Learning to Lobby
From the NAMI Augusta Azalea newsletter, July 2009
What exactly is lobbying? Simply put, it is an attempt to influence someone else's opinion or activities. Lobbying in the governmental process is making information available to public officials who cannot be expected to know how every law or regulation will affect all of the people they represent.
Good lobbying? This is your ability to make your point of view both interesting and relevant, to focus on your topic, argument, and strategy in such a way as to make that person you are attempting to influence stop short and listen!
There are several ways to reach an elected official, phone, letter, personal visits and e-mail. The key to all approaches is "Common Sense."
-Be fair and reasonable.
-Kill them with kindness.
-Be realistic and willing to compromise.
-Never leave in anger.
-Contact with regularity, not just for votes.
-Be actual and factual. Never lie, never guess. Say, "I don't know, but I will get back to you,"- and make sure you do.
-Give credit where credit is due.
-Support your legislator.
-Ask your legislator how he/she stands. Will he/she support your position?
-Don't get too emotional.
Lobbying by phone
-Identify yourself by name, address, home town and phone number.
-Briefly state your position on the bill and how you would like your legislator to vote.
-Ask for their position or view of the bill. Volunteer to forward further information.
-Be prepared to speak with their secretary or aide and have your position relayed. Cultivate ongoing relationships with these staff people.
Lobbying by visit
Making the extra effort to visit a legislator, either in the home district or at the capitol, will pay off in establishing the maximum in effective communication.
-Make an appointment for the visit in advance. If you are a constituent, say so. Indicate your primary interest in meeting with them. Try for a personal appointment, offering two or three alternative times you are available.
-Address legislators as "Representative" or "Senator."
-Be prepared when you arrive. Know what you are going to say. Have a statement or fact sheet to leave behind.
-Offer a solution to your problem.
-Educate. Let your legislator know if you are working with others on the issue, if you are active in the community, or if you are representing members of your organization. Let him/her know of other home district support.
-Never end in harsh words or personal remarks. You will damage your credibility and hamper further communications.
-At the capitol during the session, if your legislator is in their seat on the Senate or House floor, write them a note identifying yourself and your issue. The doorkeeper can forward it to your legislator, who will generally try to come out and meet you.
Lobbying by letter
Legislators are most sensitive to grass-roots opinion from the voters in their own districts. Write thoughtful, sincere letters on issues that directly affect you. These letters will get the most attention.
-Be specific. One issue per letter.
-Address legislators properly, write legibly or preferably, one typewritten page. Include your address.
-Clearly state your view for or against a proposal and present your reasons.
-Base your position on your personal experiences/observations, and effect on home district.
-Do not use postcards, form letters, or extracts of other letters. Each legislator should receive an original.
-Timing is critical. If a letter arrives too early, it is forgotten. Letters should generally arrive a few days before the vote, whether in committee or on the full chamber floor. Members of the Senate should be contacted while the bill is in the House and vice versa. However, don't let waiting for the right time to come along keep you from writing. The Legislature's schedule is very unpredictable. It is better to reach someone early in the debate then after they have made up their mind or not at all.
-Write the chairperson and members of a committee holding hearings as well as members of leadership in both parties and both chambers. Although legislators are primarily responsive to voters in their districts, these people in leadership and committee positions are in roles that mean that they should be concerned about the impact of a measure on people from all across the state.
Lobbying by e-mail
Because of the ease in which e-mail may be sent by anyone from anywhere in the world, it is difficult to gauge its effectiveness. Additionally, different people use e-mail differently. If you know an individual uses it extensively, it may be a sufficient way to communicate. Keep in mind, however, the less personal a lobbying effort is the less effective it will be, and e-mail is the least personal way to contact a legislator.
-Follow the rules for writing a letter.
-Make sure you clearly identify yourself with a real world address.
-Try to include the issue and your position in the subject line. Even if they don't read the message they will see this information.