Making Waves

Small-business owners go to Washington to make their voices heard.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the November 1996 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Restaurant owner Perry Moy started lobbying "inside the Beltway" for the same reason many other small-business owners suddenly start prowling the Capitol's corridors. Someone in Washington ticked him off. In Moy's case, it was Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL), who told Moy, owner of the Plum Garden restaurant in McHenry, Illinois, that Moy was overreacting to the Clinton health reform plan.

Moy and his mother started the Plum Garden 32 years ago. But by 1990, Moy was beginning to feel he had a silent partner: the federal government. He got involved in the Illinois Restaurant Association, then the National Restaurant Association. In 1994, Moy came to Washington as part of that association's annual public affairs conference, which included a "Day on the Hill" meeting with congressional representatives.

At the time, President Clinton was pushing health reform, planning to pay for it in part with a payroll tax increase. Moy sought out his senator, Paul Simon. According to Moy, when he complained about the impact a new payroll tax would have on his 32-employee company, Simon answered, "Oh, Perry, you can afford that. Just raise prices."

After that conversation, Moy knew he had to spend more time lobbying his congressperson and senators. "Now I go to Washington [for the National Restaurant Association's conference] every year," he says. "A lot of politicians are out of touch."

Strength In Numbers

What can you do to get politicians back in touch? Steps range from the simple--write a letter, send a fax or make calls to your representatives--to the more involved.

Capra-esque fantasies aside, the chances of an unaffiliated individual getting a personal audience with a congressperson are slim to none. Your odds improve if you have a personal connection with your local congressperson (she lives down the street, you regularly communicate with him about local issues, or your children go to school together). In this case, the congressperson could serve as an "in" with the representatives involved in the legislation you want to change.

But such connections are rare, and besides, what entrepreneur has the time and energy to mount a full-scale lobbying campaign alone? That's why the smartest, simplest and most effective way for small-business owners to make their voices heard in Washington is by becoming active members of trade associations.

For C. Arthur Beck, president of the Charles Beck Machine Corp. in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, membership in National Small Business United (NSBU) enabled him to express his irritation with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Beck spent a few months negotiating with OSHA over a fine; the agency finally dropped it to $2,000. But it wasn't the money that irked Beck: "What really bothered me was that [they] seemed to consider us guilty until proven innocent."

Two weeks before the November 1994 election, Beck, who had recently become an associate trustee on the board of NSBU, got a call from the local chamber of commerce asking whether he would welcome a visit from Rep. Rick Santorum (R-PA), who was running for the Senate (and won). Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO), who became chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, would come along. Beck jumped at the opportunity and spent two and a half hours with the congressmen at his factory. He has subsequently kept in touch with Santorum and Bond.

Speaking Out

The more usual scenario is for a small-business owner to go to Capitol Hill, not for the Hill to come to him or her. Carolyn Hennige, a member of the National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE), got that opportunity when NASE asked her to testify before the House Small Business Committee in January 1995. The committee was holding a hearing on taxes and was eager to hear the views of association members.

Of course, joining a trade association is no guarantee you'll be called to testify before Congress. But it does improve your chances of speaking to individual congresspeople. Many trade associations hold annual public affairs conferences in Washington, which include a "Day on the Hill" like the one Perry Moy attends each year.

It's because of such events that Moy now takes legislative setbacks in stride. He was not decimated, for example, by the recent passage of a minimum wage increase he and many other entrepreneurs opposed. The small-business tax relief package tied to that bill included concessions that--while not as big as entrepreneurs may have wanted--nonetheless suggest Congress is recognizing the special needs of small business. (See "Tax Talk" on page 74 for more on the new law.)

Moy sees the glass as half full, not half empty. He takes solace in the fact that the presidential candidates are talking about tax fairness, an issue he and many other entrepreneurs have lobbied for. Says Moy, "The fact that issue is on the agenda proves our system works."

To The Source

If you'd like to become more involved with what's going on in Washington, use the following sources.

  • To call: Congressional Switchboard, (202) 224-3121

White House Switchboard, (202) 456-1414

  • To request copies of bills, committee reports and other documentation: House docket room, (202) 225-3456

Senate docket room, (202) 224-7860

  • To find out the status of a piece of legislation: The House of Representatives Legislation Office, (202) 225-1772


Federal Agencies:

  • The Congressional Register is a verbatim record of what occurs on the floor of the House and Senate. The Federal Register records actions taken by regulatory agencies and cabinet departments. For subscriptions to either, call (202) 512-1806.

  • The Congressional Quarterly, published weekly, is the Washington insider's bible of what happens in Congress. For subscription information, call (202) 887-8500.

  • Leadership Directories Inc. publishes a series of reference books on federal officials, trade associations and other federal government information. Known as the Yellow Books, they're updated quarterly; call (202) 347-7757.

  • A shorter reference guide, which includes key officials in the administration, Congress and elsewhere, is The Capital Source (The National Journal). For information, call (202) 739-8400.

SBA Update

Looking for guidance in growing your business? Go by the book--the Small Business Administration's books, that is. The Resource Directory for Small Business Management is a catalog of publications and videotapes offered by the SBA.

In addition to more than 30 top-selling titles, seven new publications have been added this year. The new books focus on issues to help you expand your business, including marketing, human resources management, strategic planning and financial management.

Want to get in on government procurement? Consider the U.S. Government Purchasing and Sales Directory. Or, if you're looking to go global, check out "Basics of Exporting," a new video created by the SBA in conjunction with leading private-sector experts. There are several other videos to choose from to help you run your business. The publications are priced from $2 to $39.

For a free copy of the Resource Directory for Small Business Management, write to SBA Management Publications, M.C. 7110, 409 Third St. S.W., Washington, DC 20416, or call (202) 205-6666. --Philip Lader, Administrator of the SBA

Contact Sources

Carolyn Hennige, c/o Creative Tutors, 2414 Cavendish Dr., Alexandria, VA 22308, (703) 360-1277;

Plum Garden, 3917 W. Main St., McHenry, IL 60050, (815) 385-1530.

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