Webster’s Dictionary defines advocacy as “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal,” and an advocator as “one who pleads the cause of another; one who defends or maintains a cause or proposal; or one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group.” Strangely, Webster’s does not list lobbying or lobbyist as a synonym of the word in either form (the word most closely associated with advocacy in Washington, D.C.). However, here inside the Beltway, the two terms are often used interchangeably; perhaps it is a matter of the positive and negative connotations that the words have developed over time.
The origins of lobbyist and lobbying as words related to the attempt to persuade elected officials to act in a preferred manner date back at least to the late 18th century where it was used in English political circles. The popularity of the term in the United States is often linked to the advocates that waited in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, located a block or so from the White House. During his time in office (1869-1877), President Ulysses S. Grant would often wander over to the lobby of the hotel for a brandy and cigar, only to be met by the city’s power brokers who took the opportunity to plead their case directly to the president. According to myth, President Grant referred to them as lobbyists, and the word has stuck.
Today, lobbyists can be found at every level of local, state, and federal government. And although you can certainly still find lobbyists enjoying a cocktail at the Willard Hotel, they have expanded their territory far beyond those walls. Anyone who has ever asked a PTA for new playground money, contested a traffic ticket, or signed a petition of any sort has advocated for a cause. Lobbyists advocate for countless organizations, causes, and political parties at the state level just as intensely as they do at the federal level…and many work in both spheres.
Although some bad actors have tarnished the good name of lobbyists and advocacy, educating elected officials and government bureaucrats on the pros and cons of proposed legislation or rulemaking is an essential part of policymaking. The sheer number of issues that come before anyone in a decision-making capacity is formidable; the opportunity to hear from experts and practitioners is welcomed and expected by the vast majority of congressional members.
The Hardwood Federation is proud to be your advocate, or lobbyist, in Washington, D.C. Compared to many hardwood organizations, like NHLA, which is celebrating its 100th birthday, we are a relatively new entity that began in 2004. A group of hardwood industry leaders from multiple associations recognized the importance of speaking with one united voice on federal policy issues in Washington, D.C. From this concept, the Federation was born, uniting 23 hardwood national organizations, state associations, and lumbermen’s clubs under one umbrella. For the first few years, the Federation was housed within NHLA in Memphis, Tennessee. We then moved to Washington D.C. to have more regular and direct contact with Congress and administration officials. Our roster of member associations has increased to 26.
Advocacy work is not one of immediate gratification. It can take years to move an issue forward. Over the years, the Federation has had both short-term and long-term successes. Early achievements included spearheading the implementation of pro-hardwood provisions under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA), including ensuring $5 million to fund two early warning systems in North Carolina and Oregon hardwood forests to identify emerging pests and disease, and persuading the U.S. House of Representatives that Green Schools legislation should include American hardwoods. The Federation also sprang into action when it was discovered that the U.S. Army was contracting with a company to install bamboo floors in the Camp Lejeune base. The Federation alerted Members of Congress from hardwood districts and led a coalition to inform Army procurement officials about the benefits of U.S. hardwoods. The Army changed its plans and installed a U.S.-grown product.
Longer-term achievements include the passage of amendments to the Lacey Act to include hardwood products and help to level the playing field in trade by combating illegal logging around the world. Similarly, the Federation has worked to ensure that American hardwoods are included in U.S. government procurement guidelines. But it seems nothing is ever really completely finalized in Washington, and we continue to monitor both of these issues to ensure that there is not backtracking.
And, of course, some issues are perennially ongoing. Federal forest management reform is an example of an issue that seems to have been around forever. During the last several years, we have lobbied consistently for change and have, in fact, seen incremental changes and improvements implemented. Tiny steps can lead to significant progress, so we keep chipping away. And this is, in a nutshell, what we do as your advocates (aka, lobbyists). We hammer away at whoever we can influence until we get results. We may lose some battles, but we are always in for the war. And as noted earlier, nothing is ever really done and over in D.C.
We will continue to advocate, educate, lobby, and fight for the hardwood industry cause. Election years are particularly important as they always mean new members of Congress are coming to D.C. The large number of retirements announced this cycle ensures that we will have a busy new year meeting with new faces, getting them up to speed on hardwood-
Of course, we aren’t alone in our work. Business leaders like you are an important and effective weapon in our arsenal. We hope you will join us in our efforts, either here in D.C., or in your hometown as you meet members of your local and state governments. Be your own best advocate…reach out to educate, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. To learn more about the Hardwood Federation, visit hardwoodfederation.com.
Dana Lee Cole is Executive Director at the Hardwood Federation, a Washington D.C.-based hardwood industry trade association that represents thousands of hardwood businesses in every state in the U.S. and acts as the industry’s advocacy voice on Capitol Hill. She can be reached at email@example.com.