Washington Insider
The reality of Washington - if there is such a thing

Mike Joyce
OOIDA Senior Government
Affairs Representative

In my first two months of working for OOIDA, I have come to understand very quickly that the small-business truckers I now represent each day in Washington like to give and receive doses of reality. Therefore, I am going to try to put Washington in perspective and serve up a dose of reality as it relates to the trucking industry.

The reality – the competition
Although the exact numbers vary from one source to the next, here’s the scoop: There are more than 35,000 professional business and trade associations, 501(c)3 non-profit organizations and chambers of commerce scattered throughout the United States trying to get the attention of elected representatives, according to the Directory of Associations.

According to the Washington Representatives Directory, there are more than 17,000 individuals and government relations professionals in the Washington, DC, area vying for the attention of 535 members of Congress.

And according to the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, there are 4,664 “active registrants” (lobbyists or groups of lobbyists) who represent 19,384 clients. Of these registrants, in the category of transportation, where OOIDA is recognized, there are more than 1,300 organizations. In the category of small business, which also includes OOIDA in its representation of small-business truckers, there are more than 300 listings. 

Clearly, the number of individuals and groups trying to have their voices heard among the static of everyone else in the halls of Congress is staggering. Each year, these numbers continue to grow. To give you some perspective, in 1996, after the passage of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, according to the clerk of the House, there were 3,359 active registrants representing 10,073 clients. Today, just nine years since the implementation of the law, the number of clients has nearly doubled. 

The Lobbying Disclosure Act was geared to provide taxpayers with greater disclosure of interest groups’ activities and more accuracy in reporting their spending. At least today we know more accurately who our competitors are, and how much they are spending to get their voices heard.

Organizations that lobby in Washington range from well-known companies such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to lesser knowns, such as the American Society of Appraisers; the Biscuit and Cracker Manufacturers Association; the Hearth, Patio and BBQ Association; the U.S. Parachute Association; and the United Flower Growers Cooperative Association.

Did you ever imagine that the biscuit you ate at the truck stop this morning had an association representing it? Did you know the barbecue grill you use when you aren’t on the road has an association representing it? I understand the parachute and flower associations, because we could all use a safe landing every once in awhile, and flowers from our better half when the parachute doesn’t open up. Overall, it is amazing who and what is represented in Washington – there is even an association for associations.

The reality – the congressional office
Let’s also be fair and realistic about the time constraints on members of Congress and their staffs. On average, each representative in the House represents about 650,000 constituents, and serves on as many as three standing committees and numerous subcommittees.

In any given week, each lawmaker’s staff of about 18 – between their district offices and Washington offices – fields hundreds of calls and reads through thousands of letters, faxes and e-mails. Keep in mind that not all of these communications are related to legislation, but also concern individuals’ welfare: There’s the veteran who needs to see a doctor at the local VA hospital, the widow who is having problems with the Social Security Administration or the small-business owner who has the IRS breathing down his or her neck.

In addition, a legislative assistant, whom many of you have spoken with when you call, may “staff” as many as 20 meetings a week with and for the representative or senator, doing research, writing briefing papers, bringing the lawmakers up to speed on the issues, etc.

Aside from the constituents they represent, the lawmakers and their staffs must also contend with the multiple lobbyists trying to have their voices heard – and those voices include Todd Spencer, Rod Nofziger, Melissa Theriault and myself. The survival and future employment of each representative and senator is based upon how they perform for all of these folks – the constituent who votes and the lobbyist who has money to give to the candidate he supports. If the constituents’ or lobbyists’ ideas are not advanced, their money can find its way into another lawmaker’s pockets very quickly. Sometimes it finds its way to a candidate who will run against the unresponsive lawmaker.

Release the hounds
With background as a former chief of staff to one member of Congress and legislative director for three different members, I can attest to the fact that when the hounds are barking, it is not an easy day. When the phones were ringing and I couldn’t get an open line to dial out, I knew some organization like OOIDA was trying to get its point across.

On many occasions, I tried in vain to find the source of the calls – trying desperately to get the phones to stop ringing. My staff would find me muttering to myself, “How can I make the ringing stop? We got their point.” Now, thanks to the more than 123,000 OOIDA members who pick up their phones and call their representatives (a true grassroots organization), I end up on the opposite side of that call. I hear from a chief of staff or legislative director asking, “What can you do to turn the volume down, to make the phones stop ringing, to turn the faucet off?” You can hear it in their voices – they got the message.

But how do you get your message to stand out from the rest? How do you get your message to be acted upon? How do you get your idea to become a reality? Like everything, it takes time, energy, enthusiasm, smarts, the almighty dollar, personal contacts and a bit of luck.

All that, plus your constant contact with your lawmakers, gives OOIDA the ammunition it needs to compete with the thousands of other voices out there. The lawmakers know we not only talk the talk, but actually walk the walk, too.

Although there were some disappointments when the House considered the highway bill and the Kennedy amendment, we worked hard to advance the OOIDA name on The Hill, and as a team we were able to include the fuel surcharge language that is vital to each of you. It will be with your voice that we push this issue across the finish line. Not many of the thousands of other lobbyists in Washington can rise above the static – we can.

As a dear friend of mine used to say, “Can’t never could.” Each day, we say we can. With your voices supporting our efforts in Washington, we can change the outcome of legislation that affects the bottom line of your business every day. 

If you want to advance your cause, you need to get all of the dogs out and get them barking to wake up the neighborhood. That neighborhood is the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

Thank you for helping to see that OOIDA’s voice – your voice – is heard above the static in Washington, DC.