A crucial part of the political process is to engage in dialogue with one’s representatives at the local, state and federal level–this is what it means to lobby politicians. State definitions of the terms “lobbying” and “lobbyist” vary, but the common perception of lobbying is influencing government action through written or verbal communication. As such, compensation does not define the lobbying process. However, it is a necessary component of being a professional lobbyist.
Some state regulations place thresholds on the amount of money and time required to categorize lobbyists properly. Others use reimbursement of any form to classify the activity under statutory laws. Types of compensation may include food, entertainment and other recreational activities furnished to legislators. There are exceptions to lobbying activities in many states such as journalism, written correspondence and testifying.
Often, the term lobbyist carries a negative connotation: big money, special interests and a rigged system. The term may be used to describe those who are employed professionally: corporate advocates who fight for favorable policies. The term is also used to described citizens engaged in the prodding of politicians to improve representation. This article discusses the latter.
So, how does one lobby politicians? Here are 10 tips to effectively lobby for a cause, bill or issue you are passionate about.
- Download mobile apps, such as TrackBill or Countable, to monitor the progress of legislation through Congress. Find bills to support or reject and request your representatives to co-sponsor them or vote accordingly.
- Write letters to your senators and representatives or email them through The Borgen Project. Another quick and effective tool is to lobby politicians through social media platforms, such as Twitter or Facebook.
- Email the White House to inform the president of your views on various regulations, policies and tax issues.
- Attend an on-site or virtual town hall event in your congressional district.
- Schedule an appointment to meet with a congressional staffer or your representative face-to-face in one of their multiple district offices. These meet-and-greet opportunities may sway a vote on the floor of the house or senate; never underestimate the power of a 30-minute meeting. Prepare beforehand – research the politician, their views, prior votes and legislative positions. Be knowledgeable about counter-arguments to your position and use data whenever possible.
- Call your congressional representatives frequently and add their numbers to your phone. At the very least, leave short and concise messages. Staffers compile a weekly legislative report on the number of calls, letters and emails on issues or bills received from engaged citizens. These reports are used by politicians to enhance or redirect their legislative agenda.
- Join and donate to nongovernmental organizations, such as The Borgen Project, to support their mission and charitable work. Lobbying efforts on an organizational level carry financial strength, unbridled energy, citizen mobilization, clear legislative agendas and media outreach.
- Do not complain about a piece of legislation: offer an amendment to grant exemptions. Take time to develop a viable solution and present it to your leader.
- Craft letters to the editor based on interactions with legislative staff and congressional representatives. Such correspondence enriches political discourse and may inspire readers to take action.
- Mobilize others to become involved in politics. Call leaders, write articles, organize events and march for a cause. Meet with politicians to bring awareness to issues which matter most to your family, friends, organization or community. Perhaps you are an expert in a particular subject which your representatives are not; lend them your recommendations. If you have an idea for improving policy, make it known.
Citizen advocacy, or personal lobbying, is a vital element of participatory democracies. Individuals who are unaffiliated with a political party, nongovernmental organization or special interest groups may participate in the political process through email, letters, phone calls and congressional meetings on matters of interest. Download legislative apps, track legislation, contact your leaders, mobilize your friends and family, post on social media, utilize personal connections and take action!
– JG Federman