Featured NILE Member:
Chad Lawler, Director of Gov’t Affairs & Advocacy, Madison Area Builders Association
Q: Please describe your background: education, career path, current position/organization.
I grew up in small town in South Central Wisconsin, near the state capitol in Madison, WI. I attended the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh for both my undergraduate degree (History/Political Science) and my MBA (International Business). After working for a fortune 500 company in management and sales, I moved to Denver, Colorado and attended the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and received my J.D. in 2012.
After moving back to Wisconsin, I worked for two years as an attorney before entering the lobbying arena in early 2014. I worked as a contract lobbyist for a myriad of clients and working on diverse issues. The majority of my lobbying efforts were dedicated to state administrative and legislative issues; however, we also worked on occasional federal issues, primarily pertaining to veteran’s issues and the practice of law.
In 2016, I was sought out to take on the role of Director of Government Affairs for my current employer, at the Madison Area Builders Association. Although only three years into my lobbying career, I’ve had the opportunity to grow exponentially and I look forward to the future challenges that arise in the future.
Q: What drew you to lobbying?
I’ve always been interested in the political process and I wanted to get involved in a way that I could help create solutions to real world issues. In a profession that centers on the ability to create relationships and to communicate complex issues in a simple to understand manner, I felt my skill sets and interests would thrive in the role.
Q: Please describe how you got your start in this field.
In my initial years as an Attorney, I would spend much of my early mornings gathering and reading as much information as possible on politics, trying to keep up with everything in Wisconsin and DC. It only made sense to become more involved in politics, so I contacted a friend in the lobbying corps and asked for his advice on the best avenue to get into politics, be it as a staffer or otherwise. His advice was unanticipated, but he suggested joining his firm as an lobbyist and he would mentor in the industry. We had worked together on the Board of Directors for a DC-based non-profit, so he was comfortable making the hire. In the end, it worked out great for both of our careers.
Q: Please comment on any particular challenges you’ve overcome and/or accomplishments you’ve achieved throughout your career.
A reason that I enjoy lobbying, is that there are always new challenges occurring, seemingly daily. I’ve benefitted from having strong mentors, creating strong relationships and coalitions, and the opportunities to overcome all the challenges that have been presented in my early career in lobbying.
The most recent challenge/issue that my team resolved pertained to a charge increase that nearly tripled the current rate. The charge increase, which was approved in 2015, was set to be implemented in July 2017, with minimal notice to the stakeholders impacted by the increase. Within two days, the coalition of stakeholders I formed, were able to advocate for a delayed implementation and phase-in of the fees. With the fees already approved in the years past, we focused and minimizing the impact of the fees. The delayed implementation and phase-in that we got approved moved the effective date back 18 months and evenly spread the fees over an eight-year period following the delayed effective date. The efforts saved our members over $1.2 million and allowed a single member to continue developing five major sites, covering 10 million square feet of land.
Q: How would you describe the lobbying profession today, and where do you think it is headed in the future?
It could be said that the industry is at a bit of a crossroads. Negative impressions and coverage of the industry continues to make those in the lobbying industry targets for ridicule and attacks; however, its my belief that much of the negative impressions is due to a misperception of the industry and lack of understanding what we do as lobbyists. My wife often gets weird looks when she tells friends and colleagues that I work as a lobbyist. The initial perception is negative, but the reaction is often accompanied by the questioning of what do lobbyist do? I’ve tried to tell her that I work to create relationships that allow my members/clients the opportunity to educate staff and elected officials on the issues that we are facing and how legislation or rules could impact the industries and people we represent. Despite my attempts, her responses is often the same, “I’m not 100% sure, but I know he worked to get $3 million more in recycling grants passed last year.” That tends to appease her colleagues and the conversation moves along.
Unfortunately, I fear the issues that we face today as an industry, which are many of those faced in the past, will likely persist into the future. The perception of the industry is poor and we will continue to be targets; however, we will still have the duty of represent our members/clients and to work to improve our books of laws and rules.
Q: What words of wisdom would you offer to those considering entering this profession?
As I’ve said to many young professionals, regardless of the industry, make sure to find a career that meets your interests and that you’re willing to work hard within to succeed. Lobbyist cannot always expect to work the traditional work hours and often requires late nights and long hours; however, the profession is filled with challenging opportunities and allows you to be impactful for your members/clients in a way that very few our able to provide. Do not take shortcuts, put in the work, make the relationships, and continue to grow.
Q: If you could send a short message to the public about the value or role you play, what would that message be?
Many in the public perceive the role of a lobbyist as a dirty, backroom enterprise that is vile and corrupt. Those same people, often have no real understanding of the role of a lobbyist and how the profession fills a valuable cog in the operation of our government. Lobbyists are, in a way, educators, or at minimum, conduits for staff and elected officials to be educated on the issues at present. Legislators and even their professional staffers are unable to know the minute, yet important details, of every industry and each rule or piece of legislation. Lobbyists have a strong role in providing the necessary information and analysis that would otherwise not be considered and decisions would be made without a full understanding of the impact the decision has on a large swath of people.
Why We Exist
Although lobbying is an ancient art — as old as government itself — it is still frequently viewed with suspicion. It is, in fact, a legitimate activity protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech….or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Our founding fathers recognized a legitimate role for unelected participation in government by conferring a First Amendment right on citizens to petition the government for redress of grievances. Citizens caught up in the demands of day-to-day living delegate these “petition” duties to professionals (or lobbyists).
Because the lobbying profession is so little understood, however, it is often viewed as a sinister function, yet every “mom and apple pie” interest in the United States uses lobbyists — a fact little known by the general public.
Simply put, lobbying is advocacy of a point of view, either by groups or individuals. A special interest is nothing more than an identified group expressing a point of view — be it colleges and universities, churches, charities, public interest or environmental groups, senior citizens organizations, even state, local or foreign governments. While most people think of lobbyists only as paid professionals, there are also many independent, volunteer lobbyists — all of whom are protected by the same First Amendment.
Lobbying involves much more than persuading legislators. Its principal elements include researching and analyzing legislation or regulatory proposals; monitoring and reporting on developments; attending congressional or regulatory hearings; working with coalitions interested in the same issues; and then educating not only government officials but also employees and corporate officers as to the implications of various changes. What most lay people regard as lobbying — the actual communication with government officials — represents the smallest portion of a lobbyist’s time; a far greater proportion is devoted to the other aspects of preparation, information and communication.
Lobbying is a legitimate and necessary part of our democratic political process. Government decisions affect both people and organizations, and information must be provided in order to produce informed decisions. Public officials cannot make fair and informed decisions without considering information from a broad range of interested parties. All sides of an issue must be explored in order to produce equitable government policies.
Who We Are and What We Do
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