Parent guide to how to lobby your elected representative

This toolkit was designed for our Parents Across America visit to Capitol Hill on July 28, 2011; but the information within is useful to any parent or community member who wishes to have an impact on legislation. Instructions are below on how to request a meeting with your elected representative, how to structure the meeting, and what to do afterwards.  It is also available as a downloadable pdf here.

Many PAA members are lobbying their Congressional representatives on Thursday July 28.  We will have a staging area with packets available on Capitol Hill, and Gene Fisher, our Government Affairs representative, will be available there with advice and encouragement. (phone: 202 -281-8725; genef@parentsacrossamerica.org )

We urge other parents and activists to join us; but first you must make arrangements to meet with members of your states’ congressional delegation, schedule permitting.  The purposes of meeting with members of your congressional delegation are several:

  • Introduce yourself to members of your congressional delegation and to raise awareness about Parents Across of America.
  • Educate members and staff to PAA’s policy positions concerning the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA/NCLB) renewal and PAA’s Blueprint for NCLB reform, and provide them with information about how the current education policies being implemented in your community are affected by conditions in your children’s schools .
  • Listen and learn about Members’ views on NCLB reform and their reaction to PAA’s positions.
  • Identify friends and opponents of PAA’s policy stance.

Here are some tips on how to go about meeting with your Congressman, Senator and/or their education staff:

  • Most offices require a written request for meetings with Members of Congress or Senators.  At their website, you will be able to find information on how to make a meeting request by email or fax, or simply call and ask. For those making appointments by phone, you will probably be asked to send a “Meeting Request” letter to the office by email or fax to the scheduler. A sample request follows.
  • When making your request to the member’s office, it is important to identify yourself as a constituent and indicate the subject matter you intend to raise, i.e. ESEA Reauthorization, NCLB Reform. Also, provide other relevant information: e.g. a member of Parents Across America, a parent of school-age children, attending the Save Our Schools March, etc.
  • Schedule a time that is convenient for the Member and/or staffer.  It is suggested you limit meeting time to 15 minutes.  Length of meetings can vary depending on the relationship the visitor has with the office.
  • Follow up if you don’t hear after the request is made; and confirm the appointment the day before meeting.  This will provide the office with the opportunity to inform you of any schedule changes or in the nature of the meeting.

How To Lobby Your Congressman or Senator

Introduction

To put lobbying in its proper perspective, virtually anyone who contacts his/her representative is acting as a lobbyist.  You don’t have to be a registered lobbyist to lobby Congress, and most are not registered lobbyists.   Most lobbying is conducted by every day people who have a cause, issue, grievance, or interest to press with his/her elected representatives.

Washington, D.C. is home to more than 11,000 lobbyists. Citizen lobbyists have a connection with and impact on their members of Congress and Senators that many high-powered lobbyists do not:  You are constituents.  You vote.  You are the folk back home.  You give a local perspective to issues that Congress considers from a federal perspective.  You provide insight into the local impact of federal policy on local governance, institutions, and economies.  The message you deliver is hard to ignore.

There are few secrets to what makes a good lobbyist.  But there are a few tips to keep in mind.

General Tips

Planning the Meeting

  • Obtain an information package for each office visit and bring one or two extra in case additional people sit in on the meeting.  (We will send you some materials by email; Gene will also have some available.) Bring a camera!
  • Avoid making congressional visits in large groups.  Limit the number of people in group visits to 3 or 4 people, if possible.  Office space in the House and Senate is limited and meetings with large groups often require special arrangements.
  • Study the key talking points and determine in advance which issues to bring up with your Senator, member of Congress, or legislative aide.  Provide information why the specific issues are important back home.  Plan in advance what questions you will ask your member, Senator or legislative aide.
  • Include contact information in the issue folder you plan to leave with the office.
  • Organize the information package to ensure the 1-page issue summary is on top.
  • Know where you are going:  Key to Office Location by Capitol Campus Buildings

Senate Office Prefixes:

Room Nos. with prefix SR=Senate Russell Office Building;

Room Nos. with the prefix SD=Senate Dirksen Office Building

Room Nos. with the prefix SH=Senate Hart Office Building

House Office Locations:

3-digit room nos. with CHOB suffix=Cannon House Office Bldg.

4-digit room nos. beginning with 1 and LHOB prefix=Longworth House Office Bldg.

4-digit room nos. beginning with 2 and RHOB prefix=Rayburn House Office Bldg.

The Meeting

  • Arrive a few minutes early to your meeting, even though it is not uncommon for the member, Senator and legislative aides to arrive late for meeting.  All are subject to hectic and tight schedules and are often times interrupted by late-breaking emergencies.
  • Introduce yourself and thank the member/Senator/legislative staffer for arranging time in their schedule to visit with you.  If you have any personal, professional or political ties with the member, share them.  Explain what brings you to Washington then segue into the topic of discussion.  Keep your discussion focused and be considerate of the clock.   Stay on point!  Remember to connect the issues you raise with examples of what’s happening in your community. Tying legislation to local issues grabs the attention of your elected representative.
  • Ask if the member of Congress/Senator shares the concerns you express.  Listen carefully to what is being said.  There is a big difference between “I agree and will support you,” and “I’m really happy to learn your views.  You’ve given me a new perspective on this issue, and I will certainly consider your views.”  The first reply is a solid supporter; the second is undecided or a hedged answer.
  • When you are asked questions, provide honest, truthful answers.  If you don’t have an answer, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know.”  Don’t get caught giving incorrect information.  It reflects on your credibility. But if you don’t know, take note of the question and follow up with the correct information when you return home.
  • If there is follow up required on your part, provide a time frame on when they can expect to hear from you.  If there is any follow up required of the congressional/senate office, try to obtain a deadline on when you can expect to hear from them.
  • Volunteer to provide local information on legislation that comes up for action by Congress.  If your member sits on the relevant committee, such as the Education and Workforce Committee, volunteer to suggest questions to be raised during hearings.  You can be a valuable resource to a legislative aide who knows the policy issues but is not familiar with the state or district.
  • If you don’t meet with the elected official, be sure to be polite to the staffer; they will have input into the decisionmaking of your Senator or Representative.  If you do meet with the elected official, see if you can get a picture taken with him or her.

Following the Meeting

  • PAA will have a meeting, probably at the Marriot Hotel afterwards, where everyone participating in Hill Day will be able to compare notes on the member’s/Senator’s level of commitment to PAA policy positions and what commitments were made to provide follow up information.
  • Each person attending the meetings should send a “thank you” note to the member and, where appropriate, the legislative aide staffing the member for arranging their schedules to meet with you.  Briefly go over the issues covered and commitments made.  Also, enclose/attach any information you may have promised to deliver.
  • If the congressional/senate office fails to follow up with you, reach out again with a gentle reminder and establish a new timeline.  Be persistent but friendly.
  • Following is a template for a report; please fill out and share with PAA core members.
  • Also following is a sample request and follow-up thank you letter.

__________________________________________________________

Hill Day Report Form

Your Name:  ___________________________________________

State___________

Contact Information:   Phone:______________________________

Email:_______________________________

Who Else Attended the Meeting With You  (if any)

________________________________________________________

Which Issues Did You Cover: ____ NCLB Reform

____ Charter Schools

____ Standardized, High Stakes Testing

____ Flexibility

_____ Other

Which member of Congress/Senator  _____________________________________________

With whom did you meet:       _____  Senator

_____  Representative

_____  Senate aide (name/position)

_____  Congressional aide (name/position)

Other _______________________________________

How Would You Rate This Member on the PAA Supporter Scale?

_____  – 1(Opposed to PAA Issues)

_____    0 (Neutral or Uninformed of Issues)

_____  +1 (Supporter of PAA Issues)

_____  +2 (Advocate of PAA Issues)

_____  +3 (Leader on PAA Issues)

_____  Not sure

Briefly describe how the meeting went.  What do you think was accomplished?

What, if any, follow up is required?

For Representatives or Senators who were negative or not sure, is there a probability that they can be persuaded to support PAA issues in the future and, if so, under what conditions?

____

Sample Email or Fax Scheduling Request

Note: Scheduling requests are generally handled by email, fax or phone requests.  The preferred process differs from office to office.  If there is a question, please check in with office you are seeking an appointment with to determine the preferred method.  Below is a sample scheduling request script that can be followed for emails, faxes and phone communications.

_____

Sample Request

Dear [Name of Scheduler],

I am a constituent of (Representative’s or Senator’s name) and a member of Parents Across America.  I will be in Washington, D.C. on [date] to participate in the Save Our Schools March. I would very much appreciate a meeting with Senator [Name] and/or his Education staff person to discuss issues relating to Elementary, Secondary Act (No Child Left Behind) reauthorization and other education issues.

(If a group of persons is attending, please consider the next paragraph)

The attendees will be (Insert names of participants from the Representative’s or Senator’s home state/district and their affiliation). There may be others at the meeting as well, but I am unable to confirm the names at this time.

A meeting between the hours of (times) would be ideal. Thank you so much for your consideration of my request.

Sincerely,

________________________________________________________________

Sample “Thank You” Letter to Representative/Senator/Aide Following Capitol Hill Meeting

Honorable (Name) or Senator (Name)

United States Senate or US House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Representative/Senator/Staff:

Thank you for meeting with me during my recent visit to Washington, D.C.  I appreciated the opportunity to discuss Parents Across America’s position on reforming and renewing the No Child Left Behind Act.  As the legislation continues to progress through the legislative process, I hope we can count on your support.

As we discussed, the reauthorization of NCLB needs greater emphasis on improving the quality of our schools.  Unfortunately, current proposals over rely on high stakes testing, privatization, and unfunded mandates have proved harmful to schools and to high-needs student populations, and have no backing in research.  The evidence is clear that NCLB has not improved academic achievement or student outcomes.

Please know I look forward to continuing to work with your office to keep you informed of educational developments in the district (or state).  If I can ever provide you with other assistance, please call on me.

Sincerely,             Name, Address, Phone