In the marbled hallways of The Building, as those in state politics affectionately call the Salem capitol, every interaction is an opportunity.
Business is conducted on the House floor and in the offices of senators, but also in friendly hallway chats and in line for coffee at the café in the basement.
“Serendipity in this building is probably the best thing in the world,” said Craig Campbell, a lobbyist from the firm The Victory Group. “Things happen through casual conversations more often than through setting up meetings.”
Campbell counts Hermiston-based Umatilla Electric Cooperative among his clients, and like the rest of those in the “government relations” business, he works for UEC’s interests by spending plenty of time in The Building during the legislative session.
Some of that time is in scheduled sit-downs, but lobbyists also roam the halls looking for opportunities to speak with legislators, aids and department heads about upcoming bills. If a lawmaker is on a tight schedule, their assistants will try to steer them clear of the hallway outside of the committee rooms, where they will almost always get waylaid by lobbyists or others who want a word. At other times, a representative may step outside the chamber during a floor session after a page delivers them a handwritten note from a lobbyist asking to borrow a moment of their time.
The average citizen often knows who represents them in the legislature, but not necessarily to the legislature. While the word “lobbyist” tends to bring to mind slimy lawyers from Wall Street or a big oil company, Eastern Oregon farmers, electric cooperative members, teachers, correctional officers, real estate agents and others also have people — sometimes from their own hometowns — who work as lobbyists on their behalf.
Tammy Dennee, for example, represents dairy farms like ThreeMile Canyon Farms near Boardman as an in-house lobbyist for the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association. She previously lived in Pendleton, where she served as executive director for the Oregon Wheat Growers League.
One of the bills she was most focused on last week was SB197, the “dairy air” Senate bill that would require setting up air monitoring for dairies. Farmers want to make sure that the bill does not overly burden their operations.
“The details of that are still in flux so we are monitoring that very closely,” she said.
On Monday, an alternative to SB 197 was made possible by Three Mile Canyon Farms and Lost Valley Ranch, a proposed large dairy nearby, which have agreed to devise “best management practices” to control emissions and prevent haze in the Columbia Gorge, said Sen. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland.
Dembrow, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, will participate in a work group setting best management practices, along with representatives of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon State University.
Tuesday is the deadline for bills to either head to the House and Senate floor or die in committee, so lobbyists were busy last week trying to shore up last-minute support or opposition for bills affecting those they represent.
Dennee said when the legislative session is over she will switch her focus to state agencies that will be tasked with rulemaking for the bills that passed. She will also spend plenty of time traveling around the state to meet with dairy farmers, educating lawmakers and the public about dairy issues and monitoring new developments in the industry that may be the subject of future legislation.
“Anything affecting our producers, anything and everything, we pay attention to that,” she said.
Clients of registered lobbyists are required to submit a report to the Oregon Ethics Commission each year on the total amount of money they spent on lobbying expenses (which does not include campaign contributions). For 2015 those reports totaled more than $35.86 million between 1,084 different clients. The Oregon Dairy Farmers Association spent $37,992 on lobbying that year.
Katie Fast is executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, which represents growers, manufacturers and distributors on issues pertaining to pesticides, fertilizers and biotechnology. One of their priority bills, which would require at least seven days’ advance notice to the State Forestry Department of the time and location of aerial application of pesticides in privately owned forestland, was up for a committee vote on Thursday.
“They have to apply when weather conditions are optimal,” she said, explaining why pesticide applicators opposed the bill.
For Fast, who has a degree in agricultural sciences from Oregon State University, these issues are personal as well as professional — she grew up on a family farm and she and her husband own a farm outside of Salem.
“Everything going on affects us personally,” she said.
Oregonians for Food and Shelter spent $37,470 on lobbying expenditures in 2015.
While some lobbyists are employees of a specific corporation or association, others work as an independent contractor representing multiple groups. In-house lobbyists tend to be subject-matter specialists while contract lobbyists tend to come to the profession via law school.
Danelle Romain of The Romain Group said her law degree helps greatly when reading bills that are hundreds of pages long. Being an attorney can help her know when a single instance of the word “may” being changed to “shall” could completely change the bill’s impact on the way a client is allowed to operate.
Romain’s clients with Eastern Oregon ties include the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association, Oregon People’s Utility District Association, Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation and the Oregon Fuels Association (which spent $48,000 on lobbying in 2015). One of the bills she is working on this session would allow self-service gas 24 hours a day in Oregon counties with less than 40,000 residents.
Romain said an important part of lobbying is helping legislators and agencies making the rules to understand her clients’ industries while in return helping her clients understand proposed legislation. It’s a business of relationships, she said, and working together to find solutions everyone is willing to accept.
“It’s fun being a lobbyist, and helping shape state policy,” she said.
Campbell is also an independent lobbyist. Among The Victory Group’s 12 clients are Umatilla Electric Cooperative, Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems, Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and Oregon State Sheriff’s Association. Umatilla Electric Cooperative spent $279,423 on lobbying in 2015.
Campbell influenced his first piece of legislation at age 12 during his childhood butterfly collecting phase, when he helped his father Larry Campbell, a state representative at the time, draft legislation to make the Oregon swallowtail butterfly the state butterfly.
From his college days on, he worked in the state capitol in one capacity or another, including as a legislative assistant and on staff for Gov. Ted Kulongoski, where he helped create the Oregon Youth Authority.
Campbell said over the years Salem has gotten less about policy and more about politics, with fewer instances of people disagreeing on the House or Senate floor but then going out for a beer together at the end of the night. That makes lobbying more difficult, as does the addition of a short legislative session in even-numbered years.
Lobbyists and politicians used to have about 18 months for “thoughtful discussions” about legislation and budgets that would work for both sides, Campbell said, but now they have half that time to come to an understanding before the next session. It is still important to work with the opposite side and other lobbyists, however, if you want a seat at the table.
“You can just be ‘I oppose,’ but that really doesn’t help you in the long run,” he said.
Successful lobbyists have “no permanent friends and no permanent enemies,” as the saying in Salem goes, because with 3,000 bills considered each session, two lobbyists can be working together on one piece of legislation but be on opposite sides for another.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.