Representation for Hire

How businesses benefit from having a man on Capitol Hill

The lobbying trade may be one of the few industries these days that isn’t suffering. On the contrary, lobbyists are busier than ever, cozying up to members of Congress to ensure that lawmakers will steer billions of bail-out dollars their clients’ way or pass legislation that will help increase profits in a downward economy. Congress has been good to big business and big business has reciprocated. But is influencing legislation a game only the rich can play?

Definitely not, says Jarvis C. Stewart, a partner in the Washington, D.C., firm Stewart Barnes L.L.P. Most lobbying firms work on monthly retainers of $5,000 to $25,000, a hefty amount for a small-business owner. But by teaming up with other entrepreneurs who share common issues, these fees become much more affordable.

One group of entrepreneurs to benefit from lobbying efforts is the National Coalition of Minority Businesses in Washington, D.C. “I led a successful effort in 2000 to convince President [Bill] Clinton to issue an executive order promoting contracting with minority businesses by federal government agencies,” says Weldon H. Latham, a senior partner at the Washington, D.C.-based Holland & Knight L.L.P., a law firm that provides lobbying services. He says the president signed the executive order on Oct. 12, 2000.

Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs don’t take advantage of the system. Stewart estimates only 15% to 20% of small and minority enterprises use the services of government affairs or lobbying firms. “Many entrepreneurs do not understand the power of the lobby in its various forms. The more they understand the power of the process, the more involved they will be in it,” says Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio).

Legislators also realize that it’s the business owners who feel the effects of the economy and the passage of legislation that affects commerce. “Congress wants to hear from business owners because it believes they’re the experts,” says Scott E. Henderson, managing partner of Anduze, Feaster & Henderson L.L.C., a lobbying and government relations firm in Laurel, Maryland.

This year, Congress will consider a number of issues that will provide lucrative economic opportunities in federal contracting and in the private marketplace. Billions of dollars will be spent on homeland security and other antiterrorism efforts, as well as transportation, telecommunications, and information technology. But without representation in Washington, business owners could miss out.

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