Now that we have talked about what the various types of advocacy and how you can give of your time or money to candidates or parties you support, we should review some general do’s and don’ts before you go out and advocate for issues you support or against those who oppose.
Below are two short lists of things to do and avoid when advocating for or against a piece of legislation, regardless of what method of communication you choose to use.
- Research the facts prior to meeting with your legislator. Make sure you have the bill numbers, know what the bill does, whether the legislator is already a co-sponsor, and whether the member has expressed thoughts on this bill before.
- Understand how your legislator figures into the political situation in the state. Is he or she in the majority party? Can the legislator help get a bill moved through the Legislature? This will help you understand what you can realistically ask of your legislator.
- Outline key points you wish to make during the meeting. If you are advocating for a bill to pass, or the member to cosponsor it, make sure you can explain why it would benefit his or her constituents. If you are advocating against a bill, make sure you can explain the negative impact it could have. Always make sure you have facts and data whenever possible to back up your claims.
- If lobbying as a group, select a leader and assign each participant one issue to address in the meeting. Organize before you meet with a legislator to help the meeting run smoothly and prevent you from talking over each other or forgetting key information.
- Pay careful attention to the legislator’s verbal and nonverbal reactions to your presentation. These cues can tell you a lot about what the member thinks about the issue before they even respond verbally to your pitch.
- Emphasize the benefits of the bill for the legislators’ constituents. Legislators represent those who live in their district, and if a bill will impact those who they represent, they are more likely to pay attention.
- Make issue handouts available for the legislator’s reference if he or she expresses an interest in receiving them. If meeting in person, have these with you if possible so you can give them to the member at the end of the meeting; if you are meeting virtually, follow-up with an email after the meeting.
- Offer to provide additional information. If you do not know the answer, you should offer to follow-up after the meeting. This is also a great way to end the meeting as it leaves lines of communication open.
- Follow up with a thank-you letter restating the points made in the meeting. Legislators and their staff take many meetings, so following up with key points will help remind them of the meeting. Make sure to note any “promises” made, such as they would cosponsor the bill, and include any information you promised to send as follow-up.
- Maintain telephone contact with legislator’s staff.
- Assume the legislator is knowledgeable about the issues. Legislative members are hardly ever subject-matter experts except maybe in one or two areas that are of high interest to their constituents, so assuming they know about the legislation you are talking about could lead to miscommunications.
- Be argumentative with your legislator. You can provide facts and information, but if contradicted by the member try to present your information without being defensive. Also remember that you cannot win everyone over on every issue; if the member is being stubborn, just move on to another issue.
- Overemphasize the positive aspects of the bill for your industry. This can make it seem that the legislation is self-serving.
- Let the discussion stray from the purpose of your meeting. If a legislator tries to discuss other, but related, issues, try your best to bring the conversation back to your issues. Say something like “While that is a great issue to take up, it is probably best dealt with in a different bill because … [and bring it back to your issue].
- Ignore the importance of a legislator’s staff. These individuals often are the subject-matter experts and they are vital to helping your legislator understand issues and bills and ultimately decide whether to take action on a bill.
- Hoard information. It is best to share as much information with the legislator and their staff as possible so they can be well informed and ask questions if needed.
- Contact legislators in the districts in which you do not live or work. Legislators are elected to represent the interests and concerns of their constituents. They only care about what their constituents think and letters from non-constituents can hurt more than help.