In Wyoming, lobbying is not about money
Thanks to the occasional national scandal those who lobby government officials don’t always have the best reputation. A lobbyist is someone who tries to persuade legislators to support measures that benefit his or her employer or special interest. But while big money and gifts make a big difference on Capitol Hill, those involved in the legislative process say that in Wyoming…it’s more about trust and relationships. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports…
BOB BECK: It’s the start of the legislative session and only a handful of lobbyists are on hand. Most are greeting new legislators or just saying hello. Mike Moser represents a number of businesses including the Wyoming Liquor dealers association. He says in this state, lobbyists are less about pedaling influence, and more about providing information. Moser sees himself as part of a team.
MIKE MOSER: For example the issues I represent, I usually have good background on and I’ll help legislators out, I can tell them both sides. It’s more about being part of an extended staff and someone who informs and educates and helps.
BECK: Some of you might be concerned that lobbyists and legislators might get overly friendly, but longtime lobbyist and former legislator Tom Jones says that’s the nature of having a small state where
TOM JONES: So we know these people personally. There’s no staff people between us and the legislator and we get to know them and they get to know us. So you have that opportunity to build a real trust relationship over the years and it works well for both sides.
BECK: The Wyoming Outdoor Council’s Richard Garrett says it has worked for him. In a mineral extraction state it is often difficult to influence people and change minds, but Garrett says he’s been able to build coalitions with other organizations to improve, pass or even defeat legislation. What’s gratifying to him is that lawmakers who might view the world differently actually seek his opinion…
RICHARD GARRETT: I have been sought out by legislators and I am very grateful for that. I am not absolutely sure that I can say that I have changed minds very often, but they have without exception always listened to me carefully and have been appreciative of the perspective that I have offered.
BECK: Small business and Liquor Lobbyist Mike Moser says that coalition building is huge. He says it can start at the time a bill is being proposed and various lobbyists can make the bill better.
MOSER: A lot of what a lobbyist does is do the background work to find out what kind of language works for all sides. If you bring a bill out or a legislator brings a bill out that you support that is highly controversial it’s gonna die. What we try to do is to find out what works as best as possible for everyone.
BECK: Even if you are on the other side, lobbyists say you can make significant changes if you can articulate your position. Longtime Lodging, Restaurant, and travel industry lobbyist Lynn Birleffi says using people from a lawmaker’s community can really help…
LYNN BIRLEFFI: Everything is complicated and everything is better explained by examples. So to have somebody who’s on the ground running a business explain why a particular issue is important to them…I think that’s very important.
BECK: While there are some industry groups that might spend money on legislators or take them to events, lawmakers say it doesn’t happen often. Lobbyist Tom Jones says communication goes a lot further in Wyoming than money.
JONES: I’ve been at this over 20 years and if you gave me a thousand dollars when I started to buy drinks, dinner, breakfast whatever for legislators. I can still give you money back from a thousand dollars in 20 years. You don’t spend much money, or you don’t have to.
BECK: Legislators are in lawmaker’s ears every day of a legislation session and frequently throughout the year. So you might think that legislators don’t like them and you’d be wrong. State Senator Leland Christensen of Alta says lobbyists are very valuable for citizen legislators…in allowing them to fully understand what they are actually voting on…
LELAND CHRISTENSEN: It’s a business that basically runs on trust and reputation, and the lobbyists are pretty careful…in my experience to give you the full picture, the pros and cons, and sometimes you have to ask them some detailed questions. But it’s been a pretty good experience down here at the capitol working with our lobbyists.
BECK: Lobbyists say the one thing you can never do is take the defeat of a bill or a legislator voting against you as something personal and get upset about it. Because as Mike Moser says…there is always another issue. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.