Lobbyists and State Legislation

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    • 00:00


    • 00:16

      DAN JOHNSON: The great thing about the Capitolis it's this mature, public space.There aren't a lot of places like this wherepeople congregate and mix up.It's a diverse working environment-- black people,Hispanics, white people, farmers, lawyers, way SouthernIllinois, the suburb cities.It's fun.

    • 00:39

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: I'm Dan Johnson.I'm the president of my own lobbyingfirm called Progressive Public Affairs in Chicago.Hey, Tom.

    • 00:56

      TOM: Dan, how are you?

    • 00:57

      DAN JOHNSON: Big win tonight.

    • 00:58

      TOM: Yes.

    • 00:59

      DAN JOHNSON: Although I read-- did you see there's an articlein the Chicago magazine that said--One way to think about a lobbyistis it's a little bit like a lawyer.A lawyer represents a client before a judgeand advocates for that client before the judicial branch.A lobbyist represents a client before the legislative branch

    • 01:21

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: or the executive branch and asks a state senator or staterepresentative or governor or somebody whoworks for the governor-- like an agency director or secretary--to do something, change a budget, pass a law,amend a rule that the client would like to see happen.A lobbyist, keep in mind, does not need to be a lawyer.

    • 01:44

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: Most lobbyists are not lawyers.In fact, in most states, there's no license.There's no test.Anybody can be a lobbyist.There's a whole range of different lobbyists.A lot of lobbyists are volunteer lobbyists.

    • 02:10

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: Maybe you go on a trip to Washingtonwith the Sierra Club.And you tell your senator to protect the Endangered SpeciesAct or implement the clean air planor stop letting coal plants emit so much pollution.You may not think of yourself as a lobbyist there,but that's what you're doing.

    • 02:31

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: Maybe you're a lobbyist if you say, you know what?I really want a stop sign on my block.And you go to the village hall and askthe village manager, the village president,I'd like a stop sign here.Maybe you'd like more after-school programsat your high school.And so you go to the school board.And you say, we should have more music classes or art classes

    • 02:52

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: or soccer.You're lobbying the government-- school board-- to do something.Those are volunteer lobbyists.And often, you're lobbying on your own behalf.

    • 03:01


    • 03:04

      DAN JOHNSON: I'm the authorized rep.

    • 03:05

      SPEAKER 1: Oh, really?

    • 03:07

      DAN JOHNSON: Then there are those lobbyistswho are paid, like me, to do thisfor other people or other groups.And there's sort of two main types.One is an in-house lobbyist.So you might work for the University of Illinois.You might work for the National Rifle Association.Or maybe you work for the other NRA, the National Restaurant

    • 03:28

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: Association.All you do-- your job is to lobby for that institution,your employer.You could work for Google.You could work for Uber.In fact, last year we had a big fightabout regulating Uber or not regulating Uber.And the taxicabs-- I got hired by oneof the taxicab companies.But Uber's employees were part of that fight

    • 03:50

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: because they didn't like the bill that we were pushing.So you can be an in-house lobbyistin which you work for a nonprofit or trade associationor for profit company.And sometimes they call that "government affairs."But what you're doing is lobbying.What I do is I'm a contract lobbyist.My firm, sort of like a law firm or an accounting firm,

    • 04:11

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: has different clients.And I lobby for those different clients as a contract lobbyist.There he is, Ken Duncan.

    • 04:30

      KEN DUNCAN: DJ-- the best, most sincere, clear, sincere,hard-working lobster.

    • 04:39

      DAN JOHNSON: And second best-dressed on the job.

    • 04:41

      KEN DUNCAN: Man, tuck it here.

    • 04:45

      DAN JOHNSON: So you might have seen the movie ThankYou For Smoking, where some of the industrylobbyists for the tobacco companies got togetherand talked about how they kept killing bills that presumablythe American public wanted to see passed regulatingtobacco or regulating cigarettes,but the lobbyists for the liquor industry

    • 05:05

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: or the casinos or the cigarette-tobacco industry--they just kept killing it.There are lots of lobbyists for for-profit companiesor industries that represent for-profit companiesto some people find objectionable.The weapons manufacturers, they've got a lot of lobbyists.

    • 05:26

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: And they work in Washington to keep the military budgetas high as possible because all that procurement goes to them.The casinos, the utilities, whichare less objectionable-- it's nice to have electricity.But the alcohol companies, the tobacco companies, theylobby aggressively so that the government won't take action

    • 05:48

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: against them.Power plant companies, the coal generatorswill lobby aggressively so the government won't regulate them.So that's what most people think of whenthey think of as a lobbyist because they are oftenviewed as the bad guys.And my former teacher, Barack Obama,

    • 06:10

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: campaigned on saying these Washington lobbyists aresomething we need to overcome.I happen to represent clients thatare trying to change things.So I tend to go on offense.A lot of lobbyists-- most, perhaps, of the paidlobbyists-- are on defense.Their job is to kill bills, stop things from happening.

    • 06:31

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: They don't want regulation of their company.They don't want new laws that impacttheir ability to sell their productor market their product.And so, if you're advocating to saying,we shouldn't allow gun manufacturersto sell their products to people with mental illnesses,

    • 06:55

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: it's sometimes easier to blame those nefarious lobbyistsfor stopping the bill.But maybe we haven't convinced enough of our fellow citizensthat that's a good idea.So sometimes lobbyists can wear the jacket.But the best lobbyists in the worldcan't stop a bill that the elected officials want to pass.

    • 07:17

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: And elected officials want to pass billsthat their constituents think is the right idea.One little anecdote I like to shareis that the first Washington lobbyist, the first one thatregistered, was a Quaker who was lobbyingfor the abolition of slavery.So in any cause of noble social reform or perpetuation

    • 07:41

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: of the status quo, there are likelypeople that are pushing that agenda.Some of them are lobbyists.Think of it as a neutral term.A lobbyist is just somebody that spendsa lot of time in the lobby of politicians' officeswaiting for the chance to talk to them.That's where the term "lobbyist" comes from.So be careful sometimes because sometimes lobbyists

    • 08:03

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: unfairly wear the jacket when an advocate hasn't yetsold their fellow citizens that it's the right ideato pass a particular provision into law.Like a lawyer, a lawyer can represent a convicted murdereror a mob boss or a polluting company

    • 08:24

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: but represent their interests before a judge.Some lobbyists tend to be more on the progressive, goodgovernment, reform side.Some lobbyists tend to be more onthe corporate, tongue-in-cheek way of puttingit, the "forces of evil" side.They tend to pay better.I tend to be more on the "trying to change things" side.

    • 08:45

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: They tend not to pay quite as well.But that's sort of the country, right?That's America.And those with a lot of resources, a lot of money,a lot of power, well, they've got the abilityto hire lot of talent.If you're trying to change something,and you're going up against institutionswith a lot of clout, a lot of money, a lot of power,

    • 09:06

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: well, they're able to hire a lot of peopleto help them do a lot of different thingsto try and keep things the way they are.It's always easier to kill a bill.It's hard to pass one.One great thing about being a lobbyist

    • 09:27

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: is every day's different.It's always fun.Things change all the time.Today I had two things I was working on.

    • 09:33

      WILL DAVIS: Dan.

    • 09:34

      DAN JOHNSON: Good to see you.

    • 09:35

      WILL DAVIS: Good to see you, too.

    • 09:36

      DAN JOHNSON: I got that Metra election letter.

    • 09:38

      WILL DAVIS: Sign above?

    • 09:39

      DAN JOHNSON: Right there, please.Thank you.One thing was working with one state legislator thatwants to convince our local transit agency-- in Chicago,it's called Metra-- to run their trains a lot more frequently.Now Now runs every hour or two.We want it to run every 15 minutes.So the first step is, tell us how much

    • 09:60

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: it would cost to do that.How many more riders would we get?Would it cost a lot more or a little more?Just give us a ballpark.So Barbara Flynn Currie, the majority leader of the House,she's the lead person sending that letter.But it's helpful if every other legislator along the linesigned it, too.So that was my job, to try to find those other legislators

    • 10:22

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: and ask them to sign the letter alongwith Barbara Flynn Currie.I hear there may be some movement there actually.

    • 10:28


    • 10:29

      DAN JOHNSON: Yeah.

    • 10:29

      WILL DAVIS: OK, thanks.

    • 10:30

      DAN JOHNSON: Cool, thank you.

    • 10:31

      WILL DAVIS: Good to see you.

    • 10:31

      DAN JOHNSON: So that's what Representative Will Davis did.I saw him walking into committee.I talked to his office before.I hadn't gotten his signature yet.But he remembered it and said, happy to sign.So he signed that letter.So when Metra gets that letter, oh, look.Now there are five elected officials asking me to do this.Maybe I should pay more attention.

    • 10:52

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: I could have sent the letter.But who am I?I'm just a citizen.But when the legislators send that letter,they approve Metra's budget.Well, they take that more seriously.So as the lobbyist, my job is to help those legislatorscommunicate to their agencies what they'd like to see happen.

    • 11:13

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: What's up, Justin?

    • 11:13

      JUSTIN: How you doing?

    • 11:14

      DAN JOHNSON: Good.How are you?[INTERPOSING VOICES]The other thing I was doing with Senator Sandoval in his officeis another client makes an asphaltmix that includes shingles that have been recycled.Shingles have a lot of oil in them, old shingles.

    • 11:34

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: So instead of landfilling them, hechops them up, processes them, and puts theminto the asphalt mix as a substitute for oil.IDOT is not using recycled asphalt shinglesin their midst.So we're trying to get them to authorize the useof the shingles in the mix.

    • 11:53

      SPEAKER 2: So why do you want to, like, freak them out?

    • 11:56

      DAN JOHNSON: Because they're not doing it.

    • 11:58

      SPEAKER 2: Are they telling people they're doing it?

    • 12:00

      DAN JOHNSON: It's the law.And they're not following the law.So we have to shake these people.We've got to shine the light.We're trying to get the State Department of Transportationto put this recycled asphalt shingle into the specificationsfor what asphalt can be used for that a city or a county

    • 12:22

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: or the state itself might do whenthey redo10 a highway or a local arterial road or a local road.Right now they're not as friendly to this mixas my client that makes it would like them to be.Do you think there's an appetite for any bill that'sfor next year at all?

    • 12:40

      SPEAKER 3: Yes.

    • 12:40

      DAN JOHNSON: Really?

    • 12:41

      SPEAKER 3: Yes.

    • 12:42

      DAN JOHNSON: He and Keeler were goingto do a subcommittee in transportation.Is that happening?

    • 12:47

      SPEAKER 3: Yes, they're supposed to do it tonight.

    • 12:49

      DAN JOHNSON: Can we get confirmationthat it's happening?

    • 12:51

      SPEAKER 3: I don't believe so.

    • 12:53

      DAN JOHNSON: So moving the bureaucracyand encouraging the governor and the governor's peopleto adopt a more progressive policy,well, it takes some work to push them.Do we have a committee hearing or a subcommittee hearingthat we establish just to ask the Departmentof Transportation, put a little heat on them.

    • 13:14

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: Why are you not doing this?Explain what bureaucrat nestled away somewhere in your officeis putting a brick on this thing.A subcommittee won't be created until November 10.

    • 13:26

      MARTIN SANDOVAL: Right, right, because there's notenough time.

    • 13:28

      DAN JOHNSON: We want to get it out there.

    • 13:30

      MARTIN SANDOVAL: Yeah, I understand.

    • 13:31

      DAN JOHNSON: But with the subcommittee--So Senator Sandoval agrees with my clientthis is an important thing.We should have green roads.And now that it's in the light of dayin front of all these senators, maybe you'regoing to change your mind about the priority youplace on putting these shingles into the mix.

    • 13:46

      MARTIN SANDOVAL: Well, we're goingto have to talk to Derek about that.Maybe we'll do it tomorrow on the conference call.Are we good?

    • 13:51

      DAN JOHNSON: Yeah, although can we--is it possible to talk to Derek today?So that's what I was working on with Chairman Sandoval, who'salso the chairman of the transportation committee.I work primarily in the Illinois General Assembly.

    • 14:13

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: But state lobbyists primarily workin their state legislature.Federal lobbyists will work in Congress,in the executive branch.But we are creatures of the legislative calendar.When the legislature convenes, that's prime time.When we're trying to pass a bill or trying to kill a bill,

    • 14:33

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: well, that only happens when the legislature convenes.So their committees meet at certain times.And your bill is up on a certain day at a certain time.And that's that.So you've got to prepare and try to talkto all the members of that committee before the hearing,as many as you can.And then you testify either for or against a bill

    • 14:56

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: when that committee meets.So our schedule is dictated by when the legislature meets.So when they're in session, we are in session.And when they're off, we're back home, just like a legislator.

    • 15:17

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: I named my firm Progressive Public Affairs.I'm a partisan Democrat.I'm a left-of-center guy.So I pick clients that are left of center.But lobbyists can be all sorts of different ways.Some are Republican or right-of-center lobbyistsand tend to pick Republican type of groups.As an example, typically the trial lawyers and the doctors

    • 15:43

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: are on opposite sides of the medical malpractice debate.The insurance companies and small businessesare on opposite sides of insurance regulation.The environmentalists and the polluting companiesare on opposite sides of the debate.So the Democrats tend to be on this side,Republicans tend to be on that side.

    • 16:06

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: And so Republican lobbyists tend to workfor Republican type of causes.Democratic lobbyists tend to workfor Democratic type of causes.There's a lot more of nonprofit advocacygroups on my side of the aisle, things like the Sierra Clubor a think tank or a Policy Institute

    • 16:27

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: or coalition for the homeless or groupslike that that are saying, we want to raise the minimum wage.We want to change our criminal laws so that people don'tgo to prison for stealing a $400 item, whichis a felony in most states.We want to build more trains.One of my clients is the High Speed Rail Association.

    • 16:49

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: Where on the Republican side, they might say,well, we represent taxpayers.And we don't like any of those ideas.We want to cut taxes.We don't want to raise taxes.So we'll lobby against any proposalto spend more money on public schools or parksor trains, drug courts or diversion programs or anything.

    • 17:10

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: This side tends to say, I just don't want to spend the money.So what type of clients you tend to representis sort of dictated by your politics.There are lots of lobbyists that represent groups that

    • 17:30

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: aren't particularly partisan.The Association of Architects, right, the cosmetologists,they're not really Democratic or Republican.The village of Cary or the county of DuPage-- these

    • 17:51

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: are sort of institutions that don'thave particular partisan bias or orientation.There's lots of people representingthose types of groups.I like politics.I like the partisan fight.And I enjoy clients that are partof the democratic coalition.But I don't think most people appreciate--

    • 18:11

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: is that most politicians are really nice.Most politicians are accessible.And even though most of the Republican legislatorsknow I'm an active Democrat, they're open to my pitchbecause they're going to make an independent judgmentwhether they think it's a good idea or not.Just like all the Republican lobbyists,

    • 18:33

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: well, Democratic legislators listen to them.And if they've got a good idea that makes sense,they'll go for it.And I think you're going to get something out of it.

    • 18:40

      SPEAKER 2: Oh, you do?

    • 18:41

      DAN JOHNSON: I think people sometimesfeel, if you're not in politics or in government,that politicians are a little petty or vindictive.In my experience, my career, that'sjust not the case, that people on both sidesthat will give you a chance to make your case.They may not vote for you.But they'll be open and reasonable and listen to what

    • 19:03

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: you say and, most importantly, will tell you why they can't.Because if they tell you why they can't, that'sa clue as to what we have to do to amend what we're asking forto earn their vote.Think of it this way.Imagine you and 59 of your closest friendswere getting together for, say, a bachelor party.

    • 19:26

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: And there wasn't a best man.And the bachelor said, surprise me.And the 60 of you had to say, all right,well, let's get together.And you picked the date.So you all showed up at his house Friday at 6 o'clockafter work.And you said, OK, now what should we do?You can imagine there'd be a lot of discussion

    • 19:48

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: and a lot of back and forth until the general will emerged.Well, that's the legislative process.It's a group decision-making process.And the general will, it takes discussion and timeto see where that is.And so that's sort of the compromise and the process

    • 20:11

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: and the deliberations to see where a majority of usagree this is the right idea.You don't need to have a unanimous agreement.So if the 60 of you at your bachelor partyare trying to figure out where you're going to go to dinner,if you get 30 people to say, let's go get pizza,you're probably just going to go because you can't get all 60

    • 20:33

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: to agree.Well, that's like the legislature.You only need a majority to agree.So if one party controls both the House and the Senate,say the Republicans in Alaska, well, you onlyneed the Republicans to agree on something.And the Democrats just don't get much of a chanceto influence that decision unless they really

    • 20:57

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: want to make an effort to peel off some Republican votesand get some Democrats on board, right?It's a wonderfully fluid process to find that majority.And the only way you find it is by asking and trying and seeingwhether they say yes or no.

    • 21:18

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: So I didn't know what a lobbyist was whenI was in college or law school.When I applied for law school, I wrote an essay saying,I wanted to go to law school to be like Ralph Nader.I was in a car crash between high school and college.My fault, stupid teenager, blew a yellow light,totaled the car.

    • 21:39

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: Girlfriend, now wife, was in the car as well.No seat belts for either one of us, going 45.One airbag-- mine-- and we both walked away.And I know, had it not been for people like Ralph Nader,who aggressively, persistently advocated for federal laws

    • 21:60

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: and regulations to require automobile manufacturersto install those airbags, I'd be dead.So I felt there's an impact to changing the governmentto make people's lives better, to literally save lives.Now I didn't know that's what a lobbyist is.But I knew that's why I wanted to go to law school

    • 22:22

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: to understand how it works so I could impact the governmentand make the world a better place.I like to tell people it's a very open industry.You don't need any degree.You don't pass any test.There's no bar.There's no licensing.You just have to show up and find a client.

    • 22:48

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: If you're willing to just show upto your city hall or your state legislature,even-- if you live around DC-- to Washington,and get to know how it works and start advocating for issues youbelieve in, that's what I did.I just cared about-- for me, it was improvingthe way we do elections.

    • 23:10

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: I'm a big believer in proportional representation,multi-party democracy like most of the rest of the world has.So I just started in college, sort of a zealot, saying,we should have proportional representation.And I guess I need to do a petitiondrive because we need the people to rise up and demand it.And I went to-- my local state rep had a little town hall

    • 23:31

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: meeting.And I said, we should have proportional representation.And I had no expectation.But she filed a bill to bring proportional representationto Illinois.It was a paradigm shift.All I had do was ask a politician to do something,and some of them will.And to me, it was this shift that I

    • 23:54

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: can go ask the politicians to implement the policies that Iwant to see.And if they do, we're done.We don't need a revolution.We don't need the people to rise up.We just need to figure out convince 60of members of the House and 30 membersof the Senate and the governor, and then it's a law.I encourage people, if they're interested in lobbying,

    • 24:18

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: to try it.Pick up the phone and call the White Houseand tell Barack Obama-- or whoever the president is--what you think.And then call your member of Congress.You've got two senators and one rep.And then figure out who your state senator and staterep are.Those people you can probably meet.Washington can be tough to penetrate.

    • 24:40

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: You're not going to get a meeting with the Presidentof United States.It's really hard.It's going to be tough but not impossible to meet with oneof your United States senators.And it's tough to meet with your member of Congress.You can, but it's hard.But if you're willing to go to your state capitoland find out who your state senator and state

    • 25:00

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: representative are and knock on their office doorand sit in their lobby, you will, in fact,get the chance to meet with and talk to your state legislators.And if you ask them, hey, this is important to me.I don't have it all figured out.But you know what?We should stop pollution polluting the lake so much.Or you know what?School should go till 5 o'clock.

    • 25:21

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: It shouldn't get out at 2:30.Or you know what?You shouldn't put people in prison for smoking marijuana.Or whatever it is.They'll hear you because politicians,they're in the people business.Their job is to make you feel comfortablethat-- that they work for you.

    • 25:41

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: They love it when a constituent comes to themand asks them for something they can do something about.Because to them, it's wonderful-- I've met a voter.I've got this relationship with the voter now.So I really encourage people thathave a passion or an interest to get to your state capitolor call up your state rep and state senator and say,hey, I'd like 5, 10 minutes of your time.

    • 26:03

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: I just want to share with you a couplethings that I'm interested in.The part I love about lobbying is,if you've got a big idea-- the environment shouldbe sustainable, poor people shouldn't pay taxes,shouldn't have extreme poverty, nobody should be hungry,college should be free-- these big picture ideas,

    • 26:23

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: well, that's not how laws read.There's no law that says college is free, right?So somebody has to figure out what can the government dothis year specifically that's big enough to make a difference

    • 26:43

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: but small enough that it can pass and earn enough support?That's called "policy development."And that's where a lot of the funcomes in because that's where I get to help figure out, look,we want bullet trains like they have in Japan in this country,and they have in China, they have in Europe,

    • 27:04

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: they have everywhere in the developed world.We just don't have them here.But we're not going to build an $80 billionhigh-speed rail system next year, even though we should.So what can we do next year, giventhe budget, given the realities of the taxeswe have to spend, what can we do to move that ball down

    • 27:28

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: the field?That's policy development.And that's a blast because when you do it right,and you ask a legislator, hey, whatdo you think about this idea?They say, great, because that's the kind of thingI've been wanting to do.Thanks for doing that homework.And then it's the senator's bill, not your bill.

    • 27:49

      DAN JOHNSON [continued]: That's when things are going well as a lobbyist.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lobbyists and State Legislation

View Segments Segment :


Lobbyist Dan Johnson describes what it means to be a lobbyist and how lobbyists fit into the American political system. He explains how in-house lobbyists differ from contract or volunteer lobbyists. And he emphasizes that lobbying is something anyone can do, as long as they have an idea they are passionate about.

SAGE Video In Practice
Lobbyists and State Legislation

Lobbyist Dan Johnson describes what it means to be a lobbyist and how lobbyists fit into the American political system. He explains how in-house lobbyists differ from contract or volunteer lobbyists. And he emphasizes that lobbying is something anyone can do, as long as they have an idea they are passionate about.

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