The Influence Game
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The Influence Game

50 Insider Tactics from the Washington D.C. Lobbying World that Will Get You to Yes

Stephanie Vance

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eBook - ePub

The Influence Game

50 Insider Tactics from the Washington D.C. Lobbying World that Will Get You to Yes

Stephanie Vance

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About This Book

Get what you want, every time!

Imagine a world where you are offered every job you seek; every business venture you undertake is successful; and every potential customer you approach buys your product. Now imagine that all of this can be achieved—ethically and honestly. All you need is the help of one battle-tested guide, The Influence Game. Former Washington, D.C. lobbyist Stephanie Vance dispenses everything she's learned about effective (and, believe it or not, honest) persuasion. Learn how to apply this power to any situation by using D.C. insider influence strategies and applying a step-by-step, easy-to-understand process for success.

  • Learn how to develop and articulate effective goals
  • Structure both long and short-term persuasion efforts
  • Identify and research primary and secondary audiences
  • Crafting those all important personal stories

Stephanie Vance has seen the influence game from every angle. Follow her lead to get past being heard to the real goal of being agreed with.

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Chapter 1

Principles of Influence

Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt
I’m sure the thought of using the words principles and politicians in the same sentence—especially when we’re talking about influence strategies from Washington, D.C.—seems a little odd. We hear of some new scandal every day. In fact, in polls of the most trustworthy professions in America, lobbyists and politicians inevitably rank last.
Yet the most effective lobbyists in Washington, D.C., sleep at night. You may not understand how, especially those who work on issues with which you disagree, but they do. Sure, there are those who cheat their clients, give advice that they know is bad, or even break the law by trying (whether successfully or not) to buy members of Congress. Over the long term, however, these lobbyists simply do not accomplish as much as those who abide by the positive principles of influence outlined in this book.
If you think about it, when and if the unprincipled lobbyists wind up in jail they aren’t really being all that effective.
Let’s look at the example of a notorious lobbyist you may have heard of—Jack Abramoff. He’s the one who went to prison for three and a half years for corruption of public officials, among other things. Before we get into this example, because I’m an ethical person I must disclose that I once worked at a law firm where, several years after I left, Abramoff would become a partner. The firm, then called Preston Gates & Ellis, was implicated in some of his egregious activities. That said, my only direct interaction with him was in a room in the company of about 100 other people. Despite the fact that he and I had no personal connection other than this brief encounter, when the details of the scandal were coming out my parents called frequently to ask, “Have you been subpoenaed yet?”—to which my answer was, “Do you know what subpoenaed means? ‘Cause it’s not good.”
I was never subpoenaed, but I did learn at least one important thing in reviewing what happened: in the long run, Jack Abramoff was not a good lobbyist, in any sense of the word. Sure, initially he had some success extracting large sums from various interests (such as online casinos and Native American tribes) in exchange for “influencing” Congress to pass (or not pass) bills favorable to those clients. He lied, he cheated, he bought access, and he bribed.
But did he achieve anything? Perhaps here and there he won some small victories, but a review of some of his policy efforts shows that a version of the online gambling legislation his clients sought to defeat in 1999 was passed in 2006, language to support the Tigua tribe that he bribed Congressman Bob Ney to insert into legislation never passed, he failed to persuade Congress to reopen several Native American casinos, and eventually his efforts to keep the Northern Mariana Islands from being subjected to federal minimum wage laws failed. Oh, and he, his partner, and several other people associated with the scandal went to prison. And did I mention the $1.7 million he owes to the Internal Revenue Service?
In his autobiography Capitol Punishment, Abramoff claims that he saved his clients millions of dollars by preventing the passage of certain harmful new taxes and restrictive policies. It’s hard to say, though, whether these things would have passed anyway, particularly because Republicans—a party not likely to support many of the taxes and other policy issues Abramoff lobbied against—were in control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate almost the entire time, with the exception of the 2001-2002 term, when Democrats barely held on to an evenly divided Senate.
I’m not defending what Abramoff did. His tactics were, indeed, horrible, unethical, and illegal. However, while we tend to believe he had amazing power because he could get in to see those politicians who took his campaign money (he made more than $4.4 million in contributions), in the end things didn’t turn out so well for that great influencer Jack Abramoff or, obviously, his clients. As Judy Schneider, a specialist on Congress in the government division of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and a person who trains members of Congress on the legislative process, says, “That’s what people don’t get about Abramoff. In the end, he never really accomplished anything.”
Contrast Abramoff’s story with that of Wayne Pacelle, current president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and former vice president for government affairs who, along with his team at HSUS, has overseen the passage of more than 15 federal animal protection statutes and hundreds of state statutes.
Funded by membership dues and contributions, the HSUS, like Abramoff, has a wide range of influence tools at its disposal. Humane USA, an unaffiliated political action committee for the animal protection movement, contributed about $212,000 to political campaigns in the 2010 cycle. HSUS has a cadre of government relations professionals walking the halls of Congress. Their powerful professional grassroots campaign staff helps stoke and fuel communications from citizens to their representatives in Congress. They use earned media, paid advertising, and any legal and ethical tool they can get their hands on to further their cause. I’d bet Wayne Pacelle or his lobbying staff could get in to most offices on Capitol Hill.
Using similar tools, at a much more limited magnitude than Abramoff, the HSUS has achieved some major legislative victories in recent years and, in a very tough budget climate, managed to get record-level increases for animal welfare–related federal programs. How did they succeed? Through a combination of legislative strategy, relationship building and, yes, in some cases, having affiliated groups that support animal-friendly legislators through campaign contributions. Yet Wayne Pacelle is the respected leader of a national organization and Jack Abramoff is a convicted felon.
The differences between Jack Abramoff and Wayne Pacelle can be explained through a basic understanding of what effective influence is—and is not—about.

What Influence Is Not About

Many of us see the word influence as a dirty word. For example, we don’t call guidance counselors “influence” counselors, right? Obviously, the word guidance has a much better connotation than the word influence, and yet they are synonyms. To influence simply means to effect the actions or opinions of others. The decision as to the value of the effect, with the exception of clearly illegal or immoral activities, is mainly in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the act of influencing itself isn’t good or bad: we perceive it as good or bad depending on whether we like the outcome or not.
Clearly the tactics used to influence matter as well. Changing the behavior of others through bribery, for example, is bad. But bribery isn’t influence. It’s bribery. In fact, there are a host of things that effective lobbyists know have no place in the influence world.
The connection between “influence” and “what those people in Washington, D.C., do” certainly doesn’t help. It seems like not a day goes by without hearing of some sort of corruption scandal in which unscrupulous politicians do unscrupulous things to unsuspecting citizens. Yet engaging in these corrupt practices, although they may bring some short-term gain, will not achieve lasting influence. To achieve beneficial long-term benefits, you must know what effective influence is not about.


You might have heard someone say, “That person is a good influence on so-and-so,” but you’ve probably never heard, “That person manipulated the other person for the better.” Influence is about convincing someone else to do something for a mutual interest. Manipulators, on the other hand, convince someone else to do something solely for their own benefit. Effective lobbyists find that policy “sweet spot” where both the decision makers and the lobbyists feel as if they’ve won—or, at least, both sides are equally miserable with the outcome. They achieve a win-win or an equal and tolerable lose-lose situation. Although they don’t always succeed, you’ll find many examples of these throughout the book.
I know it will be a stretch to convince you that the road to a successful political career in Washington, D.C., is paved with good intentions. Sure, lobbyists manipulate policymakers and vice versa every day. Usually they achieve this goal by pretending that a mutual interest exists, even when it doesn’t. Over the long term, however, these politicians gain a reputation for double dealing and are universally rejected.
In applying this idea to your own influence situation, consider the differences between manipulation and a win-win scenario. Have you figured out how what you want will truly and honestly benefit everyone involved? And more important, have you figured out whether your solution is really the best fit for your audience? In the long run, if there is not mutual benefit to the proposal, the person you’ve manipulated over to your viewpoint will realize that, change his or her mind and, possibly, bad mouth you to others.


In 2012 a chief of staff I know told me about the time he received an e-mail from a businessperson in the district, regarding a policy issue. The congressman, a strong proponent of business and economic interests, was inclined to support his constituent—except for one sentence in the message: “I’ve sent in my contribution to the congressman’s campaign and look forward to seeing you at the upcoming event.”
Because the constituent inadvertently tied support for a policy issue to a campaign contribution, that one sentence ruined his prospects. My friend politely, apologetically, but firmly had to tell the constituent “That’s it. We can’t help you now. It’s not only unethical but illegal.” This representative and his staff are on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me (we still play nicely together, though). This strong feeling against even the perception of bribery is bipartisan and ubiquitous.
I realize that many people see bribery as the most pervasive and effective technique for convincing politicians to do something (or not do something, as the case may be). Last time I checked, though, bribery is illegal and most people in Washington, D.C., don’t want to take the risk of several years in prison, even a prison for white-collar criminals. As the penalties for a bribery conviction become even more stringent (in 2007, for example, Congressman William Jefferson from Louisiana received a 13-year sentence), politicians become even more nervous.
If you prefer to look at it cynically, think about this: you rarely know if bribery is going to work—and when you attempt it and it doesn’t work, you’ve made an enemy for life and possibly earned yourself a jail term.
In fact, in the wake of all these lobbying scandals, the U.S. Congress passed a series of new rules and regulations designed to dramatically reduce lobbyists’ ability to “bribe” elected officials with cash, gifts, or other benefits such as travel. The bill, called the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, requires lobbyists to fill out a variety of disclosure forms, contribution reporting forms, and the like. The Obama administration got on the bandwagon as well, banning anyone registered as a lobbyist from talking to any executive branch employee. Not only does this make it extremely difficult to share information about the potential impact of new rules and regulations, but dinner table conversation in homes where a lobbyist is married to an executive branch employee has been dramatically impacted.
I’m not suggesting people feel bad for lobbyists because they have to fill out paperwork; however, while imposing important restraints on how the business of Washington gets conducted, these rules do have some unintended consequences. For example, the prohibition on taking a legislator out to dinner has resulted in the toothpick rule, which suggests that any food offered at a lobbyist-sponsored reception in Washington, D.C., must fit on a toothpick. In addition, to eliminate any perception that the reception might equal a meal, lobbyists and policymakers must stand throughout the entire event. Toothpick manufacturers love this rule—chair manufacturers do not.
Regardless of how you feel about toothpicks and chairs, the point is that by both regulation and effective influence practice, bribery simply doesn’t work over the long run in Washington, D.C. Money for money’s sake is not generally a motivation for policymakers. Members of Congress do seek funds for their reelection campaign but recognize that whereas you need money to run a campaign, you need votes to win an election. And legislators know that voters will not support those convicted of or even tainted by a bribery scandal. It’s no coincidence that every lawmaker convicted of bribery—and most accused of it—either lost their seat or resigned shortly thereafter.
Applying the no bribery rule to your cause is usually pretty easy. Just ask yourself, “Am I breaking the law by offering money, gifts, or other benefits solely in exchange for a favor?” If the answer is yes, that’s bribery.

Selling Out

I define selling out as agreeing to do something (such as taking on a certain job or client) exclusively for the money. While working on Capitol Hill I’d get an interesting phone call at least once per week that went something like this: “Hello, this is the lobbying firm of so-and-so, so-and-so, so-and-so, and so-and-so. We need someone with your expertise and connections on our staff, and we’d like to pay you (insert ridiculous amount of money here).” My husband sometimes wanted me to take these jobs, but I never did because I did not feel strongly about their cause, or in some cases I didn’t even support it.
In fact, in 1994, when my then boss was downsized by the voters (a euphemism for the fact that he lost his reelection), I lost my job. After about six weeks of looking I was offered two jobs on the same day. One was for a cause I believed in. One was for a cause I felt indifferent about. The cause I felt indifferent about offered me 50 percent more in salary, but I turned it down. And I’m not the only one who made choices like this. Frankly, I never met one staff person who left Capitol Hill to work for a cause he or she did not feel strongly about or at least support. I certainly didn’t agree with many of these causes, but the important thing is that they did. They didn’t sell out. Of course, I didn’t meet every staff person on Capitol Hill, but in my experience “selling out” is the exception, not the rule.


Many people believe that if they simply tell a decision maker about their cause and proposed solution, the decision maker will see the light and automatically agree. I see this perspective a great deal with those lobbying on more technical issues, like engineers or scientists. In their world, logic reigns. Once you find the answer to a problem, you apply that answer and the problem is generally solved. If it’s not, you need to look for another solution.
Unfortunately, purely logical arguments rarely work in an influence situation because these situations are subjective. The so-called right answer is almost always open to interpretation because different people see the world in different ways. Members of Congress, for example, are more likely to accept logical arguments that benefit their constituents, even if that solution is not in the best interests of the entire country. This is how representative democracy works.
Sure, you’ll want to be sure your argument for your cause makes sense. But it will need to make sense from the perspective of your audience, not necessarily in terms of your perspective, or even from the perspective of how it may benefit the world at large. You’ll need to put words around your purely logical statement to convince a decision mak...

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