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.”

In the U.S., being a big corporation generally means you have a big budget for lobbying legislators and investing in political campaigns. But what about the little guy? How do small businesses access national representatives and affect or influence federal policy?

Guests: Paul Kanitra: Founder and CEO of LobbyIt.com – a D.C. Lobby firm that specializes in low cost lobbying for small businesses. Sheila Krumholz: Executive Director of the Center for Responsive Politics – research group that tracks money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.

Brand name firms charge up to a six-figure annual retainer for their formidable connections; opensecrets.org will tell you who others in your industry have retained and for how much. “The intimidation factor shuts out a lot of people,” says Paul Kanitra, whose start-up firm Lobbyit.com offers services from $995.

Continue reading at Worth.com

Revolutionary Lobbying Concept Strengthens Commitment to Accessible Government

The game-changing lobbying firm for businesses, associations, municipalities and non-profits has completely rebranded from Keys to the Capitol to LobbyIt.com. The new name comes as LobbyIt.com’s transparent business model reaches new heights in bringing government access to the people.

“We recognized it was time to step even further away from over-priced, closed door lobbying and embrace the new era of public involvement centered on the Internet and social media,” said LobbyIt.com President and Founder Paul Kanitra. “The world has changed and LobbyIt.com is on the bleeding edge, leading the charge.”

LobbyIt.com shook up the lobbying world last year when it debuted its radically different approach to lobbying and helped the masses finally get their voices heard in Congress. Instead of negotiating outrageous, multi-year contracts for vague services, LobbyIt.com customers choose a package of clear-cut deliverables with no lengthy commitments for one, low, standard price – as little as $995 a month. LobbyIt.com is the first full service lobbying firm to offer such fair and transparent prices to help organizations reach their lawmakers. After more than a year in business, it still has no imitators.

“The response has been phenomenal,” said Kanitra. “We work with cities, labor unions, mid-sized corporations, and family-owned businesses and we’re getting real results. These are the types of people and groups who have been priced out of government and we’re proud to be helping them get a voice when so much is at stake.”

The rebranding comes as LobbyIt.com’s client list has grown exponentially. A redesigned, highly interactive website (http://www.lobbyit.com) has also premiered to make LobbyIt.com’s services even more accessible. Plans are in the works to launch LobbyIt.com franchises on the state level.

“Everyone is affected by government action and everyone has a story our leaders need to hear,” said Kanitra. “We won’t be happy until everyone has the voice they deserve.”

Kanitra’s business model has been featured in The Washington Post, WallStreetJournal.com, The Durham Herald Sun and more. He is available for interviews at (202) 587-2736 or pkanitra@lobbyit.com.

LobbyIt.com is a full service lobbying and public affairs firm located in Washington, DC. It provides services to businesses, associations, municipalities and non-profits. It can be found online at http://www.lobbyit.com.

Read it on redOrbit.com…

Written by Joshua Kurlantzick, AllBusiness.com

For years large companies have enjoyed many advantages over smaller firms. Economies of scale. The ability to pay higher salaries to recruit talent. International networks and outsourcing to help maximize speed and cut prices. Perhaps most important, the big firms employ teams of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to help them nail down government contracts, win favorable regulations, and persuade Congress to pass legislation helping them on a range of issues. Though small companies have their own trade associations that lobby in Washington, the power of these lobbyists pales in comparison to behemoths like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which focuses on broader business issues and is generally considered the most powerful business lobbyist in the capitol.

Now one boutique lobbying firm in Washington is pushing back. Led by Paul Kanitra, a veteran lobbyist who has advocated for smaller players like the Associated Locksmiths of America, Keys to the Capitol represents individual small companies. Charging far less than the tens of thousands per month in retainers large lobbyists require, Kanitra hopes his firm will attract entrepreneurs, as well as smaller towns and associations, that are looking for lobbyists. Despite opening just a few months ago, Kanitra’s six-employee company already boasts six clients and has garnered interest from many more business owners.

“When we looked around, we found there was no one else doing this type of work,” says Kanitra. “From working for the locksmiths and other clients, I understood the needs of small companies and how hard it was for them to get a hearing in Washington. It can be a bewildering place if you don’t have the background here.”

Keys to the Capitol’s business model cuts out a lot of the fat large lobbyists incorporate, like exorbitant expenses and meals, which is how he can offer rates many small companies can afford — as little as $995 a month for a retainer. “[The big lobbyists] work so much extra money into their lobbying contracts,” Kanitra says. “We are frugal, and every month we give our clients a detailed overview of exactly how we spent our time on their behalf.”

Kanitra leaves lobbying on issues such as health-care reform and the estate tax to small business associations like the National Federation of Independent Business. “They lobby on broad issues, but they don’t represent one business,” he says. “You can still be an NFIB member and hire an individual lobbyist.”

Keys to the Capitol takes a more targeted approach, helping individual businesses tackle specific issues. “We help clients get products through specific government regulations or assist them in obtaining RFPs [requests for proposals] for government contracts or making contacts at one key government agency,” he says. “Let’s say you are a small manufacturer of swimwear, and you need government approval for your product in order to sell it. You could come to us.”

One of Kanitra’s clients, for example, developed a program to combat fraud in federal agencies. But the firm needs to convince an agency that the program makes sense and that the company has the skill and resources to pull off the program. “[The client] might not have the contacts at the right government agencies to make their pitch, so they need someone to open the doors, to make the pitch for them,” Kanitra says. He works with the client to tailor the pitch to the right government agency, and then he uses his connections to get the client in the door to see someone with the power to decide on the business’s issue. Without such introductions, companies could be lost, wandering through a maze of federal agencies looking for the right contact.

Indeed at times Kanitra serves as a kind of educator, helping entrepreneurs understand how the Washington game works. “I’m often the first lobbyist they’ve ever dealt with,” he says.

Still, does hiring a lobbyist make sense for an individual small company? For a firm that deals only with state contracts or regulators or doesn’t have any significant federal contracts, it might not be an effective use of funds. But for a business that deals repeatedly with federal agencies, needs its local congressperson onboard to get a project approved, or could take advantage of a loophole in a specific law, hiring an individual lobbyist could be a wise move. And at under $1,000 per month — less than a business owner would pay for the cleaning service that washes down their office floors at night — it just might be worth it.


Joshua Kurlantzick is the author of Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World.

For the first time, federal lobbying services are being made accessible to the small and mid-size organizations that have previously been priced out of their own government. A new Washington, DC, based lobbying firm, LobbyIt.com (formerly Keys to the Capitol), is finally catering to these smaller organizations and opening the Capitol to the masses.

“Government decisions impact many groups every day, but for far too long only the biggest companies and associations have had the money to make Congress hear their voices.’said LobbyIt.com Founder and President Paul Kanitra. “We’re different. We’re the lobbyists for Main Street, not Wall Street.”

LobbyIt.com works on a completely different business model than other federal lobbying firms. Rather than locking clients in to yearly contracts, the longest commitment LobbyIt requires is three months. Instead of using an opaque, case-by-case pricing structure (often running into the tens of thousands of dollars per month), LobbyIt.com offers three affordable pricing options, available to everyone. The firm also prides itself on clear, concise deliverables which holds the firm accountable for its results.

“The lobbying industry has embarrassed itself for years with ridiculous pricing models and murky practices,’said Kanitra. “Our goal is to get lobbying out of the smoky back rooms and into the sunlight, where everyone has a chance to participate.’

LobbyIt.com is a non-partisan, general federal lobbying firm opening with clients in several major practice areas including: municipalities, unions, higher education, associations, and small business. Each of these organizations is profoundly affected by the changes taking place in Congress, and LobbyIt.com is giving them a voice in the process.

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By Dan Eggen The Washington Post

In the Washington world of million-dollar lobbying contracts and $500 lunch meetings, Paul Kanitra aims lower — much lower.

The young lobbyist’s unusual new venture, LobbyIt.com (formerly Keys to the Capitol), targets small towns, humble associations and others of modest means that can’t even consider signing the $10,000-a-month retainers required by many top Washington firms. Instead, Kanitra’s company offers contracts starting at $995, month-to-month agreements and prices and other details spelled out on the company’s Web site.

The effort, which formally launches Friday after months of preparation, amounts to a bold experiment to remake the idea of Washington lobbying, where fee schedules are opaque and opulence is often viewed as part of the price of doing business.

“I guess you can call it McLobbying,” said Kanitra, 30, adding that his inspiration comes from such cost-killers as McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Amazon.com. “Every other industry embraced this kind of model a decade ago or more. The lobbying industry is stagnant and stuck in its ways.”

To K Street veterans and good-government advocates, Kanitra’s gambit is either a brilliant or a foolhardy attempt to create a populist niche within Washington’s $3.5 billion lobbying market. Whether successful or not, the idea underscores rapid changes rocking the profession amid an economic downturn, an expanding government role in health care and other industries and continued attempts to limit the impact of lobbyists on the political process.

Veteran lobbyists say they already face strong pressures to curb rates and better explain costs to clients, who have tighter budgets and easier access to government data through the Internet. Patton Boggs and other lobbying behemoths increasingly offer legislative analyses and other general products for free, hoping to lure paying customers with more specialized services. Many smaller boutique lobbying firms, meanwhile, focus only on one subject area, such as health care or energy.

As a result, many lobbying experts say, even less attention is being paid to humbler citizens, businesses or associations searching for a way to make themselves heard in Washington.

“It is intimidating to try and find a lobbyist, especially if you’re outside the Beltway,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, the nonpartisan advocacy group. “You don’t know exactly what the price is, you have to start negotiating over what you want done and you have no idea how to measure their performance. The whole system is tilted against small businesses and others who don’t have a lot of money to spend.”

Enter Kanitra, an unlikely lobbying entrepreneur whose employers have included a GOP congressman from New Jersey, a locksmithing trade group and a Native American reservation. Kanitra also lost his only political race when he ran for borough council in his home town of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. The town is one of his company’s first clients.

Kanitra’s transformation into fledgling lobbyist mogul came while lobbying for Carfax, the Fairfax-based company that markets vehicle history reports. With his top client’s blessing, Kanitra joined with friend Jeff Golimowski, a former broadcast journalist, to quietly begin laying the foundation for Keys to the Capitol.

One of the company’s first clients was the aptly named Louie Key, national director of the 3,000-member Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association of Aurora, Colo. Key was shopping around for a lobbyist to help his union on several federal issues, including persuading lawmakers to tighten oversight of repair stations that use unlicensed mechanics. He found Keys to the Capitol on the Internet.

After about six months, the union leader pronounces himself satisfied, saying the firm helped him land meetings with key lawmakers and secure favorable language in a pending aviation bill.

“We were looking at some of the large lobbying firms, but it was quite cost-prohibitive for an association that didn’t have millions of members,” he said. “We were quite intrigued that the little guy has a chance to hire a professional firm to be your advocate.”

Kanitra and Golimowski still have a long way to go, of course. They have settled into a cramped corner of a rented K Street office suite dominated by doctors, lawyers and advocacy groups. They’ve acquired nine clients during their “soft launch” phase and aim to rapidly become a full-service lobbying and public-relations firm. Still, the fledgling company billed only $22,000 in the first quarter. “We’re just getting started,” Kanitra said.

On the other end of K Street, Nick Allard heads the political, lobbying and election law practice at Patton Boggs, which reported lobbying expenditures of $40 million in 2009. “It’s going to be hard for a small shop to undercut someone like us because of our size and expertise,” Allard said.

Nonetheless, Allard said, he wishes the best of luck to Kanitra and similar entrepreneurs.

“It’s just an example of how there are all kinds of innovative new ways to get involved in the public-policy debate,” Allard said. “There’s less of the face-to-face meeting and more electronic interaction. There’s less op-eds and video b-roll, and more blogging and Twittering. The whole business is changing fast.”

Read the article at the Washington Post website

Durham Herald Sun

May 1, 2009 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

April 30, 2009 WallStreetJournal.com