Q: I read a news article recently about proposed legislation in my state that would have a really negative impact on my car rental company — and on other companies in the industry. What should I do to get involved?
— Nima Mobasser, State Van Rental, Los Angeles
A: There are three “rules” in government affairs applied to just about any interaction with a governmental agency:
No. 1: Legislators respond best to their constituents.
No. 2: Find allies. Are you alone in your concerns?
No. 3: Develop relationships with your local, state, and federal legislators now — not later when there is a crisis.
Q: How do I find my local, state, and federal representatives?
A: Thanks to the internet, you can find this information out fairly easily. Simply search for the government websites and then input your address to find your specific elected representatives. Once you’ve identified them, call or email the office. Identify yourself as a constituent and as a businessperson with 40 (or 4,000) employees and mention you have concerns about the proposed legislation.
Ask for your elected representative’s help in understanding the legislation and communicating your concerns to the bill. Ask the representatives to engage on your behalf to modify the bill and to address your concerns, if possible. Your elected representatives want your support and want your vote in the next election. So, you — the constituent — have the “swat” with the legislator.
Here’s a real-life example. K.C. Baack, chief financial officer of an Atlanta-based Budget licensee, has operations in Utah so he attended a meeting with the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Hatch is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over discriminatory car rental taxes and like-kind exchanges.
Q: How do I find potential “allies” to see if others have the same concern?
A: Ask your legislative contact who is backing the proposed legislation and the allies of those proponents. Is the legislation really aimed at your company, or was it poorly drafted to have unintended consequences?
Determine whether others in the car rental industry share your concerns. Contact the American Car Rental Association (ACRA) to determine whether ACRA can connect you with others in the industry who would share your concerns.
As we all know, in multiple cities around the country, car rental customers are targets for excessive taxation to fund civic projects. There was an effort earlier this year to impose a rental tax in Sioux City, Iowa to subsidize an “economic development” project. The car rental industry joined together and worked with business partners, including airport officials, to prevent that proposal from moving forward.
Q: How do I develop relationships with local, state, and federal lawmakers?
A: As mentioned above, identifying your elected representatives is the first step. Then proactively reach out to them and schedule a meeting. They will want to know who you are.
You can also get involved in a local chamber of commerce or another civic group. Public officials are frequent guest speakers or panelists on various topics. Attending meetings of these groups allows you to introduce yourself to your representatives.
It’s always good to establish a relationship before you need to reach out on a legislative matter. Just as in business, would you rather make a “cold” call or a “warm” call? ACRA can often help you get started.
The recent ACRA fly-in to Washington, D.C. was a great opportunity for ACRA members to establish relationships with their members of Congress.
Three months from now, or maybe even a year, ACRA may ask one or more of these attendees to reach back out to these members with a specific “ask” — perhaps to co-sponsor a bill ACRA is supporting. Having a pre-established relationship and a foundation for understanding the industry makes that “ask” much easier to make — with a better chance of success.
In sum, these three basic government affairs “rules” can be followed and applied to virtually any legislative or regulatory threat or opportunity your company faces at any level of government. Please know that this is a major reason ACRA exists. So again, if you haven’t joined ACRA, consider joining today.