Posted on Nov 9, 2018

The Shutdown Windfall, Fact Advocacy, And How Not To Win Friends And Influence People

Here’s what you need to know…

The midterm elections have come and gone, leaving a brand-new Congress in their wake. January will see Democrats, fueled by a passionate core of liberals, take control of the House of Representatives, while Republicans expand their Senate majority. If the past two years seemed rigidly partisan, the next two will likely be a cacophony of ideological bickering – with many expecting an elevated threat of a government shutdown. However, for companies and cause organizations that could easily find themselves and their public policy agendas caught in the middle, what is most important may be what comes after a shutdown.

Whether you are preparing for gridlock or compromise, Delve CEO Jeff Berkowitz and The Signal Group Executive Vice President Noe Garcia recently penned an analysis of what to expect from the return of divided government in America:

  • The Last Two Divided Governments Resulted In Shutdown Showdowns. In 1994, a class of high-octane Republican partisans took over Congress in response to the first two years of the Clinton Administration. The results were several well-publicized battles within the divided government that led to two government shutdowns. In 2013, government was divided between a Democratic White House and Senate and a Republican House of Representatives only three years removed from a wave midterm election, resulting in a noisy spat between the parties that led to another government shutdown.
  • But What’s More Important Is What Happened After The Shutdowns. In both examples above, the periods following the shutdowns were surprisingly productive in terms of policymaking and major legislative accomplishments that made it to the president’s desk to be signed into law. Following shutdowns during the Clinton Administration, a coalition of lawmakers managed to pass an impressive slate of policy achievements that included Welfare Reform, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and even a gun ban for domestic violence offenders. During the Obama Administration, following the 2013 shutdown, bipartisan pragmatists later advanced VA reform, a farm bill, and loan support for Ukraine.
  • Why Is Post-Shutdown Policymaking Effective? Despite all of the polarization that leads to intransigence and shutdown, real policymaking is still possible. Extreme partisans tend to stick to their ends of the political spectrum and message on issues important to the base. To them, the debate is an end unto itself; they will not be driving the agenda that gets signed into law. Other lawmakers move quietly to find compromise, negotiate, and advance legislation in a politically complex Congress. The negotiating table does not disappear in such a political landscape, but there are fewer seats; strong partisans are not likely to be in the room and decisions are made by those committed to getting bills signed into law.
  • What Are Likely Areas For Compromise In The 116th Congress? The path to legislative effectiveness in the 116th Congress may be hard to see, especially if partisan divisions produce something as dramatic as a government shutdown. But opportunities for compromise do exist: an infrastructure package, regulation of Big Tech, USMCA, drug price reform, even a healthcare stabilization compromise could be on the table. What will notably be absent are items on the agenda that Democrats used for their successful campaign effort, and which will provide opportunities for both sides of the political spectrum to message towards their base in advance of the 2020 election, such as student loan debt, climate change, and immigration.

Every election brings new opportunities as the political deck is reshuffled and new hands are dealt. An ineffective federal government would be the obvious conclusion to draw from the apparent return of partisan gridlock, but history tells us otherwise. Hyper-polarization may be the norm for the 116th Congress, but compromise is inevitable, and legislation will be passed. If you can recognize the openings in this dynamic new landscape, you can advance your organization’s goals while the competition stagnates.

News You Can Use


What started as monthly gatherings to drink beer and “nerd out” over transportation policy, the advocacy group TransitMatters is now reshaping Boston’s public transportation system. Founders Marc Ebuña and Ari Ofsevit are redefining citizen engagement by using research insights to promote improvements to the city’s transit system.

For example, in finding inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and glitches, TransitMatters saved the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority $500,000 by proposing changes to its existing service system. At the same time, the group has enhanced economic productivity by demonstrating the need and benefit of overnight and early morning bus services, which were launched through outreach to local government and transit officials supported by data that helped them make their case.

Whether in the business, political, policy, or advocacy space, TransitMatters’ success highlights the importance of leveraging facts when it comes to achieving public policy objectives.


Just as the world received some positive climate news, Bitcoin was called out for being the “nail in the coffin” of climate change, as even it cannot escape the critical eye of environmentalists. Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin require far more electricity per-dollar than it takes to mine real metals such as gold or silver, due to the enormous amounts of energy needed to compute the complicated blockchain transactions underpinning these cryptocurrencies.

A recent report calculated that Bitcoin creates 69 million tons of carbon dioxide, the same amount as Austria, which has a population of 9 million people. Even though the IT sector is actively working to reduce its footprint, environmentalists are worried that if Bitcoin continues its rapid growth, it could cause dangerous levels of warming – suggesting that a coming fight between environmentalists and cryptocurrency proponents may be the next great crypto debate in the public arena.


Well, that didn’t take long. Now that the plastic war has taken over, a new war is waging against paper. Used to be thought of as the more environmentally-friendly option compared to plastic and Styrofoam cups, environmentalists are now working to ban paper coffee cups. The cups are under attack for being bound by plastic linings that need to be separated before recycling, ending with many of them in the trash even when put in recycling containers.

What used to be the more sustainable option is now evil, not to mention more expensive – which will likely be passed onto consumers in the form of a price increase. The escalation against paper cups proves that being more sustainable is no longer sustainable enough, something that companies and cause organizations should be thinking through before negotiating or making concessions to activist groups driving certain political agendas.


Snapchat’s PR firm recently made a lot more work for itself, as it created some bad PR for the company it now must overcome. The firm, PR Consulting, is suing actor Luke Sabbat for not fulfilling his influencer marketing contract to promote Snapchat’s Spectacles camera sunglasses. Influencer marketing should ideally feel “subtle and natural,” but this lawsuit brings unwanted attention to the behind-the-scenes contracts and planning of it all.

It not only creates reputational damage for Snapchat, but other brands that rely on influencers to sell their products. Moving forward, influencer marketing contracts will likely become stricter to prevent setting off future public affairs and reputational challenges, and influencers will need to prove they are accountable (and can actually influence) if they want to keep getting paid to post.

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