Lobbying has become just part of doing business

Date Published: 
October, 2005
Original Author: 
Bill Wright
Fairlawn Burial Park & Heritage Funeral Home, Hutchinson, Kansas
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, October 2005

Ignoring government won't make it go away;
It's going to affect your business, whether you're paying attention or not.
Businesses owners and managers need to make sure their voices are heard.

The Washington Post is a "company town" newspaper if ever there was one, and we all know that the business of this particular company is government. We also know that everybody likes to see their business grow, and the people who work for the government are no different. This number includes many private sector companies working under contract to the government and many more companies directly affected by changes in government regulations.

But even this company town's veterans were surprised by a front-page story appearing in the The Washington Post earlier this summer titled, ''The Road to Riches is Called K Street."

The article stated that the number of paid lobbyists in Washington, DC, had doubled from 16,000 to over 34,000. At first I assumed the number of lobbyists had doubled since 1990 or more likely, since 1980. Instead, I found the doubling had occurred only within the last five years!

The article attributed this increase to the fact that Republicans control both the executive (White House) and legislative (Congress) branches of government, and businesses perceive Republicans as more business friendly.

So instead of just lobbying to fend off anti-business proposals, the Post story claimed that corporations have geared up their lobbying activities as never before to secure pro-business legislation through highly paid and well-connected lobbyists.

I have a different explanation for this unprecedented explosion of lobbyists in our nation's capitol. Many readers may remember a time when if a politician was asked about a particular problem, often the response was, "I am not sure this issue should involve the government." Perhaps you remember the old wisecrack, ''Let's not make a federal case out of this."

Today, the response is usually along the lines of, ''My staff and I are looking into this issue and I am sure the government can and will take action."

At all levels of our government, there no longer seems to exist an issue our leaders do not believe merit some type of government intervention. We're making a federal case out of everything.

Regulating death
The cemetery and funeral profession is not immune to the growth of government intervention, especially now that private industries themselves are encouraging more regulation, as The Washington Post story so well documented. This sounds to me like the proverbial riding on the back of the tiger. In other words, the old idea that "the best government is the least government" seems to be obsolete.

I was ICFA president during the time that Sen. Christopher Dodd and Rep. Mark Foley introduced their funeral and burial legislation. I convened a conference call with our association leaders and staff and a Washington, DC, lobbyist.

I asked the lobbyist how much money he thought it would take to fight a bill in Congress. His response: $700,000 to $1 million in the first year. We all knew the ICFA could not afford that. But more important, we were not fundamentally prepared to carryon a battle of this nature.

Though that legislation was not advanced, it was and still is abundantly clear that cemeteries and funeral homes are no longer off the national legislative radar screen. Remember, the business of our congressional representatives is government, and they want to see their business grow.

This new reality convinced the ICFA leadership that the time had come to establish a Political Action Committee, or PAC.  Even the best lobbyists are of limited use when their client has not established some relationship with elected officials.

So it was determined that the best way to begin establishing beneficial relationships with our lawmakers was to first lay the groundwork by contributing to the political campaigns of certain members of Congress in both political parties.

I think Irwin Shipper said it best when he recently observed that when I call on legislators they should say, "Hi Bill, what's on your mind," not "Who are you?" In today's world, this association cannot function effectively as your advocate in Washington, DC, on a "Who are you?" basis.

Unlike Hewlett-Packard, we do not have the budget to pay $60,000 per month for lobbying, but as the result of member donations to the ICFA PAC, we can accomplish our intended goals. This is an annual process strictly regulated by—who else?—the federal government. So strictly regulated that I had better clarify that I am not seeking contributions here but only explaining why the ICFA PAC is so important to our future.

I cannot stress the following points enough. First, we are lucky that the Dodd/Foley bill or something akin to it has not yet moved forward after being introduced in Congress twice. We hope this is giving us the time necessary to forge relationships and gain the influence that naturally flows from doing so. Second, it is only a matter of time until punitive legislation is introduced again. I think you will agree that now is the time to prepare for the day we will need to fight this battle.

I want to personally thank everyone who has previously donated to the ICFA PAC. Your generosity gave the ICFA the ability to make donations of $1,000 each to 23 different political campaigns in Congress last year.

To obtain more information about the ICFA PAC or to update your paperwork (required by government regulation), please call me, Bill Wright, at 620.662.3431, or Bob Fells at ICFA headquarters at 1.800.645.7700. Bob and I will be glad to send you the information you need. Among the information provided, you will learn that donors are recognized for four distinct levels of giving, including House level, Senate Level, Cabinet level and White House level. To learn more, please contact us today.