Lobbying State Governments

Outreach strategies to maximize your policy impact

State lobbyist workloads are immense: sifting through hundreds of bills, advocating on behalf of multiple clients, preparing testimony for dozens of hearings, reporting progress to stakeholders, and tracking activity for compliance purposes. And when they work across multiple states, it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks. Bloomberg Government makes it even easier for state policy professionals to seamlessly track legislative trends, bill activity, and key players across multiple jurisdictions, so they can quickly engage the right decision makers on the issues they care about.

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Lobbying at the state level involves connecting with state lawmakers and policymakers to advance a specific interest or cause. Each state has its own lobbying and public affairs processes and legal requirements, but typical day-to-day tasks include meeting with government officials and other decision makers, tracking bills, promoting specific pieces of legislation, and preparing written testimony for hearings.

State legislative advocacy is an essential part of the U.S. democratic process. Efforts to reform or implement new state policy can give voice to local issues and can shepherd innovative solutions that become a model for other states or the federal government. Fittingly, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously asserted that states can serve as “laboratories of democracy” in his 1932 dissent for New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, adding that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

While Brandeis made this observation nearly a century ago, the idea that states can serve as a workshop for policy exploration is just as relevant today. And because each state has varying constituencies with different needs and interests, these lobbying efforts can bring attention to a range of issues, helping to ensure a diversity of voices and perspectives. With the right strategy, state lobbyists and government affairs professionals can be valuable partners for the organizations and interests they represent, as well as the elected officials they engage with.

State lobbying vs. federal lobbying

Whether lobbying at the state or federal level, the goal of a lobbyist is to influence legislators. And while state and federal lobbying share similarities, there are important distinctions between the two practices:

  • Scope: Because federal laws and policies encompass all 50 states and U.S. territories, they are often much broader in scope and language than state policies, which can be more tailored to meet the specific needs of its residents, economy, infrastructure, and other factors.
  • Legislative processes: Individual state governments have different legislative processes than the federal government, including varying rules for who can introduce legislation and how committees operate. Those lobbying state governments must understand how these systems and rules differ.
  • Jurisdiction: The federal government and states governments oversee different issues. State governments, for example, manage localized issues including healthcare, education, and transportation. Alternatively, the federal government is empowered to address interstate and national issues, such as commerce, immigration, and military policies.

Due to these differences, government affairs professionals may specialize in either state or federal lobbying.


State lobbying regulations and disclosure requirements

While the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) regulates federal lobbying activities, there is no single piece of legislation that regulates lobbying in all 50 states. Instead, each state has its own distinct lobbying laws. In fact, states even have varied definitions for what constitutes “lobbying” and a “lobbyist.” These definitions dictate a state’s specific regulations concerning disclosures, gift restrictions and prohibitions, and registration requirements.

It can be difficult for government relations professionals to navigate the patchwork of regulations that determine how to lobby state governments. This is especially true for lobbyists who represent clients with interests in different states. For instance, some states require all lobbyists to file registration paperwork while others only require lobbyists to register if they meet a certain time or compensation threshold. The information lobbyists must disclose – like contact information, client information, terms of compensation, and more – also varies from state to state.

Furthermore, there may be limited transparency into state lobbying expenditures due to varying state disclosure laws. Currently, only 19 states collect and share meaningful data on lobbying spending. And because 17 states don’t require lobbyist compensation to be reported, analysts are unable to gather a full picture of how national organizations are orchestrating state lobbying activities across the country.


Examples of successful state lobbying campaigns

It can be difficult for lobbyists to confirm their impact because a great amount of lobbying work can’t be quantitatively measured. While it can be challenging for lobbyists to quantify their influence, there are tangible examples that demonstrate the impact that lobbying state governments can have on state policy outcomes. With the right strategy, government affairs professionals can play a powerful role in the legislative process and have significant impact on the laws and regulations governing their state – and beyond.

Prescription drug prices

In 2021 a coalition of state lobbyists in North Dakota successfully lobbied in opposition to bill SB 2170, which would have used international reference pricing to negotiate drug prices with state pharmaceutical manufacturers. The bill raised concerns from leading pharmaceutical companies and trade groups, and state lobbyists representing their interests worked with legislators to vote down the bill.

Cannabis legalization

One of the most notable and successful state lobbying campaigns in recent history concerned the legalization of marijuana. While efforts to legalize cannabis at the federal level remains stalled, many states have passed legislation allowing the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and, in some instances, recreational use as well.

Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational cannabis in 2014, and several states proceeded to follow Colorado’s model. Since 2014, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medicinal and recreational use of cannabis and decriminalized possession. The campaign to legalize and regulate cannabis at the state level is a prime, modern example of states serving as laboratories of democracy.

Marriage equality

A second example is the legalization of gay marriage. In this scenario, advocacy groups focused on state-by-state lobbying strategies to advance legislation that expanded state marriage rights and protections to same-sex couples. As a patchwork of states began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, legal questions arose about whether those marriage licenses should be recognized in states where gay marriage wasn’t legal. These interstate legal questions rose to the jurisdiction of the federal government, and in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision required states to license marriages between same-sex couples and recognize all marriages lawfully performed outside the state.

State minimum wage

State lobbying efforts have also successfully raised the minimum wage in several jurisdictions, even though the federal minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009. In fact, most states have adopted minimum wage laws that set higher minimum hourly wages than the federal minimum of $7.25. In 2021 alone, 24 states passed laws to increase their minimum wage.

Shape better state policy with Bloomberg Government

With increasing workloads, faster policy developments, and competing interests ready to fill in the gaps, government affairs professionals need to work smarter. They can’t waste hours manually searching through multiple sources to find and verify every relevant development for every bill. With the right tools, these lobbying and public affairs professionals can more efficiently manage their workflows and get back to the strategic work of engaging with the right decision makers on the issues that matter most.

Download our 2024 State Policy Watchlist for a breakdown of five key state policy areas, with analysis, updates, and insights.

Bloomberg Government is a one-stop-shop for state policy tracking and intelligence built to save you time and effort. With bill summaries, custom alerts, congressional directories, and specialized tools to track policy trends across multiple jurisdictions, Bloomberg Government makes it easy to build an effective lobbying and public affairs strategy with confidence.

Request a demo to see how Bloomberg Government can help you stay informed, save time, and craft an effective state lobbying or government affairs strategy.

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