Nicole Smith '07 Lobbyist Plays Vital Role for Average Americans
- Alumni Spotlights
Nicole Smith ’07 knows that Capitol Hill lobbyists like her often get a bad rap. But she gently reminds us that, while there are bad actors in every profession, lobbyists play a vital role in our democracy by representing the average American.
“I can be the voice for thousands of people on Capitol Hill,” she said. “I take the trust my clients put in me very seriously. On their behalf, the issues I advocate for directly affect their jobs, affecting their ability to provide for their families. I keep that in mind every time I am in a congressional meeting.”
Nicole first saw the power of politics after college, while interning for then-Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). Part of Nicole’s job was to sort letters from constituents, and many were notes of thanks to Sen. Mikulski for her work on the Affordable Care Act. The bill, which had just passed, made health insurance available for people with pre-existing conditions. Seeing how advocacy could make a real difference in people’s lives made Nicole want to seek a career in politics.
She found a job in Washington with a small lobbying firm. “After learning more about advocacy, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I love my job!” Nicole is executive vice president at Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies, where she utilizes her congressional and policy experience to advocate on behalf of clients across Miller/Wenhold’s practice groups. Nicole uses her expertise to develop and implement strategy from legislative policy to political and issue campaigns.
Nicole has worked closely with many different legislators to advocate for her clients. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) are “great examples of ‘the best of us’ on Capitol Hill,” she said, “fighting tirelessly for issues important to their constituents regardless of party politics.” She’s also developed great relationships with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Pre-Covid, she used to run into Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) at fundraisers and chat about St. Mary’s County and how the oyster season was shaping up.
“Working on Capitol Hill, whether directly with members of Congress or with one of the thousands of dedicated congressional staffers, can be a bit of a double-edged sword,” Nicole said. “On the one hand, I have had the honor to shake hands and learn from true legislative geniuses, inspired by tireless advocates, and be shaped by those few independent voices who chose principle over party. But then, I’ve also seen stunning cowardice, corruption of power, and a lack of compassion. On Capitol Hill, you see the best and the worst; I have decided that seeing the best is worth sticking around.”
While she works on clients’ behalf and prides herself on being bipartisan, she vows that she will stick to her principles on the Hill. “I believe good policy meets in the middle,” she said, but the art of compromise “has been missing from the current state of politics, where people tend to be running to the ends of either spectrum. … As we see, there are no real winners in that scenario; the result is inaction. So … I think I can find a compromise on most issues, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. A part of my job is to put my personal beliefs aside and advocate for my client.”
To that end, she is active with the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics, serving as its director. The group promotes ethical lobbying and its integral role to a representative government. “Building NILE into a leading voice for the lobbying profession is one of my proudest achievements,” she said.
She is also particularly proud of advocating for two issues affecting the Great Lakes region. She was able to help triple the budget for port infrastructure there, paving the way for much-needed tech upgrades and structural improvements. And she is working on a decarbonization corridor for maritime commerce between the United States and Canada.
Nicole says she thanks her parents regularly for sending her to St. Mary’s Ryken, where she learned how to form a proper paragraph and write a strong thesis statement. “I can never thank SMR enough for giving me the technical tools to succeed.”
The one thing she didn’t learn at SMR? Cooking. She says her favorite recipe is “ordering Outback.”
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