Small Edmond firm has far reaching influence

Sunday, December 12th 2004, 3:35 pm

By: News On 6

EDMOND, Okla. (AP) _ Anyone familiar with the American political system knows what a huge role lobbyists can play in the lawmaking process.

But despite the influence lobbying firms can have at the Capitol, it doesn't take a whole lot of people to get a whole lot done in the industry.

Take Edmond resident Bobby Stem/s firm, Capitol Gains LLC, for example. Capitol Gains is essentially three people; Stem, an administrative assistant and a director of research.

Among the three of them, Capitol Gains represents 22 clients from the Oklahoma Fraternal Order of Police to Wal-Mart Pharmacies and is one of the largest lobbying firms in the state. Once paperwork clears on a handful of other businesses being added to Stems client list, he expects Capitol Gains will be the largest lobbying firm in the state.

That measure of success didn't come overnight. After years of making connections on the staffs of governors George Nigh and David Walters and in other political positions, Stem struck off on his own and started the lobbying firm Stem and Associates in 1998 while attending law school at night. His first client was the Oklahoma Credit Union League, a group he still represents today.

``It was a unique opportunity, and the credit unions who I had done some work for previously needed somebody,'' Stem said. ``I enjoyed their issues and had relationships and was encouraged to go give it a shot, try something new.''

From that first shot and that first client, Stem and Associates enjoyed consistent and continued growth until the firm changed its name to Capitol Gains in September.

``Each year we would add two to three clients, mostly from word of mouth,'' Stem said.

``Clients that we were servicing well would tell other folks in the professional world that they were having successes with Stem and Associates and therefore we would end up with calls from those folks and were expanding our business from there.''

While that expansion has been consistent since year one, Stem said his client list has swollen nearly to capacity.

``We'll welcome some additional growth, but our overall objective is to continue to serve everybody as well as we can,'' Stem said. ``We don't want to add so many new clients that we cannot continue to give everybody 100 percent. There's some room for some growth in the future, but realistically not too much if we want to give people the best service we can.''

Stem said he expects to add another lobbyist to the firm in the coming months, but workload isn't the only factor limiting his growth. At some point a large client list could lead to conflicts of interest, where two clients want different outcomes for a particular piece of legislation.

``When you start to get the number of clients we have, it's difficult to have many more because you'll get into areas where you will conflict,'' Stem said.

But that's not to say there's no room for growth left.

``We're not in oil and gas or energy, but we've got some opportunities there,'' Stem said. ``We have some opportunities possibly in transportation areas. There are probably three or four more areas that we could add some clients to, and we're planning on doing that in the real near future.''

Like the Legislature itself, the business of lobbying is heavily centered on the legislative session.

``During those four months, I try to take the industry to the Capitol and to the legislator,'' Stem said. In the off-session, he tries to help his clients lobby more effectively, building personal relationships between his clients and their local representatives, developing grass roots programs and political action committees and looking at the session ahead to determine what legislation they want to pass and what they want to shoot down.

``It's basically like a four-quarter football game: February, March, April and May,'' Stem said. ``There's not a lot of time outs and there's fumbles, but there's long passes caught also.''

Stem says it's one field that requires a specific personality.

``It's gotta be in your blood,'' Stem said. ``You gotta be willing to get up at 4:30 or 5 a.m., eat your breakfast and get yourself organized and be ready to go and work hard when you get out there because its fast paced.''

It also takes a personality capable of dealing with the sometimes negative public perceptions surrounding the field. Stem said the notion of lobbyists earning their keep by wining and dining is the biggest misconception about the field.

``It's true that there is a lot of time spent with legislators over meals, but it's only because we all have to eat and there's a great deal of business to be done within four months' time,'' Stem said. ``But the misconception is that a big meal will get you a vote which is just absolutely not true. In actuality, the largest influence on a legislator is his own belief along with his constituency ... You're going to have a better chance bringing constituents to the Capitol than buying steaks.''

Stem says he hadn't always planned on a career as a lobbyist. He originally got into politics to make an impact as a candidate, and ran for the House District 75 seat when he was just turning 21. Though he lost in the Democratic primary, he held onto his hopes for public office until much more recently.

In '93, I had my daughter, Rayna,'' Stem said. ``I didn't want to commit that much time to the campaign trail. With her around, I enjoyed spending a lot of time with her and that's what changed.''

Though Stem isn't trying to change the world anymore, he finds his job very rewarding in the people he meets, the advances he makes on behalf of those with relatively little political clout (like the Oklahoma Hospice Association), and opportunities he can give to those interested in a career in politics.

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