SAOVA's Lobbying Tutorial

  • Simply put, lobbying is advocacy of a point of view, either by groups or individuals. A special interest is nothing more than an identified group expressing a point of view — be it colleges and universities, churches, charities, public interest or environmental groups, senior citizens organizations, even state, local or foreign governments. While most people think of lobbyists only as paid professionals, there are also many independent, volunteer lobbyists — all of whom are protected by the same First Amendment. American League of Lobbyists

    Basic Areas

    Early Warning: Provides the necessary lead-time to put strategies into effect. If your organization is always surprised by government decisions, it is already behind. Effective organizations continuously monitor government. Much public information is now online which makes the job easier. At the local level, organization members should share responsibility for making personal contacts and attending meetings in order to stay informed of possible legislation or policy changes.

    Good Position: A case has to be made that your particular interest serves the broader public good. It has to reflect organizational interests. There has to be sufficient access to resources to factually support your position. You need an edge and point of view to move public debate.

    Coalition Building:Find allies to assist on a given piece of legislation, even if these allies have a slightly different perspective due to their specific area. There may be legitimate concerns to legislation that are broader than the issue of concern to you.

    Grass Roots Mobilization:Every effective lobbying program must engage active grass roots individuals that periodically, and at critical times, make their presence felt directly on decision-makers.

    Communication: Technology makes it easier to organize and send political messages across the country with great speed. E-mail, computer data bases, computerized fax-machines, and mass constituent contacts all generate grass-roots appeals to legislators urging them to take specific actions. Use whichever channels are appropriate to communicate.

  • If you cannot meet personally with a legislator, the BEST methods of communication are: telephone calls, faxes and direct emails to key staff. These are by far more effective communication tools than utilizing automated web-based email systems. Many automated systems also screen out anyone who does not live in the legislator’s immediate district. In addition, a study in 2006 showed that a substantial amount of emails never reach the lawmaker’s office. Washington Post. Study Finds Missed Messages On Capitol Hill.

    Never underestimate the influence staff has on policy decisions. This includes professional staff and administrative staff. They all have some level of influence. They are the researchers and organizers of material. Recognize what they do and respect it. Staff are more likely to be reached and to respond to direct email.

    Find representatives at all levels of government at The left hand side menu gives options to find your legislators using zip code, or use the menu to select the Congressional Directory. There are additional directories for state and local government, federal agencies, and media.

  • Monitoring and Tracking Legislation:

    Know the status of the legislation you are working on at ALL times. Learn how to access your state’s website and bill search. Some state websites are updated quickly, and having the most current information can be critical. Some states also have daily publications with information on pending legislation. Making contacts at the legislature is an essential element of staying informed on a bill’s status. Keep open communication with the staff of the committee that a bill has been assigned for information on changes, scheduled hearings and upcoming votes.

    Federal level legislation can be tracked through Thomas (the Library of Congress). Searches can be done by text, by bill number, by sponsor to find current activity, status, and number of cosponsors. Searches of the Congressional Record can also be performed for related bill information such as introductions and floor statements.

    To find out how your legislator voted or is rated by special interest groups, visit Project Vote Smart. Additional categories of information are: biographical, issue positions, speeches and public statements, and campaign finances which links to Open Secrets.

  • General Tips:Always identify yourself first when speaking to a legislator or staff. Always be polite even if the legislator opposes your position. Listen to any questions and provide honest answers. Know your facts and be prepared. Be brief; you can follow up with additional information, changes, updates. Most legislators are dealing with hundreds of different bills and proposals. Provide concise information, fact sheets and summaries, and list other resources.

  • Non-Profit Organizations CAN Lobby:Yes, non-profits can lobby. Considering the number of crucial issues non-profits and their members face, it is more important than ever that they participate in public policy debate. There is a limit on the budget that can be used and other rules concerning direct intervention in political campaigns.