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Flashback Friday: Getting to the Grassroots of the Matter

February 23, 2018
This post is part of BIO’s yearlong, bi-weekly series called Flashback Friday, highlighting newsletter stories from BIO’s past.  To learn more about BIO’s history and our 25th Anniversary visit our interactive historical timeline.

Reprinted from BIONews, April/May 1996


By Patrick Kelly, Grassroots Manager

It was three hours before the recent Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee mark-up on Chairperson Nancy Kassebaum's (R-Kan.) FDA reform bill. BIO learned that Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the committee's ranking Democrat, would offer amend­ments that could have a negative impact on our industry. Responding to this emergency both challenged BIO's grassroots advocacy network and demonstrated its value to the industry.

What did we do? An "Urgent Alert Memorandum" was sent to BIO's 85 advocacy liaisons in Massachusetts asking them to contact Senator Kennedy's office and urge him not to introduce his amendments. Our liaisons responded in force, deluging the senator's office with faxes and phone calls about the effects of the proposed amendments on his home state industry.

And Senator Kennedy listened. He agreed to hold off on his amendments and to work with other members of the committee to resolve his concerns. The bill was approved by the committee by a vote of 12-4 ( with Kennedy voting no), clearing the way for a vote by the full Senate.

This was a textbook example of how the BIO grassroots network can be mobilized at almost a moment's notice to perform tasks critical to BIO's legislative goals.

Since the playing field has been leveled somewhat by lobbying reform, many companies and trade associations are scrambling to organize grass­roots programs. Whether it's by phone in the last minutes before a crucial mark-up, or face-to-face in a more relaxed district meeting, constituents command a significant amount of influence over the decision-making process.

Because BIO has been committed to this strategy since its incep­tion almost three years ago, we're several steps ahead of the game. Now, we are fine-tuning our network to increase communications between BIO members and legislators at both the state and the federal levels.

We are also adding individual company facility information (in addition to our existing database on company­wide data) to our grassroots database to more adequately represent the biotechnology presence in states. We also recently published the "BIO Grassroots Lobbying Manual," and the "State Captain and Advocacy Liaison Directory." These were sent to all 300-plus advocacy liaisons.

Companies can participate in the BIO grassroots advocacy network in a variety of ways. First, designate an advocacy liaison-your company's primary government relations person or anyone with an interest in external advocacy­and forward his or her name to us.

Second, get to know your senators and representatives. Invite them  to tour your facility and visit with your employees. You can also participate in BIO-sponsored events like the next congressional fly-in (September 18, 1996, in Washington) and the annu­al BIO Grassroots Conference (October 9-11, 1996, in San Diego).

In the coming months we plan to schedule district office meetings to inform key members of Congress about our FDA reform agenda. In September, at the BIO Fall Conference, we also plan to conduct a fly-in to Washington that will allow our members to meet with senators and representatives to discuss biotech issues. We hope you will participate.

Editor’s Note: The 21st Century Version of this tool is called BIOAction (no faxing involved).  To sign-up text BIO to 52886 or visit