The Rise in Regulatory Advocacy

The Rise in Regulatory Advocacy

Stop and think about this: regulatory advocacy grew seven-fold between 2016 and 2018, according to Phone2Action’s State of Advocacy 2019 report.

The practice of trying to sway the departments and agencies that conduct rulemaking, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Federal Communications Commission, is literally exploding as a Republican administration shifts policy after eight years of Democratic leadership. 

While the total number of regulations each year is hard to pin down, one analysis of the federal register estimates that there are more than 5,000 major regulations created each year. And that’s only part of the equation. 

The Trump administration has been a strong advocate of deregulation, signing an executive order requiring that “for every new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.” In dollar terms, the administration slashed $16.4 billion in regulations in 2018, according to an analysis by the American Action Forum

The impact on advocacy is substantial. Many organizations find themselves playing defense, trying to stop the administration from rolling back Obama-era rules. Others see an opportunity to create new regulations. Whatever the angle, it’s clear that an increasing number of advocacy organizations are playing the regulatory game. 

“So many major policy decisions are made in departments and agencies that they are becoming hard to ignore,” said Jeb Ory, founder and CEO of Phone2Action. “Organizations that are serious about their issues need a voice in the regulatory environment.”

Download the State of Advocacy 2019 report to learn more about how advocacy organizations are using their time and resources.

A Grassroots Game

The increase makes sense. In contrast to the divided Congress, where legislation can be tough to pass, regulatory agencies are active. Whether your organization is trying to eliminate regulations, defend them or create new ones, there is almost certainly work to be done. Moreover, though lawyers and lobbyists play an important role in Washington, regulatory advocacy is often a grassroots game. 

When agencies make rules, they often release a draft and then hold a public comment period, inviting people and organizations to submit information on how the policy should be shaped before making a final decision. (This process is similar on the state and local level, where regulatory action also takes place.)

This public comment period is an invitation to advocate. Corporations, trade associations, nonprofits and even individual citizens can submit comments and agencies are generally obligated to review them. These comments are public, allowing other organizations to see them as well.

“Even though the Executive Branch employs specialists with deep and specific knowledge, those specialists are not experts in how a given policy may affect a specific market, industry, activity, or person,” according to a Brookings Institution report called, How to Effectively Comment on Regulations. “Comments help make sure that the government is getting it right—or alert it when it’s not—by providing information that challenges the government’s assumptions.”

In part because the government actively invites it, organizations are taking advantage of the opportunity. Of the many thousands of public comments sent to regulatory agencies from 2016 to 2018, 9 percent were generated in 2016 and 61 percent were created in 2018, according to the State of Advocacy 2019 report

Data, Information and Personal stories

For years, major associations and nonprofits flooded federal agencies with form letters, and this still takes place today. A tour through Regulations.gov, a federal initiative to allow digital access to the rulemaking process, shows that major regulations still routinely draw more than 100,000 comments. 

Yet the cookie-cutter approach is not the best form of regulatory advocacy, because it only adds volume. It does not necessarily increase information or perspective. By contrast, personal stories about the impact of a proposed regulation can be more valuable—and far more persuasive—than a form letter.

As the Brookings Institution report explained, “they can show the agency unique situations that it hasn’t contemplated in its evaluation of the policy; they can then explain how that unique situation will impact individual behavior in response to the policy change; [and] they can express third-person, value-based judgments on the policy.” 

Trade associations and nonprofits can encourage their members to comment on regulations, telling their own authentic stories. With the right advocacy software, organizations can activate members using email or—more effective—text messaging, explaining why advocates should comment, arm them with data and talking points, and connect them directly to the agency. The result is far more impactful advocacy.

“Comments are only effective … to the extent that they provide information directly relevant to analyzing the rule and its effects,” according to the Brookings Institution report. “Simply stating that you support or oppose a policy is not as persuasive as explaining how the policy would positively or negatively affect your specific situation.” 

To learn more about how your organization can create a system to impact federal regulations, get in touch with us.

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