Lobbying DO’S and DONT’S

All individuals who participate in a grassroots “lobbying” effort must know and follow some traditional do’s and don’ts about lobbying effectively:

When you contact a legislator or staff member, take care to spell names, titles, bill titles and other significant identifiers correctly. Naturally, your entire communication should be error-free – first impressions matter – but at a more practical level, if you misspell a key bill identifier, agency name or legislative committee, for instance, you can make your whole communication unusable.

Be brief and clear, and know whether the individual to whom you are writing is a bill sponsor, an opponent, or neutral. Call his or her staff before you write, and ask straightforwardly the legislator’s position on the issue concerning you.

Do not threaten, express anger, or seek to intimidate the staff or the member. Not only will you not succeed, you will also manage to burn crucial bridges that you will certainly need in future efforts. Be positive, constructive, and gracious. Your role is to help the legislator understand an issue and find an appropriate solution for it; it isn’t to browbeat an elected representative or her/his staff.

Get your facts straight – Your credibility as a reporter of accurate information is important! Avoid offering biased, incomplete, or incorrect information or analysis. Don’t hesitate to say so if you are pushing a special interest; on the other hand, if your proposal will benefit more than just a few interests, say so. And be sure to help the staff by identifying the political and public policy pro’s and con’s likely to confront the member if he or she does (or does not) adopt your view. Obviously, do so in a way that places your view in the best and strongest light. But part of having your facts together is being able to help the staff person think through the important political, public policy, and strategy implications that lie in adopting or rejecting your proposal.

Do not use form letters or other obviously organized communications. Communicate as an individual constituent with a genuine concern from you personal perspective. That approach is much more effective than an obviously orchestrated (“canned”) lobbying initiative.

Be sure your communication includes your name, address, phone number(s) and email address if appropriate, and your professional credentials. If you are writing on behalf of your organization (i.e., as an officer), be sure that you make clear that you are communicating in behalf of the organization, and consider stating its membership by professional designations and by number of members if you have a large constituency.

If you are dealing with a complicated matter, include the main points in a separate 2- or 3-page fact sheet summary. One page is best of all.

When possible, lobby your representative or senator in person, and in groups of two or three. Try to meet in the legislator’s office. Where representatives are concerned, be sure to have an individual who lives in the legislator’s district with you, and make the fact known. Be on time. Be prepared to be brief, to answer one or two hard, direct questions, and to leave additional information with the legislator’s health staffer. Don’t offer personal opinions or evaluations that can be mistaken for group policy or fact. If you wish to express a personal view as contrasted with a statement of fact or your organizational view, clearly identify your remarks as personal, subjective opinion, not fact or organization policy.

Listen to your legislator’s view. Listen!

If you are asked to meet with a staffer instead of the member, be well aware that you are dealing with an important individual who will have the task of advising the legislator on the position/action he or she should take on your request. The staffer has virtual life or death power over your position because he or she will determine how to present it to the legislator.

Be friendly and down-to-earth. Don’t be too aggressive, defensive or overly technical. Your legislator has other constituents to listen to as well, and you must respect that fact – even if he or she disagrees with your point of view.

If you don’t know, say so. Don’t try to bluff it. Instead, offer to provide the correct answer to your legislator as soon as possible.

Follow up with a thank-you note and a brief restatement of your interest and the action you wish the legislator to take.

Express thanks. Thanks are due even if the legislator decides not to adopt your viewpoint. He or she gave you the opportunity to express your views, after all. If he or she was helpful, then special thanks are due – and, where appropriate and when cleared in advance with the legislator’s staff, publicity for the legislator can go a long way in expressing appreciation.

If the time is short, choose one of a variety of means to communicate quickly – consider email, faxing a letter or making a phone call.

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