Perhaps you think lobbyists are evil, patrolling the halls of the Legislature, convincing legislators to do whatever they want. If you do think that, you are wrong.

I’ve been lobbying at the Legislature for 40 years. I only had to register as a lobbyist and report my activities for the 18 years I served as the executive director and lobbyist for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine; you only have to register and report if you are being paid to lobby.

I advocated for a variety of legislative proposals, mostly focused on environmental, conservation, and fish and wildlife issues. For the last eight years, I have proposed my own bills, recruiting legislative sponsors and lobbying for my bills. Almost all of them have focused on fish and wildlife issues, such as extending protection of our native brook trout and expanding turkey hunting opportunities.

So let me tell you about lobbying. Lobbyists must be nonpartisan, focused on the facts, and only the facts. Hand out incorrect or misleading information, and you are done as a lobbyist. You must be friendly, and willing to help legislators learn about and understand the issues. And you have to invest a huge amount of time getting to know legislators. Your credibility and honesty are very important.

Some thought legislative term limits would really help lobbyists, who would gain clout through their experience at the State House. But that is not true. Before term limits, it was very helpful for lobbyists to have experienced legislators and not have to establish relationships with lots of new legislators every session. Next year we’ll have at least 50 new legislators and new leaders in the House and Senate. That’s a nightmare for lobbyists. Actually, it’s a nightmare for all of us.

Today some issues take lots more time to resolve because legislators don’t have the historical knowledge of the issues that they did before term limits removed experienced legislators. I really don’t understand why anyone would think it is better to have inexperienced legislators.

Lobbyists definitely do not run the Legislature. We do have to spend lots of time there, often just waiting for something to happen. During my last four years working for SAM, I employed Ed and Cate Pineau to help me lobby. They are very respected and effective lobbyists. And they were there every day, allowing me to spend time on other things.

For example, near the end of the session, a lot of work is done in the Appropriations Committee. Lots of lobbyists sit in the committee room day after day after day. And that’s what Ed Pineau did, while I flew to the Florida Keys with my friend Harry Vanderweide to tape a few fishing TV shows.

The fishing was phenomenal. In three days I caught 11 species of fish. Each night Ed would call to fill me in on what had happened — or not happened — that day in Appropriations. And he didn’t seem that pleased when I told him about all the fish I caught that day.

You may have read a while ago about the highest paid lobbyists and who their major clients were. Yes, lots of businesses, business associations, and nonprofits employ lobbyists. They all have a lot at stake each legislative session, so it’s not surprising that they employ lobbyists to represent their interests.

But truthfully, you have as much influence as lobbyists do if you choose to follow and get involved in legislative issues. You can be particularly effective if you build a relationship with your representative and senator. I always loved the committees that let members of the public speak first at public hearings, before lobbyists.

You can also join organizations that work on issues of interest and concern to you, and that employ lobbyists to work on those issues. In the annual surveys of SAM members, more than 90 percent said they belonged to SAM because we were at the legislature representing them. Often, SAM would submit more than 20 of our own bills, and we enjoyed great success in getting them enacted, something our members really appreciated and valued.

I can also tell you this. If lobbyists did run the Legislature, it would be working a whole lot better than it has recently — for all of us.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.