Working With Your Elected Officials
Before you get started on a do-it-yourself lobbying initiative, be sure to determine whether the issue you want addressed should be legislated on the federal, state or local level—learn more about that in our Legislative Process FAQ. That way, you’ll know which of your elected officials to direct your energy toward.
- Do your homework in advance of making an appointment with your legislator. You want to make the visit as effective as possible and demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the person you are approaching. Go online and search the legislator’s webpage to get a feel for his or her politics and the issues that are emphasized—you can even work on pulling previous voting records.
- Be sure that a law on your issue of interest doesn’t already exist, and if it does, read it carefully to determine if it covers your particular concern or is weak on that point. Note the date of the law as well. A newly enacted law is not likely to be reconsidered in the near future, but one that has been on the books for years and has proven to be weak or ineffective may form the basis for a legislative “fix.”
- When you’re ready, make an appointment to meet with the appropriate legislator. At the federal level, chances are you will be meeting with the staff aide and not the member of Congress. Staffers develop issues for their bosses and are important players in the political process. A good relationship with a staffer can mean the difference between your issue moving forward or never seeing the light of day. At the state and local levels, you may have more of an opportunity to deal with the legislator directly—but again, treat staff people with the utmost respect. They count!
- Be prepared to make a strong presentation about the issue that concerns you. Legislators and their staffs have very limited time. (For more detailed info on meeting with your elected officials, see our article What Does a Meeting with My Legislator Entail?)
- Regardless of how much research you’ve done on an issue, do not expect it to be used as the basis of legislation (particularly at the federal level), and don’t expect a legislator or staff person to commit to drafting a law on the spot. He or she will need to do their own fact-finding to ensure that your issue is something they wish to pursue, and that any legislation they may decide to put forward will really address the issue. It’s a good idea to draft a modest, one-page fact sheet to take with you to the meeting, rather than to leave behind volumes of your research. If they need more, they will ask you for it.
- Always be respectful and professional with elected officials, even if they disagree with you. Be sure to send thank-you letters!
Sometimes the best resolution to a problem is not an amendment or a bill, but a meeting with authorities. Legislative offices can often serve as the catalyst for a meeting with an agency or other entity. Legislation doesn’t cure all problems—and in fact, because the legislative process can take so long, be fraught with many ups and downs and often not result in the type of bill one started out sponsoring, if a non-legislative resolution to a problem can be found and a legislator is willing to help that along, that too can be considered an important achievement.
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