Keeping our DC Relationships Strong

This week I am again in Washington, D.C., along with bankers from throughout the United States. Six Indiana bankers have joined me to call on the Indiana congressional delegation, on behalf of the Independent Community Bankers of America. Last month I made the same trip with a different group of bankers, on behalf of the American Bankers Association. In September the Indiana Bankers Association will host over 50 bankers for our IBA Annual Washington Trip. And it is likely that the legislative process will require attendance in DC another time or two during the year.

Today also is sine die, the last scheduled day for the Indiana Legislature to meet. Members of the Legislature are statutorily required to end today. In the unlikely event that they cannot come to agreement on issues, specifically a budget, the governor may call a special session.

An obvious question is, why would I go to Washington, D.C., at such a critical time for the state Legislature? A corollary question is, why do I go to Washington so often, when so little seems to get done?

For the first question, the IBA is blessed to have on staff one of the most talented government relations teams nationwide. Our association peers envy the skills of Amber Van Til and Dax Denton, with support from Josh Myers, GR office manager. Amber and Dax do such outstanding work that, apart from occasional testimony or other involvement on my part, little is required of me at the state level. Also, by this time in the Session, most of the fireworks have fizzled out, and all eyes have turned to the budget bill, which we are satisfied with at this point. Therefore it is highly unlikely that anything will occur that requires my personal attention. If it does, I am just a phone call away.

As to the second question, it is very important that we maintain the strong relationships that we have forged with the two U.S. senators and nine US. representatives voted into office by the citizens of Indiana. Having worked in this arena for nearly 25 years, I have been privileged to become well acquainted with many of our elected officials. Government relations is much more dependent upon the “relations” part than the “government” part. Privately I have asked many of our elected officials over the years how important it is that bankers visit multiple times annually. Time and again I have been told that those who oppose us on issues do visit frequently and that we need to be present, too, in order to keep our positions known. In other words, if we do not show up, legislators will hear only one side of the story … and will vote accordingly.

Another answer is that cultivating relationships builds trust. When a vote is required, our legislators know they can reach out to us for banker perspective as to the specific bill being voted upon. A final answer is that we form relationships not only with legislators, but with their staffs as well. While we might occasionally see our U.S. congressmen back home, their legislative assistants rarely come to Indiana. Because those legislative assistants are tasked with developing expertise on a variety of issues, elected officials often rely on them when it is time to vote. Our only opportunity to foster relationships with these key staff members is to travel to DC.

If you have never gone to Washington to represent your industry, an ideal opportunity is coming up this fall with the IBA Annual Washington Trip, scheduled for Sept. 27-29. This offering includes not only visits with the Indiana congressional delegation, but also with federal regulators and with representatives of ABA and ICBA. It’s informative, it’s engaging and, for an old veteran like me, a highlight of the year.

– S. Joe DeHaven

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