Does Legislative Advocacy Work?
Every Email, Call, Letter, & Visit Counts!
Every constituent contact with a legislative office is tracked and considered to represent a certain number of voters in the home district as indicated below:
- An Email – Represents 10 Voters
- A Phone Call – Represents 50 Voters
- A Letter – Represents 100 Voters
- A Visit – Represents 500 Voters
Key Advocacy Tips
The most effective way to gain political allies is to do so before they are elected. Once they are in office, it is very hard to get them out. Participate in candidate screenings with your church, community organization, or the League of Women Voters. Ask them how they will advocate for your cause and what their opinions are on your issues. Provide them with further materials to educate them on the facts are they are they relate to your cause. When you aren’t going to vote for someone, tell him or her so and why. If they change their position, are you willing to vote for them? Face to face meetings with legislators are key places to share information and help to change minds.
Local: Contact your city council and find out when they hold public sessions and get your issue on their agenda and go to the meeting and talk to the council members about the issue.
Austin: When doing advocacy work in Austin, take your issue to the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House. After these three, talk to the Public Health Committee in the House and Health Services Committee in the Senate. Next, talk to the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Always include information and visits to your legislator and senate member.
National: On the national level, you will have much better luck if you start with your congressperson and senators.
I. Develop a Strategic Plan
- What do you want? (e.g. Current issues)
- How would they support it? (e.g. Co-sponsor and vote yes for the Peer Assistance Bill. Give them the name phone number of the sponsors and the number assigned to the bill. Make it easy for them to make the call to co-sponsor.)
- How can you help them?
- Be willing to testify in house and senate committees and hearings.
- Offer information about how this legislation affects their district and how constitutes will benefit from its passage.
- Be willing to draft legislation or serve as a resource or researcher for legislation that they are reviewing or drafting.
- Stress that they are the expert politician and in your field and will share your expertise with them.
- What will you do with the funds or what will change when the bill is passed?
II. Schedule a Meeting
- When scheduling you may want to break up you’re areas group in separate teams depending on the size of your group and the amount of appointments that need to be made. For example Team A and Team B. Call or send an e-mail for an appointment and include the issues you want to discuss and the names of all people attending the meetings. A letter has an advantage over a phone call because the legislative office will keep a copy of the letter so that your arguments can be reviewed. A letter will also get a response from the elected representative, which forces him/her to give some thought or attention to the issue.
- Type or write legibly.
- Write personally and speak from own experience. Gallup polls show that 70% of lawmakers pay attention to personal letters and only 19% pay attention to form letters
- Write about how you represent the elected official’s constituency: Are you a voter, a minority, a member of his/her political party, a parent, a teacher, a taxpayer, what is your sex, age group, and income bracket? Just a few letters can embody an entire district’s demographics. Ask a variety of people to write with you.
- Refer to any legislation with the correct bill title and number
- State your position in the first and last sentence of your letter.
- Address the letter and the envelope correctly (i.e. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; Congress member Gene Green).
- Be brief and respectful (one well worded page is better than four rambling pages).Note: Do not copy sample letters exactly, be rude or threaten, include volumes of extra material or put down every argument that you can think of.
- Call the office scheduler as follow-up to your letter to schedule a meeting.
III. Research Your Legislator
- Know his/her voting history and position on your issue or related ones.
- It is also helpful to research their website to learn about what school they went to, if they have any children, and what religious background do they have. Sometimes common issues can help ease tough conversations. In addition, you can tailor your discussion to meet their needs. e.g. if they have teenage children, talk about the number of kids that are using drugs
- Keep in mind, the national representatives run every two years, which means that they are constantly thinking of re-election. How will their action on this vote help get re-elected? Senators run every six years know when their current term expires. If it is in two years or less, they are beginning to plan their campaign. On the state level representatives and senators run every four years on a staggered schedule. Again, know where the legislator is in the re-election cycle.
I. Meeting Time and Dress
- Arrive early and do not take up more then the allotted time.
- Dress appropriately – wear a suit or dress
II. Legislative Aid/Elected Official
- Be prepared to meet with the legislative aid rather than the elected official. This is not a bad thing. Often aides make many of the major decisions and do most of the research.
- Aides usually know more about the issues and can be important allies in the future.
- Get the business card of whomever you meet with and give them information on how to contact you in the future as well.
- Verbally present your argument – focus on the key issues. Don’t arrive with a grocery list.
- Personalize your involvement in regards to the issues when introducing yourself.
- Provide them with a handout with bullet points of your presentation/plan. Provide these in a brightly colored file folder with the topic and your organization’s name on the label. This will make it easier to file and to remember you when they go back to the information. If there are several pieces of material include a table-of-contents cover sheet.
- Give others in the meeting time to speak.
- Draw out specific answers to specific questions. Politicians can sometime generalize or change the subject.
- Listen carefully to what the legislator has to say even if you disagree. He/she will let you know the types of information that will change their mind.
- Be respectful at all times. Don’t get angry or yell.
- Refrain from negative or sarcastic comments about other legislators. Relationships between elected officials are very complex.
IV. Leave on good term. Thank the legislator of aide for their time and consideration, even if the meeting was not fruitful.
- Immediately after the meeting make notes on what was discussed and what your legislator has agreed to do.
- II. Ask the receptionist for the legislator’s newsletter and then ask to be placed on their mailing list. These newsletters contain information about voting records, priorities, legislative aides, etc. which will all be helpful to you in the future.
- Follow-up the meeting with a thank you letter that summarizes your understanding of what your legislator has agreed to do. Remind him/her that you are a resource. Always send separate letters to any staff members that you met with and make a point to keep in contact with them.
- Be there as a resource even when it is not you issue that they are calling about. It is about the relationship that is formed between their office and yours. The more you have an opportunity to work with congressional offices, the more your name and your message is heard.
Note: For Whom Do You Advocate?
Invite these people to join you (i.e. if you are advocating for addicts needing treatment, bring some with you to tell their stories). Sometimes that can join you physically in Washington or Austin. Other times, they can visit the local office as the same time you are visiting in D.C. or Austin. Bring their letters and video testimony to your representatives.
As a true advocate, give voice to your cause in all arenas, not just with legislators are present. Step out of your comfort zone. We can all sit with others counselors and talk about the need for treatment. Talks about the need for treatment at church, at school, at holiday parties, educate others on the facts and the truth of the illness. When you are going to talk with legislators let them know that this issue is not isolated to a small section of their community, but that it affects all people from every walk of life and in every age and income bracket.
Probably the most important tip for those involved in the political advocacy I learned from my grandmother, who through her life and works inspired all of my advocacy efforts: “Make sure that you do not commit the cardinal political sin of neglecting to thank workers for all the jobs they have done, paying particular attention to mention even every small gains turned in by individual effort.”
Do not be intimidated. You elected these officials; it is their job to represent you and the other people who put them in office. They work for you.
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