Successful State Lobbying Campaigns: 4 Examples of Strategies to Shape Policy Outcomes

May 13, 2024

When done strategically, lobbying state governments can shape the legal and regulatory landscape far beyond individual state borders. Sometimes called the “laboratories of democracy,” individual states can be good testing grounds to demonstrate the effectiveness of certain public policies. When state-level victories establish legal precedents, shape public opinion, and inspire broad coalitions, they can serve as benchmarks and encourage other states and the federal government to adopt similar models.

While the most successful lobbying and public affairs efforts are those that tailor their strategies to fit the specific policy needs and political environments of the state, there are certain best practices that are consistent across campaigns that have had the greatest impact:

  • Directly engaging local decision-makers
  • Building relationships with community stakeholders
  • Adapting to shifting public sentiment
  • Mobilizing grassroots supporters

State lobbying campaigns have leveraged these tactics to influence policy outcomes across critical domains like health care, social justice, and the environment. Below, we take a closer look at four successful state lobbying examples where policy outcomes reverberated across state lines.

Cannabis legalization

Highlighting the role of states in shaping policy nationwide, California was the first state to pass legislation to legalize medical cannabis in 1996. More than a decade later, in 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use. These state laws broke with decades of escalating federal cannabis restrictions that culminated in its classification in 1970 as a Schedule I substance with no legitimate medical use.

By 2016, most states had followed suit and passed their own laws to legalize medical cannabis; roughly half now also permit its recreational use. Federal standards are shifting to respond to these state-level policy changes. In places where it is now legal, federal law is typically not enforced against the possession, cultivation, or intrastate distribution of cannabis. And since 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice has been prohibited from allocating funds in a way that would obstruct the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.

What began nearly 30 years ago in California underscores a broader pattern in state lobbying efforts: Advocates strategically adopted an incremental approach to policy changes, initially focusing on more narrowly legalizing cannabis for medical use before expanding to recreational use.

State lobbyists and advocates for cannabis legalization focused their campaign on reframing outdated views of cannabis use by educating policymakers on new research into its medicinal benefits, social justice concerns over cannabis-related incarcerations, and positive socioeconomic outcomes observed in early-adopter states.

Data privacy

In the absence of a comprehensive U.S. federal data privacy law, states have been filling the regulatory void. In today’s era of expanding digital reach, states are becoming more attuned to consumer concerns about personal privacy and data protection. The enactment of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2018 is a prominent example of successful advocacy for state policies in areas of federal inaction.

CCPA’s impact is not limited to California – as the nation’s first comprehensive consumer privacy law, it served as a model for other states to adopt their own privacy measures to address the specific privacy concerns of their residents. Among these, the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act gives consumers the right to access and request that businesses delete their personal data, and the Colorado Privacy Act allows state residents to opt out of targeted advertising, personal data sales, and certain forms of online profiling.

These different state privacy law outcomes showcase the effectiveness of a decentralized approach to state lobbying that tailors policy to address specific consumer concerns.

Minimum wage

Recent labor and employment legislative initiatives in states such as California and New York showcase the role of state advocacy campaigns to enact state-level policies that build on federal minimum standards.

While the federal Fair Labor Standards Act establishes a national minimum wage, states retain the authority to enact their own wage laws. Notably, when states institute minimum wages and protections that surpass federal baselines, state regulations take precedence. To date, some 30 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have enacted minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage.

State-level advocacy has not only raised the minimum wage in these states, but has also expanded certain protections to workers that aren’t covered by federal wage and labor laws, including:

  • Paid leave
  • Pay transparency
  • Portable benefits for gig workers

These state lobbying campaigns successfully leveraged grassroots strategies – rallying unions and advocacy groups in a coordinated effort to engage state legislators, emphasizing the socioeconomic impact of present labor and employment laws.

Clean energy

As federal climate policy has stalled in recent years, several states took the lead in implementing their own clean energy initiatives. Guided by frameworks known alternately as renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and renewable electricity standards (RES), these state-led efforts set goals for a specific percentage of the state’s electricity to be derived from renewable sources within a set timeframe.

These state lobbying campaigns underscore the significance of coordinated efforts among environmental groups to directly lobby policymakers by demonstrating the economic benefits for states that encourage renewable energy adoption – including job creation, industrial innovation, and improved health outcomes.

Once again, these collaborative efforts to lobby state governments don’t merely influence local policies; they also increasingly extend their impact to federal clean energy policy discussions. As these state clean energy frameworks are implemented and can demonstrate whether they’ve been successful, they may in time bolster lobbying and advocacy efforts to establish a similar federal standard.

Your state lobbying connection

To ensure initiatives to lobby state governments are successful, government affairs professionals need a deep understanding of the political climate and legislative priorities of all relevant stakeholders and to be able to proactively respond and adapt their lobbying strategies. Download our 2024 State Policy Watchlist for an informative breakdown of five key state policy areas that are poised to draw new and renewed attention in the year ahead.

Bloomberg Government delivers state-focused coverage to help you respond appropriately and effectively to emerging state policy trends. Request a demo to discover the unmatched expertise and public affairs tools available on our comprehensive intelligence platform, including state bill tracking, policy heatmaps and trend analysis, state congressional directories, and custom news alerts to help you stay ahead.