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Diverse lobbies pool efforts to boost clout on Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill lobbyists are pooling their resources. They are responding to a more sophisticated Congress, intricate laws concerning complicated issues, and fiscal austerity within the trade associations that most lobbyists represent.

A new survey by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) lists 200 such coalitions and indicates that there are hundreds more that the survey did not identify.

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Jim Dinegar, manager for government relations at ASAE, says the liaisons provide a way to share information, strategy, and divide lobbying assignments.

Carol Tucker Foreman, partner in the political consulting firm of Foreman & Heidepriem, says that legislators are ``impressed when you walk in with unlikely allies.''

In the past, trade groups generally acted independently. This has become progressively less effective in recent years, because gone are the days when congressmen had staffs of 10 or 12 people who would respond to one side of an issue prompted by a ``two-page report and a few letters from home,'' Ms. Foreman says.

Congress now is a place of huge staffs able to dissect complex issues in minute detail, Foreman points out. The legislators want to know what the unintended political fallout might be from votes on particular legislation.

So nowadays, says Foreman, rather than arguing for legislation that would, for example, prop up outmoded and inefficient plants, lobbyists almost always go looking for a coalition. ``The members want to see that an initiative is a safe vote,'' she says, and the fact that diverse interests agree on the merits of bill indicates it would be safe for a legislator to vote for the legislation.

She adds that this trend continues even with the infusion into the political system of large sums of money from political action committees.

Another factor contributing to increased use of coalition lobbying is the complexity of the issues. Foreman says that the deregulation of the last decade - in the telephone business, for example - means that issues ``come to the Congress in 100 different guises.''

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Mary T. Tavenner, director of government relations at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, helps coordinate the Concerned Alliance of Responsible Employers, a diverse group of roughly 65 associations and corporations, including General Motors, the National Association of School Boards, and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

She says that mergers and acquisitions have been a big factor in coalition building. The takeover revolution of the past few years has resulted in trade associations losing members and money, forcing an overhaul of lobbying strategy.

Ms. Tavenner says, however, that the biggest factor in coalition lobbying efforts is ``common goals.''

The recent defeat of the long-term health care initiative of Rep. Claude Pepper (D) of Florida, provides an example of the advantages of coalition lobbying, she notes.

The collective resources of businesses that did not want to have withholding-tax increases and insurance companies worried about government interference overcame an emotional appeal on behalf of the health-care bill by the highly-regarded Congressman Pepper, Tavener says.

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