Beyond the Beltway: Grassroots Programs Impact Public Policy
By: Toby Burke, senior director of state and local affairs, NAIOP
NAIOP members play a critical role in advocating and advancing the priorities of the commercial real estate industry before lawmakers and government officials at every level of government. Only through education and understanding can your elected representative support NAIOP’s priorities for commercial real estate during public policy debates.
It is important, particularly at critical points in the legislative process, that relationships or lines of communication are in place to effectively deliver the industry’s position within the halls of Congress or a state capitol. Whether the discussion is tax policy, energy efficiency or infrastructure spending, the implementation of an effective grassroots program within each chapter will play a critical role in ensuring that NAIOP’s voice is heard.
Because of this, each chapter needs to enhance its grassroots capabilities so that NAIOP members can inform and educate lawmakers on the local impact of a bill or policy before casting a vote. Federal and state lawmakers need and want to hear from you in providing a local perspective on a national or state issue. When lawmakers hear directly from their constituents -- those whom they serve and represent -- it has a powerful impact in the debate and eventual vote. In some instances, it can even provide the political cover for lawmakers to vote irrespective of their personal or political affiliation.
Grassroots Programs Inform and Educate Lawmakers on the Issues
The subject matter or policy will dictate the grassroots approach that effectively communicates the commercial real estate’s position to a lawmaker. Approaches may vary from a national letter-writing campaign to small meetings between NAIOP members and a key lawmaker. Recognizing this, a grassroots program must be structured in a manner to incorporate these approaches and meet the objective of influencing an outcome.
It should be noted that an effective grassroots program is not just delivering a message from a member to a lawmaker. It also includes building coalitions, utilizing social media outlets (Facebook/Twitter) and, even at times, engaging other elected officials to weigh in with a lawmaker. For example, a successful grassroots strategy may entail NAIOP members contacting a governor or mayor to generate a statement or a letter from that person to a member of Congress before taking an important vote on a bill that will impact their state or city.
Grassroots Coordinator” Plays Key Role
The first step in this endeavor is for each chapter to incorporate a grassroots plan as part of their government affairs program and appoint a NAIOP member to serve as a “grassroots coordinator.” The “grassroots coordinator” will take charge in surveying members within their chapter for key relationships with elected officials from city hall to Washington, D.C. The coordinator will initiate grassroots efforts as needed to communicate the interests of the commercial real estate industry at critical points in the public policy process.
NAIOP’s Government Affairs staff is prepared to assist each chapter in establishing and administering a successful grassroots program, including maintaining a database of key relationships between members and lawmakers and sending out legislative action alerts. We will work with each chapter to develop and execute a grassroots strategy at each level of government to ensure the voice of commercial real estate is heard.
When incumbents running for re-election this year are focused on connecting with voters in their communities, it affords a perfect opportunity for NAIOP chapters to increase the reach of their grassroots network by developing relationships with elected officials. All chapters need to advance their grassroots capabilities to communicate more effectively on the issues to help advance the interests of NAIOP members. It is important to remember that NAIOP members provide the backbone and infrastructure for businesses to thrive and grow. When lawmakers or even candidates discuss economic growth and job creation, they need to recognize that a strong economy starts with a commercial building, industrial park, retail center or research property.