What Really Happens During a Lobby Visit

By Forum Online posted 02-28-2013 10:48

Credit: Architect of the Capitol
  Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Once a year, usually in late February or early March, preservationists from around the country make their way to Capitol Hill for National Preservation Advocacy Day.

Most visits last less than 30 minutes which means tight, creative choreography is a must. We thought we’d take you inside an actual visit that took place Tuesday, February 26, in the Longworth House Office Building—the names and identifying details have been left out to protect the innocent. While every year and every visit is different—different issues, different legislative staff—it is critical for preservationists to come to D.C. to reconnect with congressional offices, talk about the issues, and make the “ask” to secure better preservation policies and funding.

10:45 – 11:00 am
Four preservation advocates—a SHPO representative, a preservation student, an average state citizen, and a National Trust employee—gather outside the office of a 2nd term congressman. They can’t wait in the small reception area just inside the office because a meeting is already underway with a staffer and group of advocates representing another set of issues. While waiting, they spot three seeing-eye dogs and their owners, the fourth such group they have seen since 10:00. Turns out, today is also Seeing-Eye Dog Advocacy Day. This is business as usual as legions of lobbyists—regular citizens and professionals—representing a myriad of issues take their case to Capitol Hill.

11:03 am
The congressman’s legislative aide steps out to greet the group. She suggests they head down to the cafeteria to meet because there is no free space inside the rabbit warren that is a junior congressman’s office. She appears delighted to see them and quite enthusiastic about preservation—a good sign. No ice breaker needed here.

11:03 – 11:06 am,
On the elevator, greetings, business cards, and niceties of all sorts are exchanged. The lobbyists learn the staffer is not from their state but from a small historic town in another state. Happily they know a little about that town which delights her. In fact, it soon becomes clear that her best friend may have gone to school with one of the preservationists’ sons—laughter, head shaking, and references to small worlds all ‘round.

11:06 – 11:11 am
Wasting no time, the preservationists raise the first of three issues they have come to discuss, the historic rehabilitation tax credit. Luckily, the staffer seems to know about the credit. She promises to pass along the maps and project lists the preservationists have brought to support their argument that the tax credit is a capital magnet—bringing jobs, economic investment, and revitalization to the congressman’s district. She seems to “get” preservation and appears confident that her boss will sign on to any new bill that is introduced to strengthen the tax credit. “I love this stuff!” she says. “If only they were all like this,” the preservationists think to themselves. This visit is going well.

11:12 – 11:14 am
On a roll, the preservationists decide to make the case that increased funding for SHPOs through the Historic Preservation Fund ensures the effectiveness of their beloved tax credit. They note that this year’s $50 million request is a modest 3 million above last year and doesn’t even begin to make up for the stagnant funding the SHPOs have experienced for decades. Again the staffer is incredibly encouraging. She is sure that her boss won’t think the amount unreasonable and will sign a Dear Colleague letter supporting the $50 million request. The preservationists surreptitiously look at her business card to be sure she really does work for Congressman X — the one known as a conservative, right wing, budget hawk.

11:16 – 11:20 am
Over the cacophony of the cafeteria, which is rapidly filling with citizen lobbyists and more seeing-eye dogs, the preservationists make their last appeal. Will the congressman consider joining the historic preservation caucus? “I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t” is the welcome reply.

11:20 — 11:22 am
Hands are shaken, “so-glad-to-meet-yous” uttered, and promises to follow-up, send more information, and keep her apprised of what is going on are extended.

By 11:25, the lobbyists are winding their way to the Longworth basement and the tunnel that will take them to their next meeting in the Rayburn House Office Building. Along the way they congratulate themselves on a job well done even though in their heart of hearts they know that one staffer’s love of historic resources can’t save the historic rehabilitation tax credit, secure increased funding for state historic preservation offices, or raise the profile of preservation on Capitol Hill. But, hey, it’s a start. Her enthusiasm is infectious—who knows where it will lead.

February 27, 9:30 am flight:
The preservationists head home. Not every meeting went quite so well, but in this legislative climate, how could they expect it would. They know their work has really only just begun. They will follow up with every office they met with but they will pay special attention to Congressman X. Will he support their requests and vote for the appropriation, join the caucus, and sign on to legislation in support of the tax credit? We will keep you posted—Part 2 of our story will come later this spring.

Historic Preservation Advocacy Week is sponsored by Preservation Action and National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, in cooperation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Historic Tax Credit Coalition, National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions.  Click here for more information.


#Lobbying #Advocacy

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