Legislation and Its Impact: The View from WashingtonGreg Means, Founding Partner, Alpine Group
Greg Means: Thanks, Greg.
As Greg has told you, I am a real, live lobbyist. I usually talk to U.S. senators and congressmen and folks like that, so I've got a little stage fright from talking to a room as important as yours.
The term lobbyist was coined over 150 years ago. Big railroad interests gathered in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington for a chance to talk to President U.S. Grant. It is not much different today, although most of the lobbies and hallways that I stand in are not quite as nice as the Willard.
Just as they did more a century ago, lobbyists serve an important role for the folks that we represent.
Think of it this way. If you are doing business in a foreign country, where they speak a foreign language, would you not engage the services of a translator? And that is essentially what I do: I'm a translator.
And Congress often speaks, as I'm sure you will agree, in an alien language.
As Greg mentioned, I spent 10 years on Capitol Hill and that work - in the inner sanctums of Congress - taught me how Congress works, or doesn't, as the case may be. But it does work; sometimes slowly and maybe even sometimes incorrectly.
And lobbyists help it work. We provide views and advocacy on issues of importance to our clients. We educate elected officials and their staffs on issues and how they will impact us - either positively or adversely - and our employees back in their home districts and their states. After all, elected officials are here to represent, not dictate. And they represent best when they hear from us.
The NTRA's been a client of mine for about three years. The first few months we spent going from office to office, from fundraiser to fundraiser, simply to meet with members and introduce the NTRA, our issues, and the horse industry's economic footprint back in their states.
As an example, one of the members we visited with was Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a democrat from New York. Her district includes Belmont Park. During our meeting, she talked about the importance of Belmont Park as an economic foundation of her district.
Perhaps more importantly, she talked about how her father was a big racing fan and took her to the races as a young woman. Now multiply that over several hundred elected officials. With repeated visits, campaign contributions, letters from folks like you, breeders, track workers, from their home districts, all of sudden our agenda starts to matter to them. Or as the late speaker of the House Tipp O'Neill used to say, "All politics is local."
I can't promise you that every one of these members will be with us on every vote that we care about, but our chances are much improved.
Washington is all about relationships after all. As a trade association with a political agenda, the NTRA has one commodity in which we deal: trust. Senators, members of Congress, chiefs of staff - they all have to trust what we are telling them, why our views matter to them, and that we speak to them as a unified industry. Only then can we promote and advance our growing agenda.
We have greatly increased the NTRA and the industry's profile on Capitol Hill in the last three years, one office at a time. Those many relationships are starting to reap dividends in the form of legislation, as Greg showed, that we passed last year on the 30 percent withholding repeal and the recent introduction of the Equine Equity Act.
We have and will continue to use our growing political presence to turn back any legislative challenge to pari-mutuel wagering on the Internet. Not long ago, Senator Jim Bunning from Kentucky - who knows the importance of the horse industry to his home state and his constituents - informed the author of a bill that would ban Internet gaming that he would read phonebooks out loud on the Senate floor until the horse racing industry's concerns were taken care of. Since then, we've gotten consideration each time an Internet bill has come up or is being drafted. As we speak, we are working with Senator Kyl and others to ensure that our industry will not be negatively impacted.
The Horse Council's economic study that Jay talked about couldn't come at a better time. It provides us with the type of ammunition to show that we are a large and important agri-business back home. And the NTRA's Political Action Committee that was started just a few years ago enables us to use our PAC contributions as a tool to demonstrate our importance and to support our growing number of friends and allies on Capitol Hill.
With only a few months left in the congressional term this year, Congress will spend a great deal of time this fall on budget and spending bills. But I am hopeful that at least one element or one component of the Equine Equity Act - if not the entire package - can be attached to a tax reconciliation bill that Congress will likely undertake next month.
Finally, there may be some action on Internet gaming as Greg talked about, but we remain in a good and strong position there. We will continue to rally our congressional allies to ensure that the administration does not abandon us in negotiating with the WTO regarding legal account wagering by our industry.
I can't guarantee you that we're going to prevail on all of these fronts. But, as we ratchet up our profile and our political importance - to quote Mark Twain, "I have all the confidence of a Christian holding four aces" - I have all the confidence that our agenda will continue to progress.
I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today and I especially appreciate the privilege of representing you in Washington. Thank you.
Ogden Mills Phipps: Thank you, Greg. It's an interesting world down there [in Washington D.C.], and I think they've been very successful for our industry over the last few years. Greg and Jay Hickey, we thank you also for coming up from Washington.