During presidential cycles, there’s often an air of resignation among policy advocates. With the top-of-the-ticket campaigns dominating the airwaves and digital ad space, and the perception that business on Capitol Hill will be grinding to a halt until after the election, these operatives, association executives and issue advocates would rather “go dark” than try to advance their agendas.
Contrary to that belief, the political horse trade doesn’t halt for campaign season every four years. While the presidentials are busy, down-ballot candidates want to hear from issue groups. Moreover, congressional staff have more time to talk with you and your briefing teams, which means now is a great time to move forward with your issue campaign. Here are some other ways to advance your issue agenda during the 2016 cycle:
Meet the national party platform committees.
Reach out to the DNC and RNC platform committees as they write their platforms for the party. You may be able to embed your issue or “ask” in the platform document which then sets precedent for when candidates take office.
Attend campaign events and talk with campaign staff.
Many of these erstwhile volunteers may soon become White House or congressional staff following this cycle. Get to know them early – including cell phone and personal e-mail addresses.
Attend political events, picnics and fundraisers this summer.
You have to work out in the hustings to make political capital for 2017. Individuals can generally attend campaign events for free or for as little as $100. This is a wise investment and a chance to informally brief a presidential or federal candidate for higher office.
Write op-eds and letters to the editor.
Now is the time to write opinion editorials or LTEs for traditional print and broadcast media and for online policy sites. Get your message out as campaign staff will find your stories and your ideas may shape speeches or policy statements. Writing (and speaking) during the cycle are important tactics.
Brief congressional staff and governor’s offices.
Policy work continues apace on Capitol Hill and at the State House. Arrange to meet legislative chiefs of staff or governors and their policy people (but avoid states during primary or caucus days). The National Governors Association (NGA) is extremely active during election cycles and should be a resource.
Provide legacy opportunity to retiring members or administration appointees.
Members of congress and President Obama’s administration appointees are working diligently to burnish their legacy. Congressmen and appointees can provide your organization with language in legislation, a citation or commendation for your work (trade group members, or hometown constituents), invite you to key briefings. With the stroke of a pen you may find a “win” for your organization in the last nine months of this administration.
Build personnel bridges.
As public affairs director for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in 1992, I invited then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who had just finished serving as chairman of the NGA, to speak to our conservative-leaning NAM CEOs and Washington representatives. Through that event, I was able to meet Clinton and form a connection with his staff. After some discussion, NAM “loaned” me to the Clinton transition team as a volunteer so that I might learn more about the newly-minted president’s plans for trade and other pro-manufacturing policy.
Michael Smith is the CEO of GreenSmith Public Affairs and a contributor to Campaigns & Elections. Smith has 30 years of public affairs and political campaign experience. He worked on the Press and Advance Team for Obama for President in 2008.