Press for Lobbyit

WASH POST: Lobbyit Aiming to be Everyman’s Lobbyist

By Catherine Ho

Four years ago, Paul Kanitra opened up a one-man lobby shop whose business model was nicknamed by some as “McLobbying” — he charged clients no more than $2,995 a month (compared with a typical K Street retainer of $15,000) to lobby on their issues in Washington.

Today, the firm has grown to include seven salaried employees and more than 20 clients, and is projecting $1 million in revenue this year.

Kanitra and his team are working on many of the hot issues of the day, including EB-5 visas and the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill that would enable state governments to collect sales tax on goods sold over the Internet. But they are largely representing the “little guy,” mostly mom-and-pop shops and little-known associations located outside the Capital Beltway that are affected by those policies.

LobbyIt is finding success by doing virtually everything differently from the traditional K Street shop. It started with three tiers of pricing: $995, $1,995 or $2,995 a month, and six months ago added a fourth tier of $4,999 a month. The firm is not shooting to pass legislation for clients, but rather build companies’ presence in D.C. and alert them to future regulations that may impact their business. Most of the firm’s clients have never had a lobbyist before, and the majority have revenue of less than $5 million a year.

The firm was originally called Keys to the Capitol, but that was later changed to LobbyIt — a name chosen in part because of its similarity with the word “lobbyist,” to maximize search engine hits. If you Google “DC lobbyist,” the first sponsored ad that pops up is that of LobbyIt. Kanitra, 34, said the firm pays up to $5 per click, and gets a third of its clients from the Internet. The firm’s Web site was designed to seem approachable and transparent, listing client success stories and pricing.

“Lobbying is a product,” Kanitra said. “You have to take into account things like, ‘What are your deliverables?’ ‘Is it affordable?’ And, ‘How do you bring people to the product?’”

Kanitra describes the firm’s target audience not as the seasoned in-house government affairs manager at a Fortune 500 company, but as “the executive director of a small association in Idaho who hasn’t been in D.C. since their eighth-grade class trip.” The firm has a small sales team that cold-calls potential clients.

It is an unconventional approach that, so far, has carved out a small niche for Kanitra. In its first year, 2010, the firm earned $10,000 in lobbying fees. The following year, it grew to $240,000, and by 2013, the firm hit $500,000.

“Business is booming now,” said Kanitra, who once worked on a Native American reservation in Nevada on gaming legislation, and later became a lobbyist for Carfax, the Centreville-based provider of vehicle history reports.

Among the firm’s clients are the Brick Industry Association, the World Floor Covering Association, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and the American Jail Association. All of the firm’s clients pay less than $30,000 in fees each year, according to lobbying records.

Kanitra works out of a converted row house in Capitol Hill, alongside Nile Elam, the firm’s director of congressional relations and former Hill staffer; Keith B. Nelson, executive vice president and former Justice Department attorney; Morgan Muchnick, director of advocacy; and Matt Kent, manager of legislative and regulatory analysis.

Kanitra said he owes part of the firm’s success to a confluence of factors that came to a head around the time LobbyIt opened its doors in 2010.

“Earmarks are dead and there’s been increased transparency in government,” he said. “The interaction of the public and social media means there’s a lot [of measures that are] less able to get slipped in in the middle of the night. That’s created an environment where it doesn’t make sense to spend $20,000 or $30,000 a month anymore hoping for a big home run. But people still need to have a voice in Congress.”

Reprinted from the Washington Post…

IN THE CAPITAL: Meet Paul Kanitra, the Boutique Lobbyist Changing the World of Government Relations

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I met with Paul Kanitra on a cold fall day at the Capitol Hill Lounge. His boyish face and slight New Jersey accent, combined with a surprising height, make him a physical poster boy for the fast-talking Washington lobbyist. However, his wealth of experiences, entrepreneurial spirit, and passion for breaking the mold when it comes to the business of government make him a unique force to be reckoned with.

At 34-years old, Kanitra has enough experience in the world of lobbying to know the game, but is not so old as to be stuck in the rut of business as usual that seems to capture so many K Streeters. “Lobbying is not progressive,” he told me. “It’s very much a closed off old boys club. The business hasn’t changed much since electricity came to Washington.” Kanitra’s firm Lobbyit.com however, is looking to change all that. In Kanitra’s own words, Lobbyit.com is the WalMart of government relations to Patton Bogg’s Bloomingdales.

Launched in 2009, Lobbyit.com is unique in the sense that it is the only lobbying firm in D.C. to offer its clients set prices. Based on a tier system, with the cheapest package going for just $995 a month, smaller associations can have a presence on Capitol Hill without breaking the bank. The higher, more expensive tiers offer more comprehensive services, including more meetings with members, and local, state and federal bill tracking.

Kanitra’s passion for story telling is palpable when talking to him. As is his desire to make his own path in Washington. He cut his teeth as an inexperienced 24-year old at the Associated Locksmiths of America. “I was able to learn a lot while I was doing it,” he said of his first job in the world of government relations. “I knew I didn’t want to do the traditional Washington path of studying hard on the Hill in only one area and then jumping ship to go to K Street.”

Continue reading at InTheCapital.com…

Lobbyit.com Partners with Voice of America

Lobbyit.com partnered with Voice of America – China for this inside look into the lobbying profession. The video showcases not only the fastest growing lobbying firm on Capitol Hill, but how their lobbyists are able to effect change in the halls of Congress.

POLITICO: T.C.U. Takes to K Street

Texas Christian University — alma mater to PI’s own Andrea Drusch — has hired Lobbyit.com to rep its name and national profile among members from the Lone Star State. Lobbyit.com President Paul Kanitra and senior lobbyist Nile Elam will be telling the Horned Frog story around the Hill, starting with Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn and Rep. Roger Williams. Despite their purple credentials, Kanitra and Elam said the gig didn’t come easy, but the shop’s new focus on university issues and its unique business model sold Chancellor Victor Boschini on the deal.

TCU 360: TCU Partners with Lobbying Firm to Raise Profile

By Seth Dahle

TCU hired LobbyIt this month to lobby for its interests on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

According to an email from Chancellor Victor Boschini, the university will partner with the firm for two years and then re-evaluate the plan.

LobbyIt founder and president Paul Kanitra said the firm’s goal is to “help provide an affordable and accountable alternative to traditional lobbying firms,” which normally overprice clients while failing to provide compensation.

“Our firm was founded to give everybody a voice and make sure everybody has a presence before Congress, federal agencies and administration,” Kanitra said.

Senior lobbyist Nile Elam said Kanitra and he met with Boschini and the chancellor’s intern Michael Marshall six weeks ago in Washington, D.C. to pitch the idea.

“The Chancellor and Mike had an interest in lobbying and trying to raise TCU’s profile,” Elam said. “I think in the grand scheme of TCU’s future, we’re growing away from a regional university to a national university.”

Elam (‘10) and Kanitra (‘01) are both alumni, which made partnering with the university a given because of their love for the school.

“We really have an idea for what the university is,” he said. “We’re going to work really hard simply because that’s our alma mater, and we have way too much purple memorabilia in our office as it is. It’s great to say that we’re working with TCU.”

Boschini said he hopes having alumni work for LobbyIt will be an advantage since they already understand the TCU culture.

The LobbyIt website features different tiers for pricing, ranging from $995 per month to $4,995 per month. Boschini wrote that TCU chose the $2,995 per month tier with an added option to cease as long as TCU gives LobbyIt a seven-days notice.

Kanitra said affordable pricing is one of the key aspects of his firm’s “unique business model.”

“TCU is paying a fraction of what traditional lobbying firms are charging for this type of work,” he said. “If you look at lobbying disclosures across the nation, there are lots of universities that are paying $10,000, $15,000, to $20,000 a month for just the privilege of having a voice on top of Capitol Hill.”

Boschini said he liked how the business plan gave TCU a monthly contract instead of binding the university to a long-term commitment. The LobbyIt payments will come from tuition money since students are the “stakeholders in everything TCU does.”

Although Boschini said he is not certain of the plan’s outcome, he hopes it will result in two things – increased visibility and awareness of what students, faculty and staff need, as well as more federal funding for various campus-based programs and ideas.

Meanwhile, Kanitra said the relationship would give TCU many opportunities.

“We’re going to be able to showcase a lot of the great research and a lot of the great work and unique programs that are going on at TCU,” he said. “Additionally, we’re going to be monitoring the grant and student loan space and the financial aspects of just being a student.”

Read it at TCU 360…

THE HILL: Lobbyit.com partners with Salsa Labs to create an “online advocacy platform”

The firm Lobbyit.com has partnered with Salsa Labs to create an “online advocacy platform” called Tier 4, which aims to connect the firm’s clients with elected officials and give them tools to track legislation in all 50 states, among other features. Lobbyit.com has also hired Keith B. Nelson, the former head of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legislative Affairs, to become its new executive vice president.

Read on The Hill…

CEO UPDATE: Groups fight for favored provisions in immigration overhaul battle

Originally published in CEO Update.

By Mark Tarallo

 Associations keenly interested in bills now winding through Congress

Veteran lobbyist Michael Petricone says immigration is one of the few issues that the White House, Senate leadership and House leadership all want to see fixed. And so, even though Congress is best known for gridlock these days, Petricone—along with many other association executives—has high hopes that a comprehensive overhaul bill will be approved.

“We’ve got momentum. We think something very positive is going to get done,” said Petricone, senior vice president of government affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association.

And unlike Congress’ previous large-scale initiatives, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial bill, the revamp of immigration laws is not attracting significant association opposition. When the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” released its 800-plus-page immigration proposal last month (which the Senate starting marking up May 9), a range of associations praised the effort.

“The Gang of Eight’s focus on reforming our broken and unworkable immigration system is an historic achievement,” National Retail Federation CEO Matt Shay said in a statement.

“But much work needs to be done.”

And therein lies the lobbying battle: the struggle for each association to get its own desired industry-friendly provisions into the final legislation. Then those groups will push for approval to the finish line; as Petricone said of CEA: “We will support any comprehensive bill that has our specific ‘asks’ in it.”

Fighting for different things

The ‘asks’ CEA is pushing include three provisions: (1) increase the number of H-1B visas available for high-skilled foreign workers; (2) allow foreign-born, U.S.-educated immigrants to remain in America after graduation with a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) graduate degree; and (3) grant visas to foreign-born entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in the U.S., if they raise sufficient capital and hire American workers.

Other groups, such as the National Restaurant Association, share a strong interest in the proposed mandatory employer verification system, or “E-Verify.” NRA took its message to the White House in late April, with CEO Dawn Sweeney leading a delegation of NRA officers and members to meet with administration officials.

The NRA contingent spent about 90 minutes in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room, talking with administration repre- sentatives including Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. The officials were interested in hearing NRA’s perspective, according to Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for NRA.

“On E-verify, we have a lot of experience. A lot of members use it already,” said Amador, who was present at the meeting. (NRA recently conducted a survey of members’ current use of E-Verify; the study found 80 percent of NRA members who currently use it—either voluntarily, or because their state requires it—would recommend it.)

NRA’s White House meeting was part of a larger “immigration week” for the group that included a meeting with some GOP members of the Senate’s Gang of Eight, including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Arizona’s John McCain.

E-Verify is also a key proposal for the NRF. “NRF will examine the size, scope and phase-in schedule of the new, mandatory employer verification system,” Shay said.

Down on the farm

IT, retail and restaurants are not the only association sectors with a keen interest in immigration. Farm and food groups like United Fresh Produce Association, American Nursery & Landscape Association, American Farm Bureau Federation and U.S. Apple Association have joined forces to form the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, so the groups could influence the debate with a unified voice.

AWC worked with some of the members of the Gang of Eight on one of the coalition’s key priorities: establishing a new agricultural guest worker program to be administered by USDA, not the Department of Labor, according to Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communication for United Fresh.

The new guest-worker program is designed to give growers more certainty about worker availability, and to assure access to a skilled and stable workforce, Gilmer said. It establishes wage rates for different job classifications, and allows more flexibility for crews to move from farm to farm, as needed.

“When Mother Nature says you have to harvest, you have to harvest that day,” Gilmer said.
Given that the AWC helped design the guest-worker provisions in the Gang of Eight’s bill, the coalition is supporting that legislation. House leaders are working their own version, which the AWC will evaluate. “The House still has a ways to go until it makes their proposal,” Gilmer said.

The power of story

The efforts on immigration by large groups like NRA, NRF and United Fresh raise a question, however: Will small associations get drowned out in the debate? Not if they leverage their stories and make a strong case in a lawmaker’s home district, says Paul Kanitra, CEO of LobbyIt.com, a nonpartisan firm that represents small association clients on both sides of the immigration issue.

To Kanitra, immigration is illustrative of the “seismic shift” taking place in the lobbying profession. The old model of “money buys influence” no longer holds sway, he argues; a group can spend millions blanketing the airwaves and inside-the-beltway publications with paid advertisements and still lose on an issue.

Now, small association members can make an effective case in the lawmaker’s home district with a compelling story of how a bill can make or break their business. This type of personalized local story is powerful, especially in the current information-saturated climate, with lawmakers buffeted by noise.

“At the end of the day, if they’re [the member] on the fence, and not dyed in the wool on either side of the issue, that’s the sort of thing he or she will remember,” Kanitra said.

Indeed, the power of story has also been acknowledged by another player in the immigration debate: the White House.

In an official White House message released May 8, Muñoz asked for citizens to submit their immigration stories for possible publication on the White House website and dissemination via Facebook and Twitter.

“Share your American stories with us, and we’ll put them to use,” Muñoz wrote.

POLITICO: Lobbyit.com partners with Salsa Labs

By Byron Tau and Anna Palmer

LOBBYIT.COM PARTNERS WITH SALSA LABS: Lobbyit.com is partnering with online organizing company Salsa Labs Inc., the firms announced Wednesday. The partnership will allow Lobbyit to offer clients a new package of services that include a grass-roots organizing component. According to a release: “Lobbyit.com will roll out its new Tier 4 service option to give nonprofits, associations, municipalities and businesses a nimble alternative to the larger and less efficient lobbying firms on the market. The Tier 4 solution combines the expertise of one of the top DC lobbying firms with the proven technology of Salsa’s online advocacy platform. The resulting unprecedented offering will allow Lobbyit’s clients to make an even larger impact on the issues they care about most.”

Read it at Politico…

KIPLINGER LETTER

Good news for small businesses looking for a helping hand in Washington: More lobbying firms are lining up to do the bidding of the little guys. One example: Lobbyit.com, which focuses its business on helping smaller clients. The firm’s monthly $1,000 minimum is far short of the $50,000-a-month retainer that some marquee firms get paid to try to influence House and Senate members.

Smalls have long been helped on big-picture matters by a few groups… the National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, etc… but those organizations don’t focus on bills or issues vital to smaller companies. Look for the lobbying trend to go beyond the Beltway to state capitals, too.

CEO UPDATE: How small associations can maximize their lobbying clout

Originally published by CEO Update.

By William Ehart

Some firms specialize in helping the little guy; but your most effective advocates—especially before lawmakers—are your own members

Brett Palmer, president of the $2 million-revenue Small Business Investor Alliance, needed just a little bit of lobbying help last year.

With Congress fighting about the fiscal cliff and tax extenders, SBIA—which represents small private-equity funds—needed another pair of eyes and ears on the Hill.

So Palmer hired a “very experienced” temporary lobbyist who specialized in certain niches in the tax code from a 2½-year-old company called HillStaffer, a consulting and government relations firm that serves associations and other not-for-profit organizations.

While Palmer has a strong government affairs background and also has an experienced lobbyist on staff, they can’t be everywhere at once.

“I’ve got only so many arms and legs and mouths to speak with at the same time. Sometimes issues surge and you have lots of different pieces on the board,” Palmer told CEO Update. “You need a little intel. This was a nice insurance policy that paid off. It let us be much more effective in our efforts.”

“For a small association that doesn’t revolve its entire existence around lobbying, the [HillStaffer] model makes sense,” said Palmer. “For us, it’s helpful to augment what we already have.”

Tom Rosenfield, president of HillStaffer, said his company saves small associations money because it doesn’t charge a retainer and only bills for as many hours as clients are willing to pay for. Typical clients pay for about 17 to 18 hours of lobbying representation per month for a bill of between $2,500 and $3,500, he said. HillStaffer employs a network of semiretired former Capitol Hill aides on a project basis.

Another company that can help small associations on limited lobbying budgets is LobbyIt.

“I used to work for a small national association,” said Founder and President Paul Kanitra. “I saw [lobbying] prices drastically overinflated, and yet everyone needed a seat at the table.”

LobbyIt offers clients a range of pricing plans, from basic representation to bill tracking to “all hands on deck,” Kanitra said. LobbyIt does not lock clients into long-term contracts but instead offers commitments as short as one month for basic representation or three months for full service.

Look within for lobby power

But the best source of lobbying clout for a small association is from within, said Robert Hay, associate director of public policy at ASAE.

“What we tell associations is that you have a set of advocates already at hand. It’s your members, volunteers, board committees,” he said. “They know your issues best and, if you are a national organization, are spread out across the country.

“Congressional offices love to hear from constituents, especially educated constituents who can tell a story and provide specifics on a topic.”

Hay said, “There are a lot of free events around [Washington, D.C.],” with members of Congress in attendance. Look out for these events and speak about your association.”

Members can reach out to many lawmakers on Facebook and Twitter, but nothing beats an in-person meeting, he said, whether on Capitol Hill or in a member of Congress’ home district.

“Face-to-face constituent meetings are a much more effective way of educating a congressional office on an issue,” Hay said.

Small associations who need lobbying help also should take a hard look at their strategic plans to see if resources can be made available, he said.

“If you don’t want to hire a full-time lobbyist there are some services you can hire that would help train your staff to figure out how to do the right kind of lobbying,” Hay said.

Consultants who can advise on grassroots advocacy include The Showalter Group and Advocacy Associates, he said.

Form a GR committee

To galvanize and focus member energies—and respond quickly to threats and opportunities—an association can form a government relations committee, said Jeanne Sheehy, executive director of the $600K-revenue Tile Roofing Institute. Sheehy also is vice president and chief marketing officer of Chicago-based association management company Bostrom.

That’s what TRI did when it realized it was missing out on a green tax credit that was available to customers of its asphalt and metal roofing competitors.

The committee was composed of technical experts from member companies. It contacted all of TRI’s major manufacturers and got maps of plant locations so that certain congressional districts could be targeted, and made a list of all employees who had congressional contacts.

That was work they could do themselves, so that by the time they did hire a lobbyist on monthly retainer, he was able to hit the ground running, Sheehy said. TRI devoted about 12 percent of its budget to the overall lobbying effort.

TRI has so far been unable to get tile roofs included in the tax credit—but with a committee in place earlier, success would have been more likely.

“We were late in the game,” Sheehy acknowledged.

“Had we had this effort going earlier we wouldn’t have gotten behind. We should have done this five years before.”