The meetings are a way to get to know the new members and as such don’t necessarily have a set agenda, said Mike Greene, CRN’s senior vice president of government affairs. It’s a way both to educate and to test the waters, he said.
“For our ‘freshman’ meeting, it’s important for us to talk about whatever they want to talk about,” Greene told NutraIngredients-USA. “We have information about our industry we want to convey to the legislators, but at the same time we are trying to ascertain their level of interest.”
Greene said it’s critical to strike while the iron is hot for new members of Congress. They are feeling their way, and once they get their feet underneath them, so to speak, their time starts to become taken up with concerns driven by immediate political questions.
“There is this sweet spot when they first come in. Then they will eventually become overwhelmed and they will naturally become more resistant to a meeting unless there is a particular issue or concern,” he said.
Message finally getting through
Greene said that he has seen some progress in the image of the dietary supplement industry within the halls of Congress over the years. In the House particularly, since the departure of longtime industry critic Henry Waxman, the industry has not generated that kind of determined opposition.
“Since Congressman Dingle or Congressman Waxman left, we haven’t seen detractors at that level. I believe a lot of this is work we have done early on with new members. We let them know that dietary supplements are a regulated industry. It’s that critical first impression that we make,” he said.
In addition to assessing a legislator’s early level of interest, Greene said CRN also supplies state-specific information about how important the industry is in a given state (for Senators) or in a particular legislative district. CRN also works to connect legislators with local companies and facilities, which Greene said is a critical part of the cementing of those positive relationships.
“All of our big supporters, people like Sen. Harkin, Sen. Hatch, Rep. Pallone, have toured dietary supplement facilities,” Greene said.