It was a Friday, the first week of August in hot and muggy Washington, D.C.; Congress was on the eve of adjourning for the month. A team led by Gregg Hartley had been working a variety of issues on behalf of three Fortune 500 telecom firms but all of their issues had been completed or laid aside over the preceding weeks, or the team believed. The work assignments had been exclusively with the majority side of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Most lobbyists had dispersed for vacation. That’s when the email tinged with panic hit the Blackberries.
The heads of the Washington offices of the clients wanted to do a conference call with their numerous outside consultants. They had gotten a tip from a Hill staffer that a problematic legislative item might be introduced under a unanimous consent agreement late that night prior to a projected post-midnight adjournment. Only two lobbyists, including Hartley, responded to the urgent request. The first request was: Could we confirm the tip? Working together with the other consultant, within thirty minutes, it was confirmed from three sources a play was going to be made.
Most troubling was that the proposed language with a negative impact on operational procedures for the companies was being pushed by the then Chairman of the House Energy and Commence Committee. The chairman was an individual all three companies worked with on a regular basis on major legislative items. The relationships were very good and the chairman was usually receptive to their concerns and needs. This narrow proposal, however, was a pet project of the chairman who realized slipping it in as the House rushed toward break was the only likely way it would pass without opposition even from the chairman’s usual allies.
The clients wanted to stop the legislation but did not want to irritate an important chairman. They needed a strategy that left few fingerprints. And, they needed one quick.
A dual set of tactics was adopted: Try to get the chairman of another major committee with shared jurisdiction over this issue area to voice concern to leadership about moving such language in this fashion; and, utilize Members in the minority party to be prepared to raise objections on the floor, halting this item from bring moved by unanimous consent.
The first tactic moved quickly with both sets of outside lobbyists working two sets of contacts in the other committee. The wheels were in motion.
The second tactic was complicated by the fact that in the running email and cell phone dialogue between the three clients and two consulting firms was that the lobbyists participating were affiliated with the majority party. The team pivoted. Hartley reached out to a senior lobbyist with stellar credentials within the minority party in the House whose contacts were quickly deployed. Within an hour, two Members of the minority informed the Majority Leader of their intent to object to this item being included under the pending unanimous consent calendar and a third pledged to stand watch and personally object on the floor. Hartley informed House Leadership staff about the situation. Within three hours of the initial email, the threat was quelled. Majority Leadership removed the legislative item.