John Thibault Interview on the Ed Tyll Show

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eBook – How to Change a Law

Your Political Roadmap

Have you ever wondered why some special interests always get the laws that they want but you never do?

Now, in this free eBook we explain what you can do about it.

No more feeling frustrated or abandoned by your politicians. Turn your anger into awareness, and your awareness into action. (more…)

How to Get Politically Involved Without Falling in the Pool

Anyone Can Change a Law

It is appalling and extremely unfortunate that apathy has become very common among the politicians who are absolutely indifferent towards many of the bitter truths of reality that need recognition and justice. They just don’t bother to take an action to make things work in the right manner that it should. The common masses are just not allowed, in most cases, to speak and place their opinion. It is high time that some new ways and processes are introduced that will engage more and more members to bring some change starting from grass roots politics.
(more…)

Patriot Games: The Game Plan for Getting Heard in the Political Arena (Part 1)

ManufacturingToday-iLobby-JulyAug2015

Successful manufacturers have a plan for just about any contingency. They’re thinking ahead about adopting new technology, cutting energy costs and handling health care issues. Increasingly though, one of their biggest challenges is dealing with the complex landscape of increasing regulations, politics and government. The decisions made by people in state capitals and in Washington, D.C., affect every aspect of how they do business.

Manufacturing Today article.

Manufacturing Today article.

Spending millions on lobbyists is one tactic to deal with this complexity — though not always a successful one, as demonstrated by the recent Comcast-Time Warner debacle. The alternative is for company leaders to engage in some tough evaluation and creative thinking about how to get through the political noise. They need new strategies to promote their priorities and get the politicians and policy decision-makers on their side.

Politics permeates everything

Increasingly, working the political angles is just part of doing business. Companies find politics comes into play early and often, whether they need a local permit for storm drainage or in directing major federal action on immigration reform.

According to the National Manufacturers Association, top issues for manufacturers include energy, health care, infrastructure, regulatory reform, taxes, trade and immigration. Naturally, issues that directly affect a company’s operations—its costs, profits, expansion plans and employment outlook—are of utmost concern to any company. Yet it can be difficult to communicate the urgency of these issues to decision-makers, let alone persuade them to share the same priorities.

Why is it so hard to work on political issues and actually accomplish anything? Everyone laments “partisan gridlock,” each party blaming the other for it. But that’s only part of the reason so little gets done. The political process has become so complicated that it is inscrutable even to government staffers. That helps keep lobbyists in business, according to author Lee Drutman, who notes that sometimes they seem to be the only ones who understand what’s been proposed and adopted. But it certainly doesn’t help ordinary citizens who are trying to run their companies and promote their interests.

Drutman outlines the scope of the problem in his book, “The Business of America Is Lobbying: How Corporation Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate” (Oxford University Press, 2015). He notes that with the proliferation of clashing interests, it’s harder to change the status quo. And when legislation does pass, it tends to be extremely complex, reflecting all the bargains and tradeoffs that had to be made in the process. As an example, think of the Affordable Care Act and its regulations, one version of which contained at least 10,000 pages, according to the Washington Post.

Writes Drutman, “The policy process is neither a vending machine nor an auction … Politics is far messier, and far more interesting than such simplistic models might suggest. And almost certainly, the increased competition for political outcomes has made it even more unpredictable.”

As an illustration, look at the efficiency of the 113th Congress. According to Govtrack.us, over the last two years, it has seen about 10,000 active bills, only about three percent of which were passed. It’s probably no coincidence that Gallup reports that Americans’ approval rating for Congress has ranged between 12 percent and 15 percent in the early part of this year.

The struggle for traction

Why do even some of the most well-funded issue campaigns fail to gain traction with lawmakers? There are several possible reasons.

  • A proposal might be important to only a select few — by definition, a “special interest” issue.
  • There are funding issues and concerns. Worthy bills and programs often die in the Appropriations Committee because there’s no revenue stream to cover them.
  • They lack a groundswell of popular support. In this case, a proposal might not generate the kind of enthusiasm that produces a lot of legislative co-sponsors. That means fewer voices argue for passage.
  • Legislators like to see benefits for their particular constituents. If they do not, they’re less inclined to go to bat for a given issue or pay it much attention.

Interestingly, in the proposed Comcast merger with Time Warner, there seemed to be no constituency urging approval aside from Comcast itself. According to The New York Times (April 24, 2015), the deal collapsed as it became clear that federal regulators were ready to block it. This occurred in spite of Comcast’s $5.9 million in campaign contributions during the 2014 elections and $25 million expenditures lavished on lobbyists.

Moving the political process forward

Tough scrutiny is called for as companies evaluate the realistic chances for getting action on their political priorities. Manufacturers need to realize that in a sense they’re competing for a limited resource in the form of a legislator’s time and attention. In addition, they are often up against other issues that are more inherently compelling. In California, for instance, two of the hottest political debates concern a Senate bill to require immunizing schoolchildren to prevent the spread of measles, and another one enabling “death with dignity.” Public safety, children’s health, religious freedom, individual suffering, right to life … issues like these naturally capture the attention of the general population as well as numerous interest groups.

To get involved with the political process in a meaningful way, start by following some basic guidelines:

  • Don’t have a long to-do list. Focus on just a couple of high-priority issues on which you want public officials to take action.
  • Look for likely sponsors and people who will support the company’s or industry’s issues. Scrutinize any bills that are similar as well as those that might compete with it.
  • Consider the funding that will be needed to promote specific legislation, as well as possible opportunities for favorable mentions in the media.
  • Remember that imagery is important. Frame the issue so that it taps into a universal value (e.g. security, safety). Can it be reframed so a negative idea (drones are scary) becomes a positive one (drones are useful and helpful)?
  • Understand that it’s easier to block an idea or proposal than it is to get one passed.

Another fact of life in politics is that lawmakers looking toward the next election want evidence that there is real benefit to their constituents if they support a certain issue or real harm to constituents if they oppose it. Think of the urgency that helped promote the health care reform law despite zero support from one side of the aisle. “Forty million Americans have no health insurance!”

The public relations angle

Manufacturers often fail to generate support for their issues with messages that resonate with the public. Also, they often fail to reach into their rank-and-file workforce for support that could effectively bolster their issues with lawmakers.

The debate over Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is a good example of an issue that both sides have tried to frame using an issue of importance to lawmakers and their constituents: jobs. It was either job-creating legislation or job-killing legislation, depending on which side of the argument one favored.

Companies must work with their employees, supporters and advocates to create frameworks and fresh narratives to propel their priorities forward.

ManufacturingToday-iLobby-JulyAug2015

Engaging Members in the Lobbying Process

Sooner or later, many organizations will find their fortunes linked to government corridors and committee rooms, where it can still be a challenge to get their members’ voices heard. Apathy is pretty common, unfortunately. Just as the 2014 midterm turnout for Election Day was the lowest in 72 years, when associations make members’ political involvement as easy as clicking an online “take action” button, many still don’t bother. It’s time to introduce newer ways to engage members in grass-roots political activism.

It’s the rare American who can just pick up the phone and have a heart-to-heart with a governmental decision-maker. Yet abstaining from the political process is like failing to make a will—eventually, there’s a gap between your own goals and how the government handles them. Lobbyists help bridge that gap. Major corporations understand this and have long worked the system to their advantage. In 2014, some 11,509 registered lobbyists argued the causes of organizations that shelled out about $2.41 billion for their services, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. However, for many associations, influencing decision-makers is more difficult. Just getting them to focus on the organization’s issues is tough.

Lobbying is a fact of life.

It’s the rare American who can just pick up the phone and have a heart-to-heart with a governmental decision-maker. Yet abstaining from the political process is like failing to make a will — eventually, there’s a gap between your own goals and how the government handles them.

Lobbyists help bridge the gap. Major corporations understand this and work the system to their advantage. In 2014, some 11,509 registered lobbyists argued the causes of organizations that shelled out about $2.41 billion for their services, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

For many associations, influencing decision-makers is more difficult. Just getting them to focus on the organization’s issues is tough.

Who needs lobbyists?

Several types of associations may find themselves most in need of improving outreach to public officials. These include:

  1. Smaller-scale associations that lack budgets for a governmental affairs department or even for a specialized position to handle those duties.
  2. Associations in highly regulated fields. These are groups that acutely feel the effects of government policies, and need help asserting their complex interests. Examples include: health care, banking, energy, telecommunications.
  3. Associations whose members come from businesses operating in the absence of settled law. Think Internet privacy, UAV drones, and startups that threaten the establishment (like Uber or AirBnB).

Which engagement options actually work?

Strategies for offering input to lawmakers range from the traditional to the cutting-edge. Personal letters, emails and phone calls will at least show up in a summary by the lawmaker’s staff. Heavy call volume gets attention. But lawmakers only care about voters and businesses in their own districts. That’s one reason they think they can ignore entreaties that originate with mass mailings or online petitions. Some executives report better results with letters on their personalized letterhead — with real signatures — targeted to specific lawmakers.

Web pages and online position statements may include “take action” buttons. Again, these generate boilerplate communications. And they might require your members to supply personal information they’d rather not share online or to slog through policy verbiage, both of which can discourage people from clicking through.

An innovative political persuasion platform, iLobby.co, also called cloud-based lobbying, applies crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to the political process. Here anyone can start an online dialogue on an issue on which they want elected officials to take action. Others join in, adding their support and/or arguments. Congressional districts are included on the site, which is important because while issues transcend boundaries, voters do not.

When participants in the platform reach a consensus, they contribute funding to hire a registered lobbyist who’s not only savvy about their issue, but able to document the political districts represented.

Lawmakers want feedback.

Online formats facilitate the exchange of information. A former California state senator, Joe Simitian, even encouraged voter feedback through this medium when he expressed his belief, “There oughta be a law.” Yet associations may need to overcome the belief that politics is not any of the association’s business. According to Bob Breault, who chairs the Arizona Optics Cluster, “They consider it ‘corrupt’ and all that politicians do is take money from them — most often for the wrong reasons.”

Yet Breault supports a cloud-based lobbying approach. “People will participate if someone makes it easy to pass along their opinions to the appropriate legislator. Of course, the discussions need to be civil and respectful and factual, and not emotional tirades.”

Online discussions also can turn up real-life stories on the effects of legislation. These are especially useful if an association needs people to tell their stories in a committee hearing.

What’s important to remember is that association members are constituents, too. Since many members already like the simplicity of using services like eBay and Amazon, online lobbying can be a natural extension to foster political relationship-building. They are an easy way to get members more involved in political issues, which are vital to their lives and careers.

————–

Originally published in Association News,  March, 2015

Congress Deserves D But my Congressman Gets an A

According to a recent poll [1] the job performance rating of Congress continues to reflect a very low 7% positive job approval score. Why is that?

Why do we accept such poor performance? Do we think if they did more, worked harder, longer, smarter, they’d get a better result?

US Flag

Do we want Congress to be more productive and pass more laws with more pages? Even now we learn that Dodd-Frank has 5,320 pages covering 400 new regulations [2]. ObamaCare was a 2,700-page bill and so far has 13,000 pages of new regulations [3]. Or do we want Congress to undo some of the old laws that we no longer like? Would we prefer Congress respond to issues that we think are important? Or did we elect our member to vote the way he or she wants?

If the polls are right and 90% of Americans believe that Congress is doing a poor job, how can that be? Are we accepting mediocrity as the price of freedom? If we vote for the “best candidate” in our district, why are they so effective campaigning as a candidate and so ineffective as a Member of Congress?

Have campaigning and fundraising proficiency trumped their legislative ability?

Ask yourself, why do we keep electing the same politicians if we get inferior results year after year?

Is it because Congress is not performance-based? 
We know it is not a meritocracy. The best do not rise to the top. The best are not rewarded for their great behavior. Seniority rules. So incumbency attracts power. Power attracts position and campaign donations. Then position and donations are used to attract more support, votes and tenure.

Maybe we’re using the wrong metrics when we think about measuring Congress’ job performance.

If the pollsters are right and Congress is as bad as they claim, then each of us is responsible for continuing to elect poor performers to the Congress. Or are they accomplished people who are incapable of getting anything done because they have to continually convince a majority of their 535 peers?

Whenever I have seen voters with their Congressman they are always gushing, the voters not the Congressmen. They refuse to ask tough questions. They throw politically convenient softballs, which the congressman always has the answer to or he makes sure he can use artful circumlocution to wend his way out of a messy question.

Constituents inevitably are very polite. They invite their friends to fundraisers. They are delighted to contribute to the campaign. They seem to be happy with a photo-op standing next to power. And they vote for the same politician over and over and over again.

But when the polls come out, voters polled turn and complain that Congress is not doing its job. Well which is it? They are the doing the job we elected them to do or they are incompetent, economically illiterate, politically mendacious boobs?

If we look at the Congress as a whole it may only be as strong as its weakest link. So, we need to identify the poor performers. They need to be voted out of office.

In corporate America on an annual basis some companies cull 5%-10% of their lowest performing workforce. But if we did that can we expect superior performance from the entire body of Congress? Not if we keep electing the same incumbents for 5, 10 or 15 terms?

I’m not advocating term limits here as some states currently have. This sometimes has the unintended consequence of taking good, seasoned politicians and pushing them out of office.

But if we had a way to systematically look at the Members of Congress, compare them one to the other on an independent basis and discover who falls into the bottom third, it should make it easy to figure out who should then not be reelected.

Political party strategists focus on this but even poor performing incumbents with name recognition can still draw sufficient contributions to drown out a challenger’s voice.

So instead of supporting our congressmen and blindly awarding him an A+ and then complain about the body of Congress by giving them a D-, we should examine closely who our congressman is and ask a different set of questions.

What is my representative’s position on the issues that matter to me and what legislation has he sponsored? What committees or subcommittees does he chair? How much did he receive from his Party committee, the DNC, the RNC etc? Who are his big donors? What percentage of his financial support came from outside his state?

It might surprise you to learn that your district votes may be heavily influenced by media buys sometimes financed by out of state interests.[4] Someone wants you to vote for the incumbent so you don’t rock the boat. Who benefits from his incumbency?

What success has your representative had? What has he done for you? What are his key issues and are his actions really improving your community, your business, your neighborhood and your congressional district?

So if your representative deserves an A, give it to him, but don’t tell the pollsters Congress deserves a D.

Unless you are politically engaged, you may never understand how Congress earns a D while your congressman always gets an A.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

So engage politically, and give your congressman an honest grade.

Take our free 7-day policy + challenge

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[1] Rasmussen, S. (2012, 13-Jul). Election 2012 – Congressional Performance. From Rasmussen Reports

[2] Harper, J. (2012, May 07). Inside the Beltway: Dodd-Frank=5,320 pages. Retrieved from Washington Times

[3] York, B. (2012, 29-March). Washington Examiner. From Obamacare’s 2,700 pages are too much for justices

[4] Megahy, F. (Writer), & Megahy, F. (Director). (2009). The Best Government Money Can Buy [Motion Picture].

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Seven Steps to Political Empowerment

Real people can and should focus on issues, not just candidates.   Source: istockphoto

Real people can and should focus on issues, not just candidates. Source: istockphoto

Political Apathy is a Trap

If you feel overwhelmed and frustrated by our government leaders and apathetic about your own partisan destiny, there is a way out of your political malaise.

Here are 7 simple steps you can take to refresh yourself and participate in our democratic republic.

7 Steps

  1. Register
  2. Learn
  3. Vote
  4. Commit
  5. Engage
  6. Lobby
  7. Run

Register to vote

Show up. There are 45 million unregistered eligible voters in the country. Don’t be one of them. If you’re eligible to vote, register. 215 million US voters can’t be wrong. Locate the registrar of voters in your state or county. Fill in the form.

Tip: An absentee ballot makes things simple and easy.

Time: 1 hour Frequency: Once Cost: Free[1]

 

Learn

Get informed and stay informed. Find out who your congressman is, your assemblyman, your senators, your mayor. Go to their websites. Get on their email lists and follow their progress. Follow other political websites. Read political and opinion articles in major respected newspapers, listen to talk radio, watch cable and network TV debates.

Tip: Compare and contrast information sources.

Time: 4 hours Frequency: Once a year Cost: $50

 

Vote

Make a decision. Choose. Vote in every election you qualify for. Read the campaign materials and gather independent non-partisan information. Read the candidates statements so you are as informed as possible. Then vote. Vote for the best candidate, not the ticket, not the party. Remember, voting is private. If you have an absentee ballot, you can vote ahead of Election Day without looking for a polling station or disrupting your life.

Tip: Think for yourself.

Time: 2 hours Frequency: Every 2 years Cost: Free

 

Commit

Put your money where your mouth is. Make a small donation to your Congressman’s campaign. $5-20 is fine. If you believe in what he is doing, support his campaign. If you don’t, support the opponent or challenger. Remember, donations are public information. Follow the rules.

Tip: Donate small amounts to several candidates.

Time: 1 hour Frequency: Every 2 years Cost: $20

 

Engage

Take a stand. Engage where you are. Identify the laws you want to change. Talk to your friends. Then convince others to join you. Comment on a blog and sign a petition to support a cause or issue. Write your representative and voice your opinion. Attend a town hall meeting; attend city council meetings or a fundraiser. Serve on a local committee. Volunteer to help out on a campaign. Visit city hall, your state capital or Washington DC. Take a tour. Ask questions.

Tip: Volunteer, but only if you enjoy it.

Time: 2 hours Frequency: Every 3 months Cost: Free

 

Lobby

Build a coalition. Start by focusing on the top three issues that personally affect you. Write up your issue, your position, your arguments and your facts. Resolve your position, clarify your arguments and win support from your network. Expand your base, increase your reach and share the cost.

You can lead it on your own.

Lobbying used to be only for the rich, powerful and the connected. But now anyone can do it. Grassroots activism does not require you to join a single-issue organization, a trade association, pay union dues or contribute to a PAC.

You can drive costs down by sharing resources and costs with thousands of other people focused around a single common issue. With increased purchasing power you can have the same influence as a special interest.

The benefits will include less time, less money, greater mobility, ubiquity, increased control, and getting laws changed. Every day, everywhere, lobby on the go.

Tip: Be honest and straightforward and you’ll be amazed at your results.

Time: 15 min. Frequency: Monthly Cost: $25

 

Run

Lead. The world needs leaders. Run for office. Now that you’ve learned a lot and decided that you’re tired of someone less competent controlling the agenda, you should run for office.

If you are willing to serve and help other people then you will find that this is something that will become your life. You will want to do it all the time.

You will know this is for you because you listen to your supporters, you have the facts about solving real world problems and you are able to implement policy solutions.

At this point you will know if you have the political bug or not.

If you have issues, and friends and family that support you then this could be your ticket to political empowerment. Charisma and good speaking skills can come later.

Once you are in, there’ll be many people to help you to the next level. Good luck.

Tip: Don’t stay in longer than you need to.

Time: 8 hours Frequency: Daily Cost: $5,000+

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[1] All estimates of time required, frequency and cost are minimums only.

How Your Trade Association Can Have Greater Political Impact

There are 90,908 trade associations in the country. With philanthropic and charitable organizations, the number rises to over 1.2 million[1]. In any event there are lots. Every trade association has a dual role: 1) to increase membership and 2) to promote the cause of the organization.

Your association relies on its members and other activities for funding. But it has an untapped and overlooked hidden stream of potential advocates that it could use more effectively.

As a leader of a trade association you may poll your members to find out what are their top issues. You summarize a select few and these are the ones you focus on and go forward with. Most organizations are usually single-issue organizations.

Legislatively, you compete with other associations for the time and attention of lobbyists, legislators, congressional staff members and government regulators. You rely upon your membership numbers and your PAC’s campaign giving to support your cause and to gain access to Washington lawmakers.

For the largest organizations often this is enough. But for the smaller and midsize groups they might find themselves struggling to push their agendas forward.

Sometimes, you can rally your membership to take on different activities but generally you can’t do it that often. Like any group, your members tend to experience what is referred to as “donor fatigue.” They don’t want to donate more money, they do not want to donate more time, and they can’t take time off work to get on the bus to attend a rally to hold a sign in the pouring rain. While association members as a whole may appreciate the opportunity to vote up or down on issues, they often feel they are left out of the full debate creation and argument process.

So can smart leadership still get them involved?

Sure.

The best association leaders allow their members four things:

1) To come forward with topics of their own concern.

2) Provide a forum for the members to discuss issues.

3) Allow their membership to respectfully debate arguments pro and con on various sides of an issue.

4) Provide a place where members can vote anonymously.

Essentially, they give their members a voice.

The best association leaders also know that family members often influence what the member thinks. The chief lobbyist, it turns out, is often the spouse.

Association leaders recognize that their members are not one-dimensional. They do not have only one issue that matters to them. They may be members of many different special interest groups because there are several different issues that concern them. The member joins different groups that support his cause. So in effect he could be a member of a pro-gun group, a pro-choice group, a clean energy group and a business development incubator. He may be a moderate on social issues and conservative or entrepreneur on business issues.

Some political independents that neither lean left nor right fall into this middle category.

But there remains one highly overlooked element.

Imagine the trade association member is a US voter and a constituent of a congressional district. His alternate issues may span into other congressional districts. In the district they span into may reside friends and associates who support the nature of your particular membership group. But the voter in the other district is not and cannot be a member of your trade association because he simply is in a different profession or geographical area.

So how do you cross the line? Can you take advantage of this? I think you can.

If your trade association members were free to openly debate and vote anonymously in a safe, independent, non-partisan environment, the likelihood is great that they would continue to support your efforts. After all, they are in your business. And if their spouse and friends from other states were able to share in a debate, then they too could bring greater weight to your argument and causes.

But more importantly, all these interested parties are constituents in other political districts. If they are able to lobby their congressman or representative who may sit on key Congressional committees that affect your broader issue, then you could bring a greater force to bear by empowering more people to push legislation forward that supports and benefits your organization.

Can this be done? Certainly.

Let’s say your association allocates $25,000 per year to lobby or about $2,000 a month.

If an additional 2,000 voters from 10 different districts contributed $20 a month to support your efforts, you would have $40,000 a month extra for lobbying or almost a half million dollars a year. If these voters were aligned with your cause and made their issues known to their congressman, your impact could increase twenty-fold at no real out-of-pocket cost to you or your association.

The greatest impact any independent constituent group can have are:

1) Clarity of message and singular focus on an issue.

2) Mass of voters who can appeal to the Congress.

3) A real budget to continue and persevere.

Remember, these are real voters and Congress loves to hear from its own constituents.

So, the advocate is not a nameless organization supporting a large, broad membership that may or may not support its overall goals. Working together through social networks, you now have real people putting up their own money to support causes, which are aligned with your organization’s needs.

Because voters will have self-identified as constituents to congressional members on committees affecting your organization, your impact in Washington with lawmakers will increase.

Encourage your members to pursue their interests and make public their issues and you may find that your best ally could well be, not just your association member, but also her family and network of friends.