Ethics in Lobbying: Why “Trust Me" Just Doesn’t Cut It

While the tired Hollywood trope of the shady beltway insider certainly sells a lot of movie tickets, in reality it could not be further from the truth. If there is one commodity that a successful government relations professional deals in, it is trust — from your clients and policy makers alike. If your partners and colleagues can’t take you at your word, no amount of access or connections can make up for it.

It should go without saying that you should never lie to a legislator. Even a seemingly innocuous omission can dig you a hole too deep to climb out of. Addressing objections from opponents can provide you a valuable opportunity to defend your position as well as reassure legislators that your organization has done its due diligence before your meeting. Gaining the support of an elected official is often about providing them the political cover to make the right decision. Knowing all of the facts going in will make them more comfortable in that decision.

Equally as invaluable is the trust your clients place in you. The whole purpose in hiring a lobbyist is to represent the interests of your association in front of policy makers, while your board and individual members tend to their other responsibilities. So maintaining an open and candid flow of information between your clients is crucial in building this trust. That can often mean delivering a frank assessment of the “facts on the ground” in the legislature without sugar coating. Telling someone that their bill is dead in the water may be uncomfortable in the moment, but it prevents a feeling of being blindsided later on.

While the machinations of the characters on “House of Cards” make for more entertaining drama, a truly effective government affairs professional acts with integrity and an openness that leaves little room for surprises. Endeavor to act with honesty and your outcomes will be much more predictable, and successful.