Lobbying for Preservation: Lessons Learned from the Palace of the Governors

By Forum Online posted 10-05-2018 10:25


The National Trust for Historic Preservation added the Palace of the Governors to our portfolio of National Treasures in 2015, simultaneously launching a multiyear advocacy effort to secure $1.5 million from the New Mexico state legislature for necessary repairs to this iconic Santa Fe landmark. The Palace of the Governors, said to be the oldest continuously occupied public building in the country, was constructed by Spanish colonists around 1610. This one-story adobe structure on the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza was the seat of government for hundreds of years, but had not seen a significant investment in its maintenance since the 1970s. In New Mexico’s state budget, funding to address the needs of state-owned facilities, including historic sites, falls under “capital outlay.” The amount of funding varies from year to year—in fact, in 2017, there was no capital outlay available at all due to state budget challenges.

The Palace of the Governors | Credit: Minesh Bacrania

To help convince New Mexico legislators of the urgency of the palace’s deferred maintenance needs, the National Trust engaged two New Mexico lobbyists. As capital outlay funding decisions are dispersed among members of the state House and Senate, it was critical to find lobbyists who would not only be familiar with the New Mexico budget and capital outlay systems but also have strong bipartisan political connections that they could leverage to garner support for this issue. With their help, and over the course of four years, the National Trust successfully secured almost all the funds necessary to address critical deferred maintenance at the palace.

Many of the lessons learned from the National Trust’s experience working with lobbyists on the Palace of the Governors campaign can be applied to preservation projects. Beyond securing funding, lobbyists can also provide valuable assistance with other preservation work, such as advocating for federal or state designations or promoting new legislation. We spoke with Amy Webb, the National Trust project manager for the Palace of the Governor National Treasure campaign, and with Tara Marie Hedrick, one of the lobbyists who assisted with the campaign about lessons learned and useful takeaways.

What was your role in the Palace of the Governors National Treasure campaign?

Tara Marie Hedrick: I started with the Palace of the Governors before the beginning of the 2015 legislative session. I worked with Ed Sandoval, a former member of the New Mexico House of Representatives. Although Ed is retired, he still has a lot of pull with leadership, which provided a good basis of connections and reach.

We needed $1.5 million, but before asking for that money, we made sure that the project was moving forward; in New Mexico, unused funds can be lost. We also asked for the money in a three-year phase because the state has been going through hard times, so there has been very little capital outlay. One of the first steps we took was educating the legislature about the project, the three-year timeline, and the palace’s capacity to begin immediately.

Amy Webb: The lion’s share of the campaign was the great work that Tara and Ed were doing, but the National Trust provided additional support, much of it behind the scenes. We facilitated a National Treasure launch event to attract press coverage as we kicked off the project. In the third year, we created a four-color brochure that described the needs of the palace, how the previously secured funding had been used, and the need for further funding. Tara and Ed used this piece to show the work in progress.

In the campaign’s fourth year, the issue of Preservation Magazine that came out in January—while the legislative session was still ongoing—featured an article about the campaign. We leveraged the piece by handing out copies of that issue to legislators hot off the presses during a reception at the palace. This not only got the legislators in the door but also gave them a beautiful takeaway that showed what the funding had accomplished.

What advantage do nonprofits gain from hiring lobbyists to help them advocate with legislators?

Hedrick: Companies and nonprofits hire lobbyists to help them navigate the political system and for their “boots on the ground” experience. While advocates do grassroots work getting the word out about their issues, we follow up to educate legislators on why those issues are important. Often, legislators are more open to listening to lobbyists because they know us. I spend year-round with them. I know the lay of the land, I know the political make-up of the legislature. I also have a one-on-one relationship each legislator.

Webb: One of the key advantages is having someone who knows how the state’s budget process works. We are a national organization, and we chose the Palace of the Governors for its national significance. But we knew from the beginning that, since we didn’t have our own staff in New Mexico, we would need to hire New Mexico lobbyists—the right New Mexico lobbyists. It wouldn’t make sense to send a lobbyist from Washington, D.C out to manage a state lobbying campaign, as every state has different budget procedures. Moreover, the advantages of hiring local lobbyists are their connections and existing relationships with local policymakers. The kind of expertise that lobbyists bring is unlikely to be found on the staff of a nonprofit. The lobbyists’ existing relationships with legislators helped us think about political strategy: What’s a reasonable ask? What’s too much? How many years do we think this will take? What approaches do we think we need, and what questions should we be able to answer? We knew what our goals were, but the knowledge and relationships our lobbyists brought proved invaluable.

How can nonprofits find the right lobbyists to help with their campaigns?

Hedrick: For most organizations, this happens through word of mouth. They will either reach out to a lobbyist that they’ve heard of or identify lobbyists through the state or local government. Many lobbyists focus specifically on capital outlay projects and know how to work the process, so when it comes to asking for funds, they are the ones to hire. Not every lobbyist has that skill set.

Webb: For this campaign, we knew that we needed a lobbyist, but we did not know who would have the right expertise. That may end up being the case for preservation nonprofits that don’t often lobby—and, in those cases, they may need to look for recommendations. We reached out to allied organizations that we knew would have experience with local lobbyists. National Trust staff met with staff at the New Mexico Museums Foundation, explained our campaign goals, and asked for recommendations.

Can you provide any advice for nonprofits that aren’t able to hire lobbyists? How can staff and volunteers successfully work with legislators?

Hedrick: That’s a difficult question. The best thing advocacy staff can do is engage in grassroots efforts. Those efforts often make the most sense during recesses because that is when legislators slow down some. That’s the time to get your materials in front of them and start talking to them, presenting compelling arguments for your project—specifically, why it’s important for their state or district and their constituents. Not every legislator may understand or care, but a statewide grassroots campaign is the best bet at engaging the ones who will.

Webb: The National Trust is trying to secure a permanent National Historic Trail designation for Route 66, which is another of the Trust’s National Treasures. While we anticipate that we may eventually need a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., we didn’t have the financial resources to hire one for our in the initial effort to secure cosponsors for the proposed legislation. So we did two different things. First, we worked with a former National Park Service staff member who knew the National Historic Trails program very well and could provide guidance. Second, we identified ambassadors or champions in each of the eight states that Route 66 runs through, and they visited the local congressional offices in their respective states.

What are the typical costs for a lobbyist?

Hedrick: Every state is different, and every project is different. It also depends on each individual lobbyist—what their bottom line is and what they have an appetite for. Some may be willing to adjust the cost for nonprofit organizations or causes.

Webb: The cost may also vary depending on the nature of your campaign—and how much money you are seeking. In this case, we were seeking $1.5 million from the state legislature, so paying for lobbyists over a four-year period was well worth the expense. This campaign’s success really hinged on insight and assistance from our lobbyists.

For more advocacy tools and tips, visit our resource page on Preservation & Lobbying.


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