Feb. 6, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Street Talk: Special Interests Descend on the Hill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Betty Buck, of Buck Distributing Co. Inc., is one of the many lobbyists and citizens representing special interests who will spend this month meeting with Members of Congress.

“I’ve always felt that as a woman I have delivered the message differently than the guys,” Buck said between meetings with Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Steny Hoyer, both Democrats from Maryland.

Watson said lawmakers don’t easily forget her because she isn’t just another male beer distributor in a gray suit. “Politicians remember me,” she said. “I’m that girl from Texas.”

The beer group is lobbying for state-based alcohol regulation, and Buck, who has four children, said that she can put her message in a mother’s terms. “In Maryland, we don’t have grocery stores with beer on the shelves,” she said. “That’s a mom’s perspective.”

Buck and Watson also said they’ve focused on jobs, taxes and the economy in their meetings with Members and staff this week.

Mary Luehrsen, director of public affairs and government relations for the National Association of Music Merchants, was also in town last week with 26 of the group’s members for more than 70 Hill meetings. The group, which represents companies that make everything from student instruments to music apps, is urging Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and wants to make sure music and the arts aren’t squeezed out of curriculums.

“We have provided very specific language to fix the unintended consequences of [the] No Child Left Behind [Act],” Luehrsen said. On the Hill, she added, “We get an overwhelming positive response, but we’re feeling the blockage of lack of activity in Congress in general. We’ve kind of honed our message.”

And even though plenty of D.C. lobbyists bemoan the compressed schedule of a fly-in, many say the grass-roots advocates make it worthwhile. When Wenhold’s court reporters came to town recently, he had 80 people doing 220 meetings.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I always get excited about this,” Wenhold said. “When you hear the people talking about how they got to meet their Member of Congress. It really comes back to me: This is what lobbying is supposed to be about.”

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