be some companies that have dismissed lobbying, but may already be doing so indirectly and didn’t even realize it. Or realized that lobbying may be something that they should consider and maybe something that’s much more in their reach that they previously imagined.
Mike Blake: [00:03:47] And helping us out today is Jennifer Grundy Young, who is a seasoned association executive with an extensive background in representing organizations that serve the advanced manufacturing technology and life sciences industries.
Mike Blake: [00:03:59] In her current capacity, she serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Technology Council of North America or TECNA. TECNA represents 66 technology trade organizations from across the United States and Canada that collectively represent more than 22,000 technology related businesses. In this role, she is tasked with advocating on behalf of the technology industry as well as creating a platform for the members of TECNA to share best practices.
Mike Blake: [00:04:25] Prior to joining TECNA, she served as Director of Policy and Public Affairs for Life Sciences PA, which is a statewide association that advocates on behalf of Pennsylvania’s diverse medical device, pharmaceutical, and life sciences related industries. While there, Ms. Young worked closely with the Pennsylvania General Assembly to create policies and make the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania the best place for a life sciences business to start, grow, and thrive.
Mike Blake: [00:04:51] And Pennsylvania is a place that’s near and dear to my heart as a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. And then, for a year in Carlisle, which is down the street.
Mike Blake: [00:05:00] Miss Young gained her initial public policy experience serving as an aid to U.S. Congresswoman Melissa Hart, who represented Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District and served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. In her free time, Ms. Young is an avid runner and is an active volunteer and mentor in her community. She graduated from Westminster College and lives in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania with her husband and two boys. Jennifer, welcome to the program.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:05:23] Thanks, Mike. It’s great to be here.
Mike Blake: [00:05:26] So, I want to start very basic here, because I’m not sure that I know what lobbying is exactly. I mean, I have an idea of what I think it is, and I freely acknowledge at the start of this conversation it may be completely inaccurate. So, at a minimum, please educate me and perhaps some of our listeners out there, what is lobbying exactly and how does it work?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:05:50] Well, it’s a big word. I think it encompasses a lot of things. And it really is anything. It is engaging in an activity where you are seeking to influence policy by influencing the policymaker, whether that’s somebody in the administration or a legislator. So, someone who’s actually crafting or has power over policy. And so, that’s who you would be lobbying. And that’s guaranteed in our First Amendment in the Constitution to do so.
Mike Blake: [00:06:20] And so, why does it occur? What purpose does it serve? And why has it become, at least economically, such a big deal?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:06:31] Well, kind of taking it out to a 30,000 foot view, the Federal Government is, to start with, the largest purchaser of goods in the world. And so, a lot of times you will hear about companies or entities lobbying for government contracts or for things like that. The government typically has a say in just about everything you do. How fast you drive on the road, whether you wear a seatbelt. What time you can purchase a glass of wine in a hotel lobby. Whether you’re allowed to drive a car. Whether you’re allowed to purchase a gun. Whether you’re allowed to wear shoes in a store or not. So, there is a lot of overarching into your life and into business.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:07:23] And so, typically, people lobby out of an interest that they have and perhaps seeing something different that is currently happening. Or to put something on the books or in regulation or in law that would be better to make things better through their eyes.
Mike Blake: [00:07:42] Perfectly candid and I imagine you’d agree with this, at least from afar, lobbying doesn’t have necessarily the greatest reputation, right? I’ve never seen a politician speech start out with, “Won’t somebody please think of the lobbyists? What about them?” You just don’t see that, right? But, nevertheless, it persisted. And I suspect that it probably persists from the earliest days of the republic and maybe even before. Therefore, it must serve some good purpose.
Mike Blake: [00:08:12] I simply refuse to believe that after 235 or 236 years or so, depending on when you think the country started independence or constitution, we’ve had ample opportunities to get rid of it. We’ve chosen not to. What is the useful purpose that lobbying serves in our society that it is able to persist in spite of the reputation that it generally holds?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:08:36] That’s a great question. So, lobbying has become kind of a necessary evil. And it’s not really a necessary evil. Actually, lobbyists are very useful and when used correctly, which they more often than not are. They serve a very important purpose in the government. So, take anything that are constitutionally recognized representatives, all of our representatives are not experts in everything. They’re not experts in health care or taxation. You might have a handful that’s an expert in foreign policy or trade. Or down on the state level, even all the way to a lot of what’s going on with COVID-19, with restrictions, and with the restaurant business.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:09:21] And so, when they’re looking to make policy, when legislators or regulators or administration officials are looking to make policy, oftentimes, they will reach out to those bodies first and say, “Here’s what we’re thinking -” we’ll use one that everybody knows – “- we want to raise the speed limit in Pennsylvania -” I used Pennsylvania. I’m based in Pennsylvania “- from 65 to 70.”
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:09:47] So, in that, you’re going to have the special interest groups. You might have the triple AAA saying, “Let’s do it. You know, we’re going to get more people on the road. Let’s get it up to 70. We’re going to a lot more people going.” The Restaurant Association is going to say, “Definitely. We want more people to come to Pennsylvania.” They’re going to be lobbying for it. And then, they may call the emergency responder, the EMS, and say, “Is this a good idea?” And they say, “No. Because this, this, and this. And these are the reasons why. And these are the real data points as to why.” Or they may call the car manufacturers and say, “Can the cars sustain that kind of speed over time?”
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:10:24] A really good example of this is something our organization specifically is working on right now, which is around highly skilled immigration reform. I mean – my gosh – talk about a humongous bucket of, probably, next to the tax code, I think, the hardest policy that exists out there is immigration. And, you know, when you think of immigration, you can think of about 50 things. It could be the border. It could be people coming in to work at a vineyard. It could be people coming in to work at hotels. It could be your neighbor who came to work as a software engineer at a company down the street. So, it’s humongous.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:11:03] And one of the issues the United States has currently is highly skilled immigration reform. We don’t have enough software engineers in this country to fill holes that we need to fill. So, our companies can’t hire any more American software engineers because there aren’t any more. We’ve hired them all. The colleges can only produce so many. They’re all gainfully employed. So, we need to find more in the world but we can’t bring them in legally right now because there’s a cap on the H-1B visas. Well, a lot of our elected officials don’t know that.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:11:35] So, they require lobbyists to go and say, “Here are the data points. Let me explain to you why this is important specifically to the tech industry. And here is the debating argument.” And they’ll bring people in that talk about that. And so, oftentimes, they are very important because they are the facts. The people who are able to relay the information. They’re actually the specialists in the industry.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:11:59] So, they get a bad name when the opposing force is saying the opposite and somebody else wins. And so, it’s easy to make an enemy out of the very same people that you are and say, “Well, it was the lobbying. It was the outside interest group that was doing it.” Well, there was an outside interest group that was pushing it the other way, too. And so, it’s an easy target, like lawyers.
Mike Blake: [00:12:24] And business appraisers, too. So, you touched on something that I actually want to pause on and dig in deeper. Because, you know, for example, raising the speed limit – I’m dating myself. I’m old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan basically put a cap on the speed limit – no. That wasn’t the speed limit. It was something else. It was the drinking age, that’s right. He withhold federal funding in order to make sure the drinking age stayed at 21, basically.
Mike Blake: [00:12:58] But in your case, you know, there’s one side that people driving faster means they’re more likely to drive a longer distance to patronize my business, whether it’s retail or restaurants, entertainment, whatever. And then, there’s the other side, as you mentioned, the paramedics that don’t want to scrape people off the pavement. And they’re pointing out the people who drives at higher speeds are more likely to get into an accident. I’m guessing. I haven’t seen the data. And when they get into one, it’s probably worse than when it happens.
Mike Blake: [00:13:25] So, when two lobbying groups kind of square off, how do you handicap who’s going to win? Is it more charisma? Is it more persuasive an argument? Is it showing that you have more votes behind you? Is it something else and not even thinking? How does one side kind of win over the other?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:13:53] That’s a really good question. A lot of it is, typically, who is in the majority in the legislature. So, you’ll know when certain issues are going to get done and be taken up because they’re popular among a particular political party. And that’s the time to do certain things you want to do. If you want to lower taxes, the time to go about that is when the Republicans are in control.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:14:22] Immigration reform is a great example. We’re looking to do that right now. We have an audience with a lot of the chairs of the committees who are in charge of that, because that is something that the Democrats on the Federal level are more in favor of. So, you know, that plays a big part of it.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:14:40] Also, how much money is it going to cost? Is it going to cost money? Is it going to cost the government money? Great. If it’s going to cost money, then you better figure out how to pay for it, too, as part of your argument. And if it’s going to bring money in, typically, people are pretty excited about that. You know, in the government, they’re going to be excited. Whatever you’re proposing or advocating for is going to bring money in, that’s usually an easier win than something that’s going to cost money. So, those are, typically, handicaps right out of the gate that you have something either on your side or not on your side.
Mike Blake: [00:15:10] Now, are lobbying organizations such as yours, are you guys permitted by law to make campaign contributions?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:15:18] Yes.
Mike Blake: [00:15:19] You are. Okay.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:15:21] It’s a tax status depending on what your tax registration is. But anybody can have a political action committee, and that’s how you would do that type of thing. And those are all done, whether it’s to the State, Local, or Federal level. Those are registered Political Action Committees or PACs. And that is typically how those types of contributions are made as well as individuals. And then, you know, depending on what level of government you’re at, whether there’s limits for particular offices, one cycles are, things like that. It’s pretty heavily regulated for the most part.
Mike Blake: [00:15:58] Now, your organization, if I’m not mistaken, is something of a lobbying aggregator, for lack of a better term or a more intelligent one. You represent 66 technology trade organizations who, in turn, represent over 22,000 technology related businesses. Explain kind of what the value is of that kind of model versus a company lobbying directly. Is there a choice to be made? Are they mutually exclusive? Are there members, for example, that also lobby on their own behalf? Maybe works through other organizations? Is it a direct line of sight? Is it a web of complex relationships? Can you kind of shed some light on how that kind of pans out?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:16:44] Yes to all of that. But, yes. So, our organization, we’re a trade association. And so, we represent other trade associations, other technology trade associations across the United States and Canada. They represent actual member companies. So, they are the ones who represent the 22,000 collectively that rolls up to us. So, they individually – sometimes yes, sometimes no – advocate on their own or lobby on their own. We will lobby on behalf of the group as a whole and represent that voice of 22,000 based on collective issues that we’ve decided.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:17:27] We have a policy agenda that our policy committee has developed and approved and voted on. And there are bigger buckets of things that are important to that collective audience as a whole. Where, you know, the majority of them are small companies in nature and don’t lobby on their own. They may have individual relationships with a couple of members of Congress or their general assembly in their state. But, generally speaking, the majority of them don’t lobby on their own because there maybe isn’t necessarily a need for them themselves. But, collectively, it’s important to them because there are larger issues that a larger voice can make a bigger impact on.
Mike Blake: [00:18:06] And I’m guessing there’s an element of economies of scale, too, right? If I’m a nine person software as a service startup, now I’ve got maybe a couple hundred grand of angel funding. I’ve got code to write. I’ve got to figure out a way to get and retain customers. There isn’t going to a big line item in my budget for lobbying. And, you know, this is the nature of our economy. This is grown up talk.
Mike Blake: [00:18:34] How much money you spend on lobbying can matter. It can impact the amount of lobbying that’s done, the level of which is done, the experience and connections of the person doing the lobbying. So, it seems to me also that if I’m running that small company and I think there’s something important in terms of government policy vis-a-vis technology, the only realistic way I can have a say is to join a trade organization that’s going to amplify my voice by pooling resources, if you will. And, hopefully, at least everybody’s directionally kind of trying to push for the same things.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:19:09] Exactly. And it behooves a lot of smaller companies to join in like-minded trade association. I mean, there are associations out there for just about any industry you can imagine. And so, it makes sense to do that. Because, honestly, when you’re a small entrepreneur, there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is already. And spending any amount of time, whether it’s one minute or 50 minutes of your day, your week, on lobbying, it has to be pretty darn important and either is going to make or break your business to spend that kind of Time on it.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:19:42] So, allowing someone else to do that and maybe taking one day out of your year to go to your state capitol or your nation’s capital to talk about your individual company, and that’s it, and allow your association to do it. It’s typically a better fit because you have a business to run. And it does behoove you to do that versus spending a lot of time.
Mike Blake: [00:20:03] So, I’m going to ask you a very loaded question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. You can handle it. And that question is, how effective is lobbying? You know, is it always effective? Is it sometimes effective? And can one expect results in a fairly short period of time? Or is lobbying more for the person or the company that’s playing the long game? How would you address that question?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:20:35] That’s a good question. It’s not for the faint of heart. And it’s definitely, typically, not a quick turnaround. If it’s ever a quick turnaround, I think a lot that has happened with COVID within the states over the last year has been some of the fastest moving stuff I’ve ever seen go through the government because it has to. As well as the Cares Act of last spring, that amount of money to go through the Congress that fast, I don’t know if it will ever happen again. So, that was a big deal.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:21:05] So, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. It takes a long time, typically. It takes a lot of groundwork. And, you know, lobbyists, it is actually a specialty. And it is something that they’re good at doing and they know how to do it. And so, they know who to talk to. They know how to steer the conversation. They will typically help companies, associations understand who they should be talking to, and when, and why, and knowing when to move the needle in a calendar year, in a fiscal year. Those types of things.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:21:37] And so, there’s a reason that lobbyists do it when they do. It is typically all calculated. And it isn’t just a matter of saying, we’re just going to get this done and get it done. It is actually a very strategic way of doing things. And it’s not all contrived. It’s not all planned out. There definitely are things that come up.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:21:56] And, you know, encouraging businesses to understand or at least pay a little bit of attention to government. And asking some questions sometimes is really helpful. Because everything, like I said, the government does, does affect your business one way or another. And at least read the paper once a week or turn on the news every now and again and just pay attention to what’s happening, because it does affect you even though you don’t think it does, it will. But it doesn’t move fast. That’s a good thing, it doesn’t move fast.
Mike Blake: [00:22:26] Right. So, you don’t just, “Hey, there’s a bill coming up. There’s policy I’d like to have changed next week.” That does not define a lobbying thing. Not a realistic objective.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:22:40] That’s a long term goal. Right. Right.
Mike Blake: [00:22:43] So, you touched on something I wanted to make sure to ask you. And that is, how has the pandemic changed lobbying? I mean, has the fact that the nature of human contact, certainly for a year changed, and we may or may not go back to that in this inter-pandemic kind of world that we’re in. How has that changed? I mean, are these conversations happening through Zoom calls? I mean, it’s just going to be so weird, right? Because if one network catches you with your mask on, then you’re not a patriot. If one network catches you with no mask on, then you’re an idiot and you’re trying to kill babies. And it’s so complicated to do this stuff anymore. Has your industry been impacted by the pandemic?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:23:35] Yes. So, like everybody else, you know, the first – I don’t know – six, eight months of this was done, a lot of it was virtual and phone calls, which, you know, the phone calls already existed. But lobbying kind of goes back – and I think a lot of lobbyists function this way and believe this way – that it is one of those things where the transparency of what’s happening behind the closed doors of government and being there in person is really important. Because it’s a lot harder for any of the elected officials to kind of look you in the eye and say one thing and do something else in person than it is to do it on the phone or over Zoom.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:24:20] And so, some of the conversations I had with some of my peers, it would have been last May or June, we’re wondering when the capitols are going to open back up again. It was unnerving that they were passing budgets, state budgets, and things like that were happening. And there were no government affairs people in the building. Or people, for that matter. There weren’t just Pennsylvanians or there weren’t Ohioans. I mean, they weren’t even in the building. And that was bothersome because that had never happened before.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:24:45] And so, that’s one of those things that the transparency part of it. You know, I think there is the the part of checks and balances that lobbyists do help with, because they want to make sure even though there might be tit or tatting in each other, they also know they’re holding a very delicate balance in place, too, by making sure that honest work is being done, as honest as it can be, at least. So, that’s been weird.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:25:07] And I’ll tell you even more than the pandemic, you know, what happened in Washington at the beginning of January has been odd that there have been parts of Capitol Hill that we can’t get into still as groups. Individuals can. They have to be escorted in, approved by the Capitol Police. So, that’s weird, too. Because, you know, not being able to get in front of your elected officials is something that we’re guaranteed as Americans to be able to access the people we elected. And so, that’s been interesting. And I don’t think it’s going to last forever. I think that that’s going to be a thing that’s going to have to change.
Mike Blake: [00:25:41] That’s interesting. I had not even thought of that. But now that you mention it, I mean, it makes perfect sense. There’s always this balance that one has to try to decide on between security and access. That’s not just government officials. I mean, that’s a lot of things, like it’s a bank, it’s a post office, or a house. But it hadn’t occurred to me that, you know, I’m sure the security protocols have changed. And when they’ll change back, who knows?
Mike Blake: [00:26:19] Again, going back to the September 11th, 2001 attack, we didn’t used to have those barricades in front of the White House. You could just go right up to the fence and look through and whatnot. You don’t do that anymore. That’s just a change and an acknowledgement of the fact that the world has changed.
Mike Blake: [00:26:40] So, you know, it hadn’t occurred to me that because of social instability, that that’s going to change the game as well. And, you know, it remains to be seen if we’re out of the woods on that or not. Stay tuned, I guess, for 2024. So, that says I never thought about.
Mike Blake: [00:27:03] So, my understanding is that lobbying is actually a fairly regulated activity. But I think a lot of people don’t appreciate that. Lobbyists are not allowed to just run around with, you know, a briefcase full of unmarked bills and just buy votes. That’s the impression. But I don’t think that’s allowed. It’s certainly not considered good form. So, in your mind, how strict are the regulations for lobbying? Do they have an effect on what you do? Do you think they could even be stronger? Do you think maybe they’re even too strict in cases?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:27:44] Well, I think it gets difficult. I understand the point of it all, because the pendulum does swing. When you’re flying a group of congressmen to the Super Bowl to sit in a box, there’s that. Or the Caribbean to enjoy a nice weekend with your spouses. You know, there are levels to where it just doesn’t even make sense. Maybe you’re concerned about nickel and diming dinner or a conversation at a coffee shop or things like that, I think that does get difficult and really does impede on freedom of speech and things like that.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:28:23] But, again, it’s a difficult balance to find. I mean, where is the line? I don’t really know where the line is at. I can tell you that I’ve been a pretty conservative lobbyist. I don’t have buckets of cash to give anybody. So, the best I’ve got is my word and my time. So, I’ve never really had the luxury of being able to put people on a plane. But, you know, when you’re concerned about time, and you’re concerned about little things, and making sure you’re not breaking the law, sometimes it does get a little laborious to make sure that you’re not in terms of how many hours you’re doing this and how many hours you’re not.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:28:58] But I do think it is something that needs to be regulated because the pendulum always swings. Someone’s always going to take it to the full extreme on one end. But, again, I don’t think it is a bad industry. I can see how they get bad names, but I think it’s a very important thing that legislators spend time with lobbyists because there’s a lot of things they don’t know.
Mike Blake: [00:29:21] Yeah. Well, I’m lucky. You seem like a nice person. I don’t think that you would be a willing participant in an industry that is doing evil, basically. You know, you serve an important function of communicating to our democracy.
Mike Blake: [00:29:41] But, yes, speaking of that, actually, I am curious – and I’m not even sure if this is a fair question. I’m going to put it out there anyway – are there any clear examples in terms of lines that somebody considered an ethical lobbyist just simply won’t cross? Even regardless of regulation. You know, my world is regulation as well and there are things that I can do that are legal, but they’re not necessarily good for them and not the right thing to do.
Mike Blake: [00:30:10] And in your world, does that exist, too? And I think it’d be educational for me, I think it’d also be educational to our audience, to understand from your perspective, you know, what are some lines that most lobbyists that would be considered Professionals, with a capital P, that they generally would not cross?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:30:27] I mean, really, the law is written now that if you are functioning ethically as a human being, you don’t need to worry. So, I’m saying, “Hey, I will give you this car if you vote this way on this bill.” That’s not okay. You can’t do that. And that’s pretty obvious. But you probably wouldn’t do that with your kids school teacher either. So, those are some easy lines to not cross.
Mike Blake: [00:30:56] I don’t know. We’ve had a few actors have gone to jail because they did pretty much that. But yes, you’re right. Most wouldn’t.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:31:01] Right. You know, the way the law is written now, it’s not hard to just do the right thing and not misbehave. But they’re absolutely like anything else are. Bad actors in terms of bribery, in terms of funding, or just advocating for generally unethical policy that might benefit pocketbooks. That’s the most popular one, I think. I mean, I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head. But I’m sure if you Google it, you’ll find some bad actors who do that.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:31:31] And then, the general lobbying against things for your selfish interests, even if you know it’s not right. It might just be better to sit quiet. It’s like, again, your kid’s baseball team. “Well, I don’t want Timmy to get on because my son is not going to get on. So, I’m going to work really hard so Timmy doesn’t.” Like, no. You shouldn’t do that either. You might not be pleased with it. But just do the right thing and you won’t have any issues. You don’t really need to worry. They’re not after people trying to do the right thing. They’re after the ones trying to do the wrong thing.
Mike Blake: [00:32:05] In your mind, is it easier to lobby to change something? Or is it easier to lobby on behalf of keeping the status quo? Does one side have an advantage over another in your mind?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:32:19] Well, typically, the status quo is easier because it doesn’t involve any change of anything. When you’re looking to make change, you have to get allies on board. And you have to prove why you need to make the change. And make sure it doesn’t cost any money or save money. Or, you know, kind of all the bells and whistles that go along with it. It typically involves a lot more work.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:32:42] And there’s nothing wrong with the status quo. I mean, there have been plenty of visits – and we call it, often, good government relations – going into an elected official office and saying, “Hey, this policy on R&D tax credits is terrific. It works really well for innovation community. The right people are getting rewarded. They’re expanding business in the state. Don’t do anything with it. It’s perfect as it is. Brother, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.” And, you know, legislators typically really like those types of meetings. And you don’t make them work. They jokingly will say, “Hey, this is my favorite kind, we’re doing the right thing.”
Mike Blake: [00:33:15] You’re not asking for anything.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:33:17] Right. I love this. And it’s good to tell them that because the squeaky wheel is the one who gets the grease. So, if you’re walking in and saying, “This is great. Don’t fix it, it’s not broken.” Awesome. But the one that’s coming in and saying, “We shouldn’t be taking money and putting it towards tax credits for research and development. We should be putting it over here.” But nobody’s coming in and saying that the R&D tax credits are good. They may think they’re only bad. So, you know, the status quo is never a bad thing. If you like something, you should tell them that you like it because that’s good, too. Nothing wrong with that.
Mike Blake: [00:33:53] Now, we’ve been talking from the perspective of lobbying at the federal level. But lobbying takes place at other levels of government, too, does it not? So, for example, I don’t know if this may or may not be part of your mandate, but I imagine there are plenty of lobbyists that are hanging out in Harrisburg that are trying to influence some sort of Pennsylvania policy.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:34:19] Definitely. Yeah. And in Columbus and everywhere else across the country, there’s plenty of them all the time that are there.
Mike Blake: [00:34:28] And I’m thinking, you know, even at the municipal level, there’s probably some lobbying going on. You know, I live in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, called Chamblee. And, you know, we’re an old town of 40,000 people and we’re spunky and everything else. And we have a mayor that gets paid, like, minimum wage or something. I think the greeters at Walmart make more than he does at this point. But, you know, we have a city council and they pass ordinances. And there are zoning issues. And real estate is going gangbusters here because people want to develop everything. And, you know, I haven’t looked into it, but I suspect in some form or fashion, there’s lobbying going on in my very town as well.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:35:10] Absolutely. For sure. And you touched on, probably, the biggest one that local municipalities are lobbying on, and it’s anything that’s affecting the land or the real estate market or anything like that. Because you think of it as 30,000 or 15,100 feet. So, what’s really close to you is what your local people are regulating and talking about as it gets bigger. So, they’re talking about rights of way. They’re talking about drilling rights. They’re talking about zoning, and whether they’re going to let a commercial development come in, or if they’re going to stay residential. And there’s plenty of lobbyists that are there on behalf of the real estate industry or the energy industry, or you name it.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:35:54] Or, you know, I’ll go back to special interest groups. Energy industry, those types of things, or it could be the Sierra Club talking about don’t put a road here because it’s near an extinct particular type of worm that’s in the ground, which happens all the time. So, there’s a lot of that that goes on, on the local level.
Mike Blake: [00:36:15] So, in that respect, in some cases, lobbying may actually be very accessible to a relatively small business..
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:36:23] Yeah, definitely.
Mike Blake: [00:36:25] Because you’re not necessarily going to have five or six players that are pouring hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars into a lobbying effort. It’s like, “Hey, you know, if I pay a couple thousand dollars, can you kiss city councilmen,” basically.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:36:39] Oh, my gosh. The schools are a perfect example right now. The public schools, the math mandates and what’s being taught. Those are all school boards. Those people are all elected. And so, you know, how you’re influencing your local elected school board -goodness gracious – that’s all over the place. And so, they can get lobbied just like everyone else, for sure.
Mike Blake: [00:37:01] We’re talking with Jennifer Grundy Young. And the topic is, Should I engage in lobbying? A few more questions before we let you go. But one question I’d like to ask is, are we in an age now where if you’re a business of any size, lobbying is probably a cost of doing business because government is so pervasive? It just seems to me if your business achieves some size – I don’t know what that size is, but I suspect there’s some size – where you just sort of can’t hide from the government. The government is just going to impact what you do. Is that just going to be a budget item for a business of any size going forward?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:37:45] Well, yes and no. I mean, I think that you can be paying attention to it. You can vote a lot of different ways by getting the right people in office. And, again, it’s not lobbying. That might be campaign contributions. It can be kind of making sure the people you want in office are there based off of what they believe and don’t believe. And, again, that’s more campaign work than it is lobbying. But it’s kind of the other end of lobbying. It’s getting them there first before you have to lobby them.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:38:15] But then, on the other side of lobbying, you can do something as simple and as great as joining an association. You have chambers of commerce that are really close to you. You have trade associations. All of our tech councils, many of them are regional in nature. They’re not statewide. They are, you know, in city areas, Kansas City, they’re in Chattanooga, they’re in Nashville, they’re in Greater Virginia, Northern Virginia. So, they’re not, you know, large national associations. They’re regional. And their members are typically just like you. And they’re dealing with a lot of the same things you are.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:38:52] So, when you bring something up to someone who works there and saying, “This is a huge problem to my business.” We say, “Yeah. We’ve heard that from ten other companies. So, this is great. We’re working on behalf of you. Go back to work and do what you need to do.” And, typically, those costs are not very much. It’s a couple hundred dollars, maybe a couple thousand tops in a year that you can do that. And you can get active without spending a lot of time too.
Mike Blake: [00:39:19] What do you think is the most misunderstood part of lobbying? What does the public think lobbying is about that’s just not right? If you’re an insider, you just know that the public’s perception just doesn’t meet reality.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:39:34] Well, I think going back even a step further, I think a lot of people don’t think that their voice is going to matter, generally speaking. You talk to a lot of people, “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. They’re going to do what they want to do anyway.” Which, yeah, in probably a lot of cases it is true. But in a lot of cases, it’s not. And so, everybody has an elected member of Congress, and you’re a voter in their district, and you matter, and you should absolutely reach out to them and your state officials and your local, you know, your commissioners, your township supervisors, you can do that.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:40:08] Jokingly, a former colleague of mine used to always say, “It’s always better to make a deposit before you have to make a withdrawal.” And it’s a terrible way to put it because it has nothing to do with money. It’s much more the get to know them before you have to get to know them. So, get to know them before. You know, make sure they know your name, your company, what you do before you have to call them.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:40:28] They’re going to take away this regulation. I have a great example of a company for the member of Congress they used to work for. It was an organic personal products store. And this was, like, before organic stuff. This is early 2000s before the USDA organic seal was a big deal and everyone had the seal. Your product has to be 95 percent organic to have that seal on it. And they were taking that seal off of their soap just because they didn’t think soap needed to have it on it. Well, there were plenty of people that had allergies to all kinds of things that were in soap. And it was a big deal to them because it gave them access to a market like Whole Foods and different places that only held the organic seal.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:41:09] Well, they reached out to the congresswoman’s office, and it was as simple as writing a couple letters to the USDA. The USDA had no idea. They didn’t do it because they were being malicious. They just were doing it because they thought, “Well, who needs to be organic?” “Well, here’s why.” So, the fact was, my boss had toured the facility. My boss knew exactly who they were. She’s like, “Oh, my gosh. They took their seal off.” She didn’t need to go tour them. They picked the phone up and called her. She knew their names and got right on it. It was a matter of minutes.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:41:36] And versus, “Let me come out and see you in a couple of weeks. When my schedule clears, let me blah, blah, blah.” So, making a deposit before you have to make a withdrawal for anybody on any level of government is not a bad thing. It’s very helpful and good for you as an American.
Mike Blake: [00:41:49] I’m going to say, frankly, it sounds a lot like professional networking. I mean, the way you describe a lobbying is really just a very highly specialized form of professional networking when it comes right down to it.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:42:04] And that’s more relationship building. And as I mentioned before, good government relations. But it’s good to do. It’s always better to approach things from a friendly voice than from an angry one needing quick action on things.
Mike Blake: [00:42:25] So, a couple more questions. Does anybody ever stop lobbying once they start? It seems to me that once a company starts lobbying, engaged in lobbying, particularly if they have any kind of success with it, they probably don’t stop. I would think it’s one of these things that kind of once you’re in, you’re in. And it’s sort of hard to pull the plug on that and get rid of or forgo the benefits that you were getting from that. Right?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:43:01] I think it probably goes back to why you would do it in the first place. So, why your company is getting involved with it. If it is for personal gain, depending on what the personal gain is, which, you know, of course, you’re going to act on behalf of your selfish interests. But, typically, if you’re part of association, it is for the greater good for the most part. And will benefit lots of people.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:43:24] But let’s say you’re after maybe a government contract that requires congressional approval. Well, once you’ve got the contracts, if there’s nothing else you really are looking to lobby on behalf of, you know, you might stop. And depending on what your product is, if you make pieces for a Joint Strike Fighter, you’re not probably going to be lobbying on those anymore once they’ve approved that entire contract and that’s headed through. So, it depends on what you’re actually lobbying for.
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:43:52] If it’s one of those things that you’re in an industry that’s super heavily regulated, like financial services, life sciences, things like that, depending on the size of your business, if you are a large business, a large pharmaceutical company, you probably don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. You really have to be paying attention all the time because a small change could make a huge impact on how you do business every day for better or for worse. And it could be done by people who don’t really know the implication of what they’ve done. So, that’s the fear oftentimes. And it’s, again, through no fault of their own. They’re supposed to be a jack of all trades when they’re trained lawyers or accountants or things like that. It’s just the way our country was set up.
Mike Blake: [00:44:35] Jennifer, this has been a neat conversation. And I’m sure we haven’t uncovered some questions that somebody in our audience had or maybe there are questions are audience wish we go a bit deeper on. If somebody has a question, can they contact you for follow up? And if so, what’s the best way to do that?
Jennifer Grundy Young: [00:44:52] Sure, you can go right on our website, tecna.org, T-E-C-N-A-dot-O-R-G. And my name and email are listed there – I’m sorry. My email and my phone number are listed there. But you can reach directly out to me at J-Y-O-U-N-G@tecna, T-E-C-N-A-dot-O-R-G. And our phone number is 412-545-3493. And I might be able to direct you to one of the members that are close to you that can be more helpful to you right in your hometown.
Mike Blake: [00:45:30] Well, thank you. That’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Jennifer Grundy Young so much for sharing her expertise with us today.
Mike Blake: [00:45:38] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. If you would like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I am on LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.