Hundreds of professional lobbyists will fill the third floor of the Capitol for the next few months, pushing some bills and working to defeat others. Nonprofessionals — otherwise known as citizens — also show up but are sometimes overwhelmed by the often rowdy goings-on.
We asked a few veteran lobbyists what makes a good lobbyist and what citizens can do to be heard over the din.
Southern Strategy Group
What makes an effective lobbyist? Never B.S. or lie to legislators.
What can citizens do? Get to know your own legislators. If your state representative and senator are from the same political party, try to get to know another legislator from the opposite party as well. If you have developed a relationship with someone, then the likelihood of their giving your issue an open-minded or even friendly audience is much, much greater.
What makes an effective lobbyist? Relationships and trust.
What can citizens do? Establish a relationship with your own state representative or state senator prior to the legislative session. Ask for his or her advice and be respectful, not demanding, when expressing your concerns or opinions. Know your issue and be aware of any opposition to it. Remember that as a constituent who votes in their district, you can be the most effective lobbyist.
Massey, Watson, Hembree
What makes an effective lobbyist? An effective lobbyist establishes relationships with decision makers that allow for the opportunity to share relevant information with legislators that is both factual and persuasive.
What can citizens do? Besides getting to know local lawmakers before the session, cultivate a champion in the General Assembly for your cause. Speak in committee meetings and bring like-minded citizens to do the same. Be respectful, reliable, resilient and resourceful.
Top firms and individuals
Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group: Lots of big names and top professionals in the group, led by Pete Robinson, who served with Gov. Nathan Deal in the Senate, was on the governor’s transition team and raised big money for the governor during his re-election campaign in 2014. The group represents a long list of big names, including Aflac, Altria, Cigna, Coca-Cola, Georgia Power, GM, the home builders lobby, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Scientific Games, the managed care company for PeachCare, Synovus and Verizon.
McGuireWoods Consulting: Has close legislative ties, especially to the Senate, and deep political experience. Clients include Aetna, AT&T, Disney, Gulfstream, Honeywell, independent doctors, MARTA, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, MGM Resorts and several groups involved in the film industry.
GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group: Has one of the longest client lists at the Capitol and a veteran team of top lobbyists, two of whom served in the General Assembly. Clients include the Atlanta Braves, national companies such as Comcast, Koch Industries, T-Mobile and UPS, and a host of Georgia associations representing the powerful auto dealer, beer wholesaler and hospital industries.
Massey, Watson & Hembree: A former Georgia secretary of state, a gubernatorial chief of staff and a veteran lobbyist make up a team that represents a long list of companies and groups interested in both legislation and state contracts, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Citigroup, Comcast, Dell, J.P. Morgan, Southwest Airlines, Uber and Boyd Gaming, one of the companies hoping the General Assembly approves casino gambling legislation.
Greenberg Traurig: The team plays big in both parties, with Tharon Johnson, a former top adviser to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and regional director of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, and veteran lobbyist Chuck McMullen, a former top aide to then state Senate Majority Leader Tom Price, along with Blake Ashbee, a former Deal administration official. Clients include Anheuser-Busch, Honda, MGM Resorts, Microsoft and UnitedHealthCare.
Dentons: A longtime player at the statehouse, the firm formerly known as McKenna Long & Aldridge has big muscle in D.C., with a team that includes former U.S. House Speaker New Gingrich, who has represented President-elect Donald Trump on cable TV talking head shows. At the Georgia Capitol, the firm represents charter schools, the craft brewers, DeVry Institute, Northside Hospital, gaming power Wynn Resorts and Xerox.
Haydon Consulting: Veteran lobbyist Chandler Haydon represents Anthem Health Insurance, AT&T, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, MGM Resorts and Monsanto
The Hudson Group: Founded by longtime lobbyist Brian Hudson, the firm represents the Dish Network, Hewlett Packard, Home Depot, MGM Resorts and Novo Nordisk.
Holland & Knight: Led by Robert Highsmith, a former counsel in Gov. Sonny Perdue’s administration who has also represented several lawmakers when they got into legal trouble or faced ethics complaints. The firm represents small-loan giant Titlemax; Penn National Gaming; the optometrists lobby; Express Scripts, which provides pharmacy services to members of the State Health Benefit Plan; the city of Atlanta; the Atlanta Hawks; the Atlanta Beltline; and MARTA.
ConnectSouth: This team of pros represents DuPont, the state retailers association, MARTA, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Nature Conservancy, Newell Recycling, Northside Hospital and Pfizer.
Other top groups and lobbyists include those representing the liquor distributors, insurance agents, grocery stores, hospitals, nursing homes, car dealers, manufacturers, school boards, counties and cities, teachers, the Georgia and Metro Atlanta chambers, the Georgia Trial Lawyers, the University System of Georgia, lobby teams from Southern Strategies and Fiveash-Stanley, and Billy Linville, Mo Thrash and John Haliburton, Sheila Humberstone, Jay Morgan, Lee and Amy Hughes, Chuck Clay, Neill Herring, Wendi Clifton, Roy Robinson, Richard Royal, Rusty Sewell, Graham Thompson, Jet Toney, Monty Veazey, William Woodall, Jamie and Andy Lord, and Rebecca Chamberlin Ryles.