In a political arena of conflicting interests, where complex decisions are as liable as not to have unintended consequences, lobbyists play a critical role both as advocates and educators. Trish Zita and Adam Kaufman, who were partners in the Capital Public Affairs lobbying firm that Kaufman founded 15 years ago, started their own firm, the Kaufman Zita Group in 2007. The firm, which has seven employees, recently moved to 12 Roszel Road. To date it has been involved in everything from helping certified trainers to expand their employment opportunities to giving Verizon’s FIOS service easy entry into New Jersey homes, to defending state residents from the likes of Congo the infamous German shepherd.
Both Kaufman and Zita got turned on to politics when they were young. Kaufman has been active in local politics and campaigns since he was a kid. His father was a packaging engineer at Church & Dwight, and his mother, who at 82 is a working commercial artist with a specialty in gold-leaf illuminated manuscripts, served as a legislative aide for two different Middlesex County legislators, part time, over a period of 20 years.
Zita’s mother liked to tell an emblematic story that perhaps foreshadowed Zita’s future as a lobbyist. “She says I was the only five-year-old child she knew whose favorite program was the six o’clock news with Walter Cronkite,” says Zita, “and she knew that I was somehow going to be involved in government or politics.” Like Kaufman, she was also involved in a political campaign at a fairly young age, and just a few years ago she was the only female partner in one of the top 10 lobbying firms in New Jersey.
Zita’s parents immigrated to the United States from Italy, her father a was cabinetmaker and her mother is a tailor. “I am first generation,” says Zita, who grew up in Hamilton, “and I think it affected my interest in a lot of international issues.”
Indeed, Zita’s initial interest in politics was international rather than local, but because she was finishing Syracuse University a semester early — graduating in 1990 with a degree in political science — one of her professors set her up in an internship with a legislator in Albany. “I worked for the chair of the small business committee and got bit by the bug,” she says.
Zita was “supposed” to be going to law school but never made it, and today she satisfies the urge to practice law by working with law firms whose clients need some trouble-shooting in the arena of government policy.
After working for the legislature in Albany, Zita moved to New Jersey to work on the staff of Joe Doria, who was then speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly. She has also served on the Assembly majority staff, working for Democratic members of the legislature, and staffed a number of committees — insurance, housing, education, and health — as a legislative aide. She has served as senior director of the Chemical Industry Council of New Jersey, a trade association representing 100 chemical and pharmaceutical companies in the state. Zita, who now lives in New Hope and is the mother of two toddlers, has a master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Kaufman grew up in North Brunswick and graduated from Rutgers in 1979 with a degree in political science. He wrote freelance articles for the “New Jersey Reporter” worked for Barbara Sigmund when she ran for the United States Senate in 1982. He was also a legislative aide to an assemblywoman from Burlington County, Barbara Kalik. Kaufman, who now lives in Princeton, has an associate degree from the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers. He is president of the board of trustees of the New Jersey State Museum, which he calls “an underappreciated gem.”
Kaufman broke his teeth in the government arena by lobbying for six years on behalf of the New Jersey Dental Association. Zita, however, learned lobbying from the other side. As a political staffer, she learned how to advocate effectively from the lobbyists who were always approaching her.
Much of a lobbyist’s job involves educating people within the political arena about critical issues facing a particular industry or company. Last year, for example, the Kaufman Zita firm worked on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, a cooperative effort by Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The firm helped to secure the passage of critical amendments involving how RGGI credits would be allocated and managed in the marketplace. Their work helped create a competitive market for RGGI credits where wholesale power producers can fairly operate and compete, says Zita.
As a contract lobbying firm, the Kaufman Zita Group represents a diverse group of associations, corporations, and individual entities. “We are not a one-issue-based lobbying firm,” says Zita, adding that most of the firm’s clients are in the healthcare and energy sectors.
“Clients come to us for different reasons,” says Zita, “sometimes to protect themselves, sometimes for specific problems, sometimes to be proactive and preemptive.” Often legislation will have many ramifications that the legislators are not aware of — unintended consequences that affect different industries or even the state economy as a whole.
Take the legislation on bulk power generation. Although it would not affect a consumer on a day-to-day basis, it went to the heart of how electricity would be priced, a subject that will have a significant economic impact on the state of New Jersey.
Sometimes clients come to the Kaufman Zita Group not for a particular issue, but because they do not want to be forgotten in the governmental process. “They want to be a factor,” says Zita. “They want their voices to be heard when key decision-makers are studying issues; or they want to be called on for their expertise.”
As far as political campaigns, the firm pretty much stays away. “On behalf of clients we may advocate on behalf of a certain candidate on a bipartisan basis,” says Kaufman, “but we’re on the government side, not on the political side — we don’t run campaigns.”
One of the Kaufman Zita Group’s customers, Steve Kalafer, chairman of the Flemington Car and Truck Company family of dealerships and owner of the Somerset Patriots baseball team, explains how the Kaufman Zita Group helps him out. “They evaluate trends in legislative policy and are able to inform me of sentiment and likely impact, and I can make more informed business decisions,” he says. “They have excellent access to legislative staff and are able to convey multiple points of view for evaluation.”
Arthur Lucien, the Northeast Region Public Affairs Manager for United Parcel Service, must keep tabs on state legislatures in 10 states, and Kaufman and Zita have helped him keep abreast of the political climate in Trenton for the past four years, in particular on transportation and environmental issues. UPS is interested, for example, in alternative fuel initiatives and air quality. “We want to make sure we are in compliance and leading the way in alternative fuel vehicles,” says Lucien.
“As large and diverse as UPS is, there’s not much that doesn’t affect us,” he says. That’s where the Kaufman Zita Group comes in. “They let you know what is going on behind the scenes as well as in front of the scenes,” says Lucien, “which is very important when you are dealing with the political climate. They know all the folks who push the buttons to make things happen in Trenton.”
Zita compares the lobbyist’s role to that of a lawyer. “Going to court in the judicial branch, you would be represented by an attorney; in the legislative and executive branches, you would be represented by a lobbyist. They understand the legislative process, and they advocate on your behalf.”
At every step through the process, clients are notified electronically if any action is taken. They are informed when a senator proposes a piece of legislation, and what it will accomplish; when a bill is referred to committee; or when a bill will come up for a committee vote. To track every bill, flag legislation of interest to a particular client, and notify the client, the firm uses a sophisticated legislative tracking system.
“If a bill is problematic,” says Zita, “a client may E-mail or call and say, ‘We have a problem with the way the bill is written.’” Zita or Kaufman, or one of their employees, might then go to a legislator or the staff to find out what the intent of the bill was and then say, “Do you realize that although you meant to do A, the bill does B?”
Lobbying is inherently varied. “We never have two days that are the same,” says Kaufman. “The issues are different, and the players are different on each issue.” When they worked with the Athletic Trainers’ Society of New Jersey, for example, they dealt with the regulated professions committee, the division of consumer affairs, the governor’s counsel’s office, the Senate commerce committee, and the legislative leadership to get bills posted.
The issue for the trainers, many of whom studied at one of six or seven programs at New Jersey state colleges, was that the old practice act limited where they could practice to undergraduate and secondary schools and college and professional sports settings. But with their education and training, the trainers wanted to expand the locations where they were allowed practice their craft.
With the help of the Kaufman Zita Group, legislation was passed allowing athletic trainers to work in clinics and physical therapy practices with orthopedists and thereby expand their employment opportunities.
The Kaufman Zita Group also represents the New Jersey Health Officers Association, which wanted to be heard on what could have been unintended consequences of legislation proposed when Congo, the Princeton German shepherd, was due to be euthanized after attacking landscapers. After Congo won enormous public sympathy, the legislature introduced legislation, retroactive to the beginning of last year, to eliminate the right of a municipality to hold and euthanize a dog.
If the legislation had passed as written, every dog being held as potentially dangerous would have been let go. So the Health Officers Association came forward and testified to this unintended consequence, saying, “If you are trying to create tools to protect the public health, we would like to work with you to amend the bill to do that.” Working with the legislative sponsor on the Senate side, Kaufman and Zita educated members about the issue, and the bill was not enacted. They are in continuing discussion with legislators to make sure that health officers have the tools they need to protect the public health while at the same time protecting dog owners’ rights.
In retrospect, it is probably a good thing that the Health Officers’ voices were heard in the legislature. The fact that Congo struck again, attacking its owner’s mother-in-law, could indicate that caution should be used before releasing violent dogs. (Congo has now been euthanized.)
The Kaufman Zita Group was also instrumental in helping Verizon get the FIOS designation as a statewide franchise, sparing the communications company from having to obtain approval from every municipality.
Kaufman and Zita are looking to grow their firm. “We have a pretty aggressive three-year plan,” says Zita. “By nature Adam and I are not necessarily content with the status quo. It is a challenge to take a company and grow it. There’s always room for improvement, and we’re always looking to be better. If we are bigger, we can provide our services to more companies.”
Kaufman says that competition is brisk among the lobbying firms that are regular players in the State House.
“We try to demystify government for our clients. For a lot of people, government is far away, and we try to put their issue or concern in some context,” says Kaufman. “We do things that affect people on a day-to-day basis and sometimes in a more ethereal way. We don’t make widgits, but we help the people who make them make them better.”
— Michele Alperin
Kaufman Zita Group LLC, 12 Roszel Road, Suite C-104, Princeton 08540; 609-452-9800. Adam Kaufman and Trish Zita, principals. Home page: www.kaufmanzitagroup.com.