Lobbying government can save Jewish senior homes, says expert

Jewish homes for the elderly must learn how to lobby the government — if they want their fair share of dwindling government money and attention to social services, a nursing home executive is warning.

Addressing the 21st annual symposium of the Associated Auxiliaries of Jewish Homes For The Aging, Lawrence Zippen told nursing home representatives that lobbyists for other causes will siphon off government resources quickly.

"Competition for a place in the legislative sun is ceaseless," said Zippen, who is president of the North American Association of Jewish Homes and Housing for the Aged.

The symposium lasted three days at San Francisco's Golden Gateway Holiday Inn.

Despite misconceptions to the contrary, it is legal for a tax-exempt organization to lobby congress, Zippen said. This practice is even encouraged and protected by law.

It is also crucial for tax-exempt groups to do it, he said.

In the last year, social services such as San Francisco's Jewish Home for the Aged have been hit with slashed budgets by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and hindered by block grants, managed grants — all reflecting a shift in government priorities, Zippen said.

If current trends continue, he said, the most vulnerable and fragile social services will be those that help people most in need, Zippen said.

Zippen outlined general ways to lobby Congress — with tips on everything from dealing with the non-profit status, to sending thank-yous to legislators.

According to the federal tax code, organizations risk their tax-exempt status if, as an organization, they support one candidate over another.

But this does not preclude lobbying a candidate who holds office, and does not prohibit telling voters about specific issues that are neither clearly identified with one particular candidate or another.

And one need not be an expert in order to lobby, Zippen said. "If you can write a letter, you can lobby."

First, lobbyists should know their material and express it accurately, Zippen said. Every potential lobbyist should know why the legislation in question is important, what it will cost, what will happen if it passes and what will happen if it does not.

He advised potential lobbyists to demonstrate common sense as well as a strong commitment: Be persistent, he told the audience, and be brief when making your case.

After meeting with a legislator, the wise lobbyist sends a thank-you note. A note gives lobbyists the last word, and "It makes you more than someone who's coming to ask for something," Zippen said.

The most basic rule of all, however, is that money talks. "It's a curse," Zippen said, but "raising money is what it's all about."

Though tax-exempt organizations can't give money to a candidate — neither as an organization nor through a separate PAC group — individuals can.

Campaign contributions of any kind help a lobbyist gain access to a candidate, as does helping out in a candidate's office, or lending a hand during campaign time.

Zippen told the audience, "You guys can give better fund-raising help than anyone in the world."