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Chapter Building and Action Strategies
Gaining Legislative Action via Lobbying
by Kenneth Anderson
Everyone can lobby and should consider doing so. You are a constituent. Legislators need you as much or more than you need them. Your opinion counts but only if they know it. Lobbying activity can backfire and hurt your case if not appropriately done. Provide facts and reasons in a civil manner without being argumentative or insulting.
- Establish a good working relationship with officials, legislators or legislative staff: access.
- Gain their attention and interest in your issues: awareness.
- Achieve support for specific legislative objectives to pass or block legislation: impact.
Preparation and Preplanning
- It is relatively easy to become known by local officials and state legislators. Let them see you in the local area. Remember the dictum: All politics are local.
- Contribute to or work on their campaigns.
- Attend and participate in coffee hours and local discussion or debate sessions.
- Visit legislators or staff at their local office. This can often be more effective than visits to Springfield or Washington.
- Limit the number of issues addressed and avoid excessive contacts.
- Time your input so that you have an impact as the issue heats up, not when it is dormant.
- Express appreciation for actions that accord with your goals.
- Remember what candidates promise and work to hold them accountable when elected.
- Know the relevant facts and varied views on the issue.
- Know the legislator’s past views and voting history on the issue. Even if you disagree 90% of the time, you may be in agreement on this issue.
- Undecided legislators are often better targets that those publicly committed to an opposing view.
- Carefully review anything you write or plan to say orally for content, tone, and accuracy. Revising a first draft or rehearsing your points orally help identify weaknesses in your presentation.
Contacts with Legislators, Staff, Officials
- Keep your message--written or oral--brief and focused on one subject. (May not apply to one-on-one interactions.) Reference a specific bill number if relevant. If you have two distinct issues consider two separate communications. Often different staff members handle different issues.
- Stay positive—harsh criticism, angry insults or threats hurt rather than help your cause.
- If you plan to visit in person, try to set up an appointment. Legislators have a hectic schedule with only a limited time available and often run late or cancel. A staff member is often a good alternative.
- Listen carefully and attentively to what they have to say. Ask them to state their position on the issue as you finish your conversation if they haven’t done so already.
- When you visit a legislative office leave something that reminds them of your reason for the visit and supports your point-of-view even if you cannot see the person you hope to see. Be sure the material identifies you and any group you represent and permits the individual to contact you if they choose to do so.
- If visiting as a group, be sure to focus on a consistent message.
- Give staff the respect your would give a legislator or official. They may be forming the policy recommendations of their boss.
- If asked for information you don’t have, promise to find it and provide it as soon as possible. Be truthful. Be sure your answer is accurate and responsive. Don’t promise something you can’t or don’t deliver.
- Emails and preprinted post cards are not nearly as effective (sometimes ignored) as a telephone call, short letter, or personal contact. Don’t use form letters.
- A follow-up letter of appreciation and a reference to your issue is good practice.
- In every situation, face-to-face, oral or written contact an appropriate “thank you” is always good.
Some Important Reminders
- If you are a constituent or supporter say so.
- Provide your name, address, and if appropriate a telephone number or email address.
- Listen carefully to what they say. It is often useful to briefly restate what you think they have said to ensure clarity, i.e., “As I understand it, your position is that . . .”
- You may reference your title or position but be clear that you are speaking for yourself not your company or employer. If you are a member of a group such as AAUP or PTA and support their position, identify yourself as a member. Never imply or allow a person to think your view is the official position of an organization when it is not.
- If officially representing an organization (as an officer, delegate, etc.) do not lobby against the group’s stated position on an issue. Let someone else carry the group’s message. You are free as to express your view in internal discussions of the organization and in situations where you are not acting as a representative for and of the organization. Ethics matter.
- Do not use university or company resources to create or mail your letter. Avoid using university letterhead and never mail or telephone at university expense. A postage stamp rather than metered mail tells the receiver it is a personal letter. Use your personal email account, not that of the institution or business.
- Direct your communication to a specific person. If copies are going to others, that must be clearly indicated.
- Remember that email can be forwarded around the world and has at least nine lives.
- Don’t burn your bridges: you will need to contact that legislator again on another issue that matters to you.