- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001


There's no place like home, and lobbyists know it.
With Congress on summer recess, Washington's special-interest pitchmen are abandoning their Capitol lunches and hallway meetings and organizing constituents in lawmakers' home districts to make their cases.
CEOs interested in trade and energy legislation schmooze with members of Congress during factory tours. Truck drivers worried about Mexico and dairy farmers fretting over milk prices request private meetings back home.
Union workers seek out lawmakers at Labor Day parades, while their organizations pepper local airwaves with messages tailored to the home turf.
It's all part of gaining an advantage on issues that will dominate Congress after Labor Day.
"Members are going to get hit from all sides, presumably, while they're home during the break, and you never know what might influence them," said Carlton Carl, spokesman for the American Trial Lawyers Association, which is vigorously working for legislation to give patients broad power to sue HMOs.
The most sophisticated efforts go far beyond simply asking people to telephone their senators or representatives.
Groups use phone banks and mailings to activate members long before the summer break begins, suggesting they arrange personal meetings with lawmakers or staff, invite them to tour facilities or schedule political fund-raisers. They alert members to town hall meetings scheduled by lawmakers.
Next up, the group provides talking points to their grass-roots lobbyists. The script is key to ensuring the right message gets sent to the lawmakers, said Jim Albertine, president of the American League of Lobbyists.
"In fact, if you're not careful and you don't educate people the right way, they can actually do you harm," Mr. Albertine said.
He recalled one meeting in which an executive, meaning to joke, said a lawmaker wasn't as ugly in person as on TV.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is employing one of the broadest at-home lobbying efforts. The top priority: Urging Congress to pass "fast-track" legislation to let President Bush negotiate trade agreements without congressional intervention.
The business lobby is running radio ads nationwide, presenting "Spirit of Enterprise" awards to members of Congress who support their positions, flying its lobbying corps to lawmakers' districts for one-on-one meetings and encouraging its members to attend town hall meetings.
"Every one of our lobbyists at one time or another will be out," said Bill Morley, among Chamber lobbyists crisscrossing the country for the cause. "There is always competition for the ear of lawmakers."
The chamber also is holding political fund-raisers, one way to attract a spot on lawmakers' crowded calendars.
The National Association of Manufacturers sent its members an alert on its top four issues: To improve presidential trade authority, to make the recent income-tax cut permanent, to pass an energy package and to oppose patients' right-to-sue legislation.
The group is counting on CEOs to talk up those issues during factory tours and to assure lawmakers who vote against the patients legislation that the manufacturers association will help them in next year's election.
On the other side of patients' rights, trial lawyers and the American Medical Association are pushing just as hard.
Unions have a two-pronged strategy. The Teamsters and AFL-CIO have tailored advertising for individual lawmakers' districts and are following that up with messages delivered personally by workers.
For instance, the Teamsters union wants many of its 740,000 truckers to buttonhole lawmakers and press for legislation that will set tougher standards for Mexican trucks that cross the border. The AFL-CIO's members are arguing against presidential fast-track trade authority.
With so much competition for their time at home, lawmakers are split on the usefulness of organized grass-roots campaigns.
"It's usually a learning experience," said Rep. Tom Petri, Wisconsin Republican, who said his mind is occasionally changed by pitches made by constituents during the recess.

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