Steve Crawford grew up not far from Bloomsburg in rural Columbia County, where he cleaned pig pens, castrated pigs, and literally made sausage — all of which, he says, was good prep for a career in government, politics, and lobbying.
Dad built jet engine blades at a TRW factory in Danville and was a hog and tomato farmer. Mom was a secretary at Millville Junior/Senior High School, which Crawford attended.
After graduating from Mansfield University with a political science degree, he worked in state, local and federal government, was a deputy secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, director of the state House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, worked for state House Democrats, then was legislative secretary and later chief of staff for Gov. Ed Rendell.
Now Crawford is president of Wojdak Government Relations, with offices in Harrisburg and Philadelphia — one of the state’s largest and most powerful lobbying and communications firms (35 employees, 10 lobbyists). Wojdak lobbies in Harrisburg and Philly’s City Hall, but not in Congress. Its long list and wide range of clients include the 76ers, SEPTA, SugarHouse Casino, Jefferson, the Kimmel Center, Microsoft, and Anheuser-Busch.
As efforts to pass a new state budget by July 1 kick into gear, it’s a busy time for lobbyists. Crawford talked with us in Harrisburg about why his profession has such a bad rap and why on earth the Sixers need lobbyists.
Why do lobbyists have such bad reputations?
Because there are bad lobbyists. There are lobbyists who skirt the law. There are lobbyists who break the law. There are journalists who plagiarize. There are athletes who cheat. And one of the reasons lobbyists have bad reputations is because some lobbyists deserve it.
But lobbyist is a generic term. The truth is, everybody’s a lobbyist if you’re engaged in democracy the way you should be.
What doesn’t the public understand about lobbyists?
The complexity and difficulty and hard work that goes into advocating for an issue in a way that’s credible and effective and wins the argument. The perception of the general public is, lobbying is a form of entertainment and influence-peddling, as opposed to the nuts and bolts of the exercise.
And, in addition to being a guy who leads a successful lobbying firm, I’m also a guy who’s been lobbied by just about everybody. And I can you it doesn’t take long to tell the difference between a lobbyist who’s credible and has integrity, as opposed to a lobbyist who’s just a relationship manager.
I see you represent the 76ers. Does that mean playoff tickets?
No. But I like to joke that the 76ers were struggling mightily until they hired us [two years ago]. It’s just, I’m not sure you can get anybody to believe hiring a 5-foot-7 white guy with an average outside shot made a difference. But I do like to say that Ben Simmons and I are on the same payroll.
What do you do for the 76ers?
It’s not just the 76ers. Clients come to us for three reasons: They have a fear something could happen that would be derogatory to them, they sense some opportunity that could benefit them, or they want some level of assurance or insurance regarding the first two. They hire us so they don’t have to pay attention to every detail in the Capitol as to how a bill becomes a law.
For somebody like Microsoft, it’s cybersecurity issues or a proposed broadband build-out. For Anheuser-Busch, it’s our complicated if not antiquated liquor and beer system. But when it comes to pro sports teams, they have an interest in efforts to expand the state sales tax to sports tickets or expand gaming to sports betting, and how that would impact them.
Who are your toughest clients? Or at least your toughest type of clients?
In the last couple years, I would say it’s the gaming clients [along with SugarHouse, Wojdak represents Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and others opposed to expanded gambling]. It was tough because there’s very little understanding or appreciation in the General Assembly of how difficult it was to create gaming in our state, the benefits it’s brought, and the limits to how much it can be bled for more money.
[The legislature last year created licenses for up to 10 mini-casino and legalized video gaming terminals at large truck stops, but stopped short of allowing such terminals in thousands of bars and restaurants.]
Who are, in terms of selling, your easiest clients?
We represent the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic. Who’s going to be against that? They do terrific work there. We represent the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. The General Assembly is very respectful of state troopers. Same with the state corrections officers and the American Red Cross.
Have any lawmakers asked for 76ers tickets?
No. Surprisingly. And that’s not an invitation to ask.