Lobbying the government for one’s self-interest is often seen as the dirty business of big corporations. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, $3.36 billion was spent on lobbying in 2017 by more than 11,500 lobbyists. While these figures may seem daunting to the novice voter, the power to bring change is still strongly held by constituents. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise…to petition the Government for the redress of grievances.”
With big corporations having many financial tools at their disposal, it may seem that they have the ear of those in Congress. However, most of the lobbying industry is funded by a variety of other organizations. Some of these include local banks, schools, hospitals and religious institutions, all of them lobbying for great causes such as ending breast cancer and diabetes and preventing AIDS. When learning how to influence Congress, persistence, organization and dedication are required, but anybody can make a change.
How to Influence Congress Effectively
- Learn the Best Way to Communicate
Reach out to staffers or to a member of Congress to find out the best way to communicate with them. Different congressional offices weigh messages differently. (202) 224-3121 is the Capital switchboard and they can direct the call straight to your representative’s office.
- Send Effective Messages
When reaching out to a member of Congress, make sure to identify yourself, state the issue you are advocating and explain how it relates to the community. The Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University polled 3,000 congressional staffers about which activities have the biggest influence on members of Congress. They considered “providing consistently reliable information” and “presenting a concise argument” to be the two most effective actions when lobbying or advocating for an issue.
- Use Social Media
The Congressional Management Foundation, an organization dedicated to figuring out the inner workings of Congress, says “social media is often the most effective way to reach members of Congress online.” Twitter was found to be the most used social media platform of congressional offices, but the usage of and the impact varies from member to member.
- Respect Congressional Staffers
It is important to treat congressional staffers with respect. They hold a great amount of leverage and often act as gatekeepers to certain members of Congress. Staffers can be the greatest ally a constituent can have in Washington and can help mold certain inquiries.
- Show Up in Person
Calling, messaging and tweeting are certainly impactful and convenient ways on how to influence Congress, but showing up in person at town halls and public events is the most powerful way to reach members of Congress. Make sure to bring talking points and questions. Bring friends if possible; large numbers have large voices. Get there early and connect with staffers, as most town halls are staffed by senior-level state staffers. Many constituents assume that only D.C. staffers can influence the policy-making decisions, but getting to know the state players is a key part of advocacy.
Influencing a member of Congress is not achievable only by those in the upper echelons of society. Anybody can reach out and tell their story. Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents. They want to make policy decisions that best adhere to the voices in their community, but they can only do those if those voices speak out.
– Aaron Stein