Lobbyist Mark Vane shines at persuading lawmakers to change things. Or, sometimes, keep them the same
Published in 2018 Texas Super Lawyers magazine on September 6, 2018
Mark Vane knows how to get it done.
So says Daniel Morales, director of public affairs for Walmart in Texas, who should know. Vane, a lobbyist at Husch Blackwell in Austin, represented Morales’ company, part of a group of retailers that persuaded state lawmakers in 2011 to level the playing field by taxing internet sales just as they taxed brick-and-mortar stores.
Vane’s client list also includes The Accountants Coalition, Caterpillar Inc. and Ticketmaster.
“He’s got all the bases covered,” says Kathy Barber, senior governmental affairs representative for Caterpillar. Vane is currently helping her persuade Texas lawmakers to change the funding of the state’s diesel-emissions reduction program.
“He knows the legislators,” she says. “He knows the staff. He knows the politics. He knows the issues. He knows the process.”
Vane has been interested in government since high school. Lobbying, though, was not in his plans.
Born in Houston, Vane moved to Washington, D.C., to major in political science and journalism at George Washington University. “I wanted to be a reporter who covered government,” Vane says. He wound up covering courts and government at The Washington Times. “But I found myself more interested in the government side of it than I did the reporting side.”
So he got his master’s at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, then dove into law school at UT.
While pursuing his master’s, Vane interned with a state representative from Houston, and during law school was legislative director for another state representative. The stints gave Vane a detailed sense of how bills moved. Or didn’t.
“Being credible and understanding the culture of the Capitol, I think, is very important,” Vane says. “It allows me to get to work on a lot of different things with a lot of different people.”
His first law job was legislative and regulatory work at Akin Gump. He joined Gardere Wynne Sewell in 2002; this April, he moved to Husch Blackwell, where he is of counsel with the firm’s Austin office and a principal in Husch Blackwell Strategies, its government affairs subsidiary.
“I find it exciting—solving people’s problems, opening up a new market for somebody’s product or their company,” Vane says. “Or making sure somebody can do something the same way they’ve done it for years. People have relied on the certainty the law can provide; and when someone else wants to change it, we need, at times, to protect the certainty they’ve had for years. Sometimes we’re trying to change things. Sometimes we’re trying to keep things the same.”
That involves dealing with just about every issue: health care, taxation, transportation, insurance, financial services, the environment and consumer protection.
In 2015, state officials wanted to tax purchases of school buses bought by private companies that provide transportation for many schools. The companies called Vane, who helped get legislation passed to keep the tax exemption in place. He says this saved school districts millions of dollars that would have been passed along to them.
“Lobbying is all about relationships, and Mark is so strong on that,” says Barber. “Yesterday, I was at the Capitol and we’re walking through the halls, and you cannot walk past someone without them knowing him.”
Vane’s tips for being a good lobbyist
Tell the truth If you cannot be trusted to tell the truth—including the good and bad parts of the position you are promoting—you will have a very hard time obtaining the access and attention you need to represent your clients.
Keep your word Most of the deals that are done in the Texas Capitol take place over a handshake. If you break a deal or change a position, word of your actions will get around.
Know the rules Knowing how to use the [House and Senate] rulebook gives you an advantage, and allows you to sometimes complete the late-session Hail Mary pass to succeed for your client.
Maintain (and build) your relationships It is important to know the people in the key spots today, but you cannot forget that the new intern could one day be the chief staffer or freshman legislator.
Respect the institution The Texas Legislature has been through 85 regular sessions. While you must zealously represent your clients, you also cannot behave in a way that breaks the decorum and unwritten rules of the process. If you do, you need to find another career.