How to Make Friends in Congress

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With significant changes to Congress this year, now is a good time to consider contacting your representatives and senators to educate them about your business and the issues you face. Think about what you pay in local, state and federal taxes, and state workers’ compensation insurance, as well as how you must comply with state and federal regulations. Government decisions and policies clearly have a major impact on your bottom line. That’s why it’s important to make your voice heard on Capitol Hill, even from your local store.

Getting Active
You can take the first step and become politically involved at a grassroots level. Invite your lawmakers to visit your business while they are in town or ask them to speak at a local industry event. Begin educating your lawmakers about issues by arranging a town hall meeting of your customers and other business people, or attend town hall meetings held by the legislator.

Offer to become your legislator’s expert source on industry issues—the person they contact for input when bills and actions that could affect your industry come up. And, consider getting involved in your legislator’s campaign. We need to support the lawmakers that support us.

Once you have your legislator’s ear, be sure to follow these points to develop a strong and continuing relationship:
Learn: Educate yourself about your elected officials and their positions.
Vote: Exercise your right to vote and encourage your staff and customers to do the same.
Write: Tell Congress about your business and the government policies that can have an impact on your bottom line.
Invite: Arrange for your elected officials to visit your business or invite them to speak at a local industry event.
Visit: Schedule a meeting with your lawmaker at home or in Washington, D.C.

Getting Help
This all may sound daunting, but the Natural Products Association (NPA) is here to help you. NPA has launched a new Web page focused on the new Congress at www.npainfo.org/freshmen. NPA members and industry supporters can access guides on effective communication with legislators—whether they are brand new or veteran lawmakers—including writing letters and discussing legislation. NPA also provides tips on how to develop a relationship with elected officials and schedule a meeting with them.

If you can, attend lobby days such as the NPA’s annual Natural Products Day. Each spring, NPA members and others in the industry come to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and their staffs to talk about legislation and regulatory action that may impact the natural products industry. Nothing makes a greater impact on elected officials than a face-to-face meeting with a constituent.

This year’s Natural Products Day will be held on April 6. The day begins with breakfast and a morning session led by association and government relations experts talking about effective ways to communicate with legislators, along with updates on pending legislation. Afterward, buses take attendees to Capitol Hill for pre-scheduled Congressional appointments in House and Senate offices.

Attendees will then join colleagues, legislators and staff members for a reception on Capitol Hill that honors NPA Congressional Champions who have supported the natural products industry. Conference registration, print materials, the breakfast and the Congressional reception are free for attendees.

About one in five members of Congress is new to the job. We need to educate the new members of Congress so that they understand the issues facing our industry. Natural Products Day allows us to share our story with these members, many of whom are being introduced to our industry for the first time. For more information and to register, go to www.npainfo.org/NPD11.

NPA continues to work with all members across party lines to strengthen the industry’s position on Capitol Hill. You can help us make a difference by getting involved. Learn more at www.npainfo.org.

John Gay, CAE, is the executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association, which represents over 1,900 members accounting for over 10,000 retail, manufacturing, wholesale and distribution locations of natural products, including foods, dietary supplements and health/beauty aids. Gay, who was recently recognized by The Hill newspaper as one of the “best in the business for America’s business sectors,” has worked in Washington on policy issues for nearly 25 years. For more information, visit www.npainfo.org.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2011