Big bucks lobbying advice…Should Brussels listen?

Big bucks lobbying advice…Should Brussels listen?

Calls for Brussels lobbyists to be more aggressive forget the big role campaign finance plays in the US.

This month, the European Parliament has debated some highly contentious issues where (some think) the industry voice has not been sufficiently heard. Not for the first time, fellow lobbyists from across the pond are giving advice:

“European lobbyists should be more forceful
Get in there and be heard”
“Do more to ‘educate’ policy-makers” “You need to get out your A game – this one is important.  Don’t take no for an answer”

HLC has a US heritage. Many of us have lived in the US; we do work in the US; we have US clients.  We believe that DC has many lessons to teach Brussels. But being pushy is not one of them.  The call for more insistent communications is a basic mis-reading of the difference between DC and Brussels. Why?

The US has campaign finance, Europe does not.  It’s that simple.

Campaign Finance: Every company – and many private citizens – can donate money to politicians’ campaigns through a ‘PAC’. Many times, influential business leaders can be resources for the big fundraising events during elections.  In a system where electoral advertising can make or break a campaign, ‘outspending’ your opponent can make all the difference.

Congressmen don’t necessarily welcome a more assertive approach to communications, nor are they waiting to be ‘educated’ by industry lobbyists. However, lawmakers do know that those knocking on doors, and calling for meetings, amendments and ‘solutions’ contribute a significant percentage of the finance of their re-election campaigns.

Each party has its core contributors – e.g. Southern Baptists donating to the Republicans, and Schoolteacher unions to the Democrats.  But the ‘swing’ money that makes all the difference, and can change allegiance between one election and the next is… You guessed it, business. In Europe this system simply does not exist. MEPs don’t have financial connections to industry in the same way.

One may prefer one system or the other, but their systematic difference has to be accepted regardless. Our advice to Brussels lobbyists: don’t be more aggressive – as we know, it unites the entire EP together against a perceived ‘big business threat’.

The next time you get advice to get out your A-game, you may need to discuss with US colleagues what DC would look like without campaign finance; this is Brussels.