By Evan SparksAll grassroots advocacy builds up to making an ask. And when it comes time for the big ask, it helps to have a solid relationship with the lawmaker you’re trying to reach, says Michael Mauldin, president and CEO of First Financial Bank’s Hereford, Texas, region.
For Mauldin, that relationship abruptly changed in 2013, when the Panhandle town of Hereford was among those moved from Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s district to Rep. Mac Thornberry’s. Mauldin—the incoming chairman of ABA’s Bankers and Advocacy Grassroots Committee—knew it would be essential to build a strong relationship with his new representative on Capitol Hill. “I had to get to know him,” he said. “I’ve been involved in grassroots for my whole career, even when I was young, and I always felt like knowing your congressman or congresswoman was very important.”
The recipe for a strong lawmaker relationship is equal parts personal connection, fundraising and networks with congressional staff, Mauldin says. And it’s often best to start with the staff.
“The staff are as anxious to get to know you as you were to get to know them. They are always looking for sources of reliable information,” he explains. “I’ve always tried to be that whenever they have any questions and I have the knowledge or expertise.”
This was especially important for Mauldin during the redistricting. As a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, Neugebauer had strong expertise and staff support on banking issues. While Thornberry has experience working on cybersecurity, most of his legislative attention has been focused on military, intelligence and agriculture issues. His staff could thus benefit from Mauldin’s advice and insights on banking.
“I want to be one of those people they call on,” he says. “Once you create that relationship, they’ll call on you for advice.” He maintains an open lunch invitation for Thornberry’s staff to swing by whenever they’re in Hereford.
Participating in fundraising is another way to build the lawmaker relationship, Mauldin notes. When he co-hosts a fundraiser, Mauldin calls the Texas Bankers Association and asks for a PAC contribution as well, which he and other local bankers can personally deliver to the lawmaker or his campaign staff. “I think that makes a big difference as well.”
Mauldin—an ABA-recognized Power Player who has hosted a grassroots event, given to BankPac and given to the Fund for Economic Growth—believes that everyone in the bank can give. “What I always tell them is, ‘Give what you can afford.’ If they can give only $25 or $50, they may think that’s not going to do any good. They’re wrong!” However, Mauldin notes that he always leaves the amount of giving up to the employee and that he never goes back to check the amount.
He’s especially excited about the Fund for Economic Growth, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that allows the banking industry to amplify its advocacy through issue advertising and educational campaigns. “We can do so much more as an industry because it allows corporate contributions,” he says, compared to individual contributions to BankPac. “It levels the playing field with other industries.”
Staff relationships and fundraising help open the door to lawmakers, but nothing substitutes for getting the congressman in the bank. Both this year and last year, Mauldin co-hosted a bank visit with Thornberry for Take Your Lawmaker to Work Month. “The frontline people could see that it made a difference,” he says. “As informed as Rep. Thornberry is, hearing first-hand accounts from the staff helped bring it all home.”
And that’s how you build a relationship that lets you make the big ask.