Press for Lobbyit

CEO Update: Lobbyit Offers Variable Terms to Make Advocacy Affordable

By William Ehart

Lobbying is a big-money game: The traditional firms charge high retainer fees, and staffers with strong advocacy backgrounds command premium salaries.

But that doesn’t mean influence in Washington, D.C., and state capitals is beyond the reach of smaller-revenue associations.

In recent years, D.C.-based firms such as LobbyIt and HillStaffer have stepped in to provide advocacy services on an as-needed basis for manageable chunks of money, and both report fast growth. LobbyIt offers monthly packages in four different tiers of service, while HillStaffer charges hourly for various components of advocacy from meeting members of Congress to building coalitions.

Ray Leonhard, CEO of the Reston, Va.-based Brick Industry Association, knew his $4 million-revenue group needed help a few years ago, with new regulations being imposed and his industry still reeling from the Great Recession. Through attrition, the association has reduced staff from 30 to 15 today.

When BIA’s two full-time lobbyists left the group in late 2012, Leonhard gave LobbyIt a call.

“We have reduced our lobbyist costs 70 percent compared to when we had it in-house, and it’s been far more effective,” Leonhard said. “We have a much more experienced and better-connected team than we could ever have afforded to hire on our own.”

LobbyIt schedules about 100 Capitol Hill visits for BIA members per year, versus the 20 visits the group averaged before, he said. The monthly contracts allow the association to scale back lobbying efforts when appropriate without having to pay fixed staff costs.

“We started at one of their lower tiers, and now we are at their highest level,” Leonhard said.

Testing Federal Waters
LobbyIt’s first tier is $995 per month—which founder Paul Kanitra says amounts to clients “dipping their toes into the federal waters.”

“It engages the members and shows them the value of having a lobbyist, and once we whet their appetite, they usually want more,” he said.

Tier Two is $1,995 monthly, for clients who stop short of lobbying but want to know what’s going on with legislation and regulation, what would be the firm’s recommendations and what are the ramifications.

For “all-hands-on-deck lobbying”—including efforts to pass, amend or kill legislation—clients can pay $2,995 per month for tier-three service, Kanitra said.

As larger clients began approaching LobbyIt, the firm added a fourth level for $4,995 monthly, he said. That tier adds grass-roots advocacy and full state legislative tracking. PAC management and social media campaigns also are available à la carte.

LobbyIt selects its clients carefully—avoiding divisive social issues and unsavory foreign
governments—to maintain a positive brand on the Hill, Kanitra said. From no clients and
a staff of one—himself—in 2009, the firm now has 40 clients and is hiring a sixth full-time lobbyist.

Service on Parallel Tracks
At HillStaffer, founded in 2011, President Tom Rosenfield said hourly charges vary by service provided and the expertise level of the staffer hired—a former Hill chief of staff or agency director runs more than a former legislative director. But fees are much lower than that of traditional lobbying firms, he said. Revenue tripled last year, he said.

The company offers affordable service in part by hiring semiretired GR veterans, Rosenfield said.
HillStaffer’s model allows clients to pay for services separately depending on need and the capabilities the client has in-house, he said.

“If you’ve got a piece of legislation and it’s going to take an average of 10 hours a month over a year, and then you have grass-roots advocacy that’s going to average 15 hours a month, those services run independently and they’ve got different people and price points, so it maximizes the flexibility of operations for an association,” Rosenfield said.

Leveraging Grass Roots
Small groups also can outsource some GR services to an association management firm, even if the group itself is independently managed.

SmithBucklin runs a GR staff in Washington, D.C., to serve the associations it manages as well as other clients, said Executive Vice President Michael Payne.

Associations that might not have a big budget still may have many members with influence on policymakers, he said.

“We are focused on a grass-roots approach, trying to utilize members who have connections,” Payne said.

“It obviously takes time and energy and money to do some of that, but a lot of it can be done by the membership itself if they are engaged properly and directed,” he said.

SmithBucklin conducts webinars to prepare association members for fly-ins, letter-writing campaigns and regulatory comments. When members do visit Washington, D.C., they get in-person coaching before hitting the Hill.

“We use those webinars just to make sure everybody’s got a level set on exactly what we are asking for and what’s unreasonable to ask, and what the opposing point of view is so they can be articulate,” Payne said.

Reprinted from CEOUpdate.com

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.