Lobbying An Elected Official
Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government. While the IRS places restrictions on the amount of lobbying nonprofits (designated as a 501(c)3) can engage in, individuals are free to contact their Federal and state Congressmen, city or county council members, or other elected officials about concerns they have in their community. Every citizen has the right to seek a meeting with their legislator, councilperson, or other elected representative.
Establish Your Agenda and Goals
- Know what subject you are going to address. Don’t overload with issues—stick to no more than two or three.
- Decide what you would like to get out of the visit, i.e., a commitment to vote for your issue, leadership on the issue, or you may decide the visit is simply informational.
- Allow time for small talk at the outset, but not too much. Remember, it’s your visit.
- If it is a group visit, decide who will start the discussion and put your agenda on the table.
- Much of lobbying is listening, looking for indications of the elected official’s views, and finding opportunities to provide good information.
Be Prepared, but don’t feel that you have to be an expert
- Most elected officials are generalists, like many of us. Do your homework, but don’t feel that you need to know every little detail of an issue. Air personal feelings and experiences where appropriate. Relate the concerns of your friends and members of the community.
- Know when to admit “I don’t know,” and offer to follow up with the information.
- Be open to counter-arguments, but don’t get stuck on them. Don’t be argumentative or confrontational.
Build a Relationship
- If the elected official is good on an issue you’ve been involved in or has supported your position in the past, be sure to acknowledge your appreciation during the course of the visit.
- If the opposite is true, think of the phrase, “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies.” Someday, on some issue of importance to you, she/he may come through. In the meantime, your visit may prevent the official from being an active opponent. In other words, you may help to turn down the heat on the other side.
- Don’t stay too long. Try to get closure on your issue. If you hear what you had hoped for, express your thanks and leave. If you reach an impasse, thank her/him, even if disappointed, and say so. Leave room to continue the discussion at another time.
- Be sure to send a thank-you note after the visit. If commitments were made in the meeting, repeat your understanding of them. If staff members were present, write to them too. They can often be important skills.