February 18, 2009

A Strong Voice in Washington

Lobbying firm founder Mike Merola ’92 secures nearly $100 million Medicaid reimbursement

After serving two years with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, Mike Merola ’92 returned home to follow an idea that came to him via the airwaves.

“At times during those two years, my only friend was my radio,” he explains. “There was a lot of news about Bob Torricelli, who was taking on the CIA. I came back and decided to volunteer for his Senate campaign, then later started working for him. I learned a lot about New Jersey in a short time.”

Merola worked in Washington for five years, serving as Torricelli’s deputy chief of staff and principal liaison between the senator’s and New Jersey governor’s offices.

“While I was there, I realized that a lot of people who came in to lobby for issues really didn’t know much about the issue they were lobbying for, or about the needs of their clients,” he says. “I realized there was a market for someone who understood New Jersey and its politics and institutions.”

The success of Winning Strategies Washington, the firm he founded, has borne out his intuition. The company began as an example of a growing trend in the lobbying business — small shops with a focus on lawmakers from a single region or on clients with similar issues.

“A lot of our clients are former customers of the big firms who thought they could be all things to all people, and didn’t know the delegation or what’s important to the state and its members,” he explains. “I understand our clients. I know what makes them tick.”

Merola supervises all aspects of client service by the government relations staff and helps to devise and support the company’s business development strategy. He also co-directs the firm’s appropriations practice and leads teams serving corporate, nonprofit, and governmental clients. He counts working with Congress to secure a Medicare reimbursement worth nearly $100 million for 43 hospitals as one of his most memorable successes.

He also specializes in transportation and infrastructure issues, having worked successfully on the Safe, Affordable, Flexible Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users as well as every Water Resources Development Act reauthorization bill since 2000. He has been active in state and federal political campaigns as well.

Having developed his interest in politics and public policy early in life, Merola chose Lafayette, and his international affairs major, after a campus tour.

“I was touring campus with my dad in Pardee Hall and we ran into a professor,” he explains. “She took a detour from her plans and gave a good chunk of time to talk to me. Her dedication and passion, and her assertions that Lafayette could offer me better academics than other schools I was considering, finalized my choice. It was a great decision. Professors [Rado] Pribic, [John] McCartney, [Ilan] Peleg, and others made the material come alive.”

Merola says he hopes that other Lafayette students and graduates know about the great alumni connections in Washington, D.C. The alumni network proved invaluable to him and he considers it one of the College’s greatest assets the College offers.

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