Posts tagged ‘grassroots lobbying’

Who Influences Legislators?

If you have ever wanted to take a position on a particular piece of legislation and take action to persuade the decision making of Congress but felt you did not have any hope of doing so, it is important to understand how legislators are influenced. The decision making of any legislator is primarily dominated by their constituents. With that said, just as it is important for anyone to consult a variety of resources before making an important decision, members of Congress follow the same pattern. They often consult family as well as friends, people they work with and subject matter experts.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Michael Cory

Legislators are like the rest of us. Their family and friends have their ear when it comes time to make a difficult decision. Legislators tend to speak with the people they trust the most and this includes their family and friends.

Acquaintances with more than a passing interest on a matter can also influence members of Congress. Legislators tend to know a lot of people. If an acquaintance has knowledge of a particular topic they can provide a lot of influence. Legislators also tend to pay attention to colleagues they respect. In many cases, legislators may actually seek out guidance from experts who have studied an issue and who bring their own perspective to the debate. This is particularly true of other members of Congress. Junior members of Congress may choose Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitchto sit back and wait to see how senior members are going to vote before determining their own position on an issue.

Legislative leaders can also exert quite a bit of pressure on fellow legislators. There is definitely a hierarchy within Congress and members of the House of Representatives tend to be far more susceptible to influence than senators simply because House rules make it possible for leadership to establish the agenda.

What about lobbyists? How much influence do lobbyists actually exert over members of Congress? The common perception by the public is that it is quite a bit. The truth of the matter is that lobbyists only rarely determine policy outcomes. Organized citizens are more often responsible for determining policy outcomes.

If you have ever thought that you did not have a chance of making an impact, think again. It takes motivation and organization, but it is possible.

To learn more about about the way legislators approach decision making, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1/2 day course, Congress in a Nutshell, and the 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Chapter 4 People Who Can Influence Legislators.

Also see

For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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How Legislatures, Including Congress, Really Work

When you attempt to influence a group of people, it is important to develop an understanding of the environment in which that group operates. Congressional and state legislative environments differ from other environments, including private and public workplaces. Learning to appreciate those differences as well as the inherent characteristics that are unique to legislative environments can provide you with an increased chance for successful grassroots advocacy.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: SLR Jester

One of the most common mistakes of citizen advocates is viewing legislatures through their own work environment. While it is true that Capitol Hill can resemble a group of independent small businesses, Congress has a definite hierarchical nature. Understanding that nature of Capitol Hill is essential to your success in achieving your goals and outcomes.

Constituents play a critical role on Capitol Hill, driving almost all decision making within congressional offices. The American system of government is set up in a manner in which legislators are first and foremost beholden to those they represent. Rules of the House and Senate reinforce this association by legally prohibiting members of Congress from spending their office budgets on behalf of non-constituents.

Two types of constituents interact with legislators: those who have an interest and those who have an opinion. Members of Congress rarely accept meetings with non-constituents. This can be quite frustrating for a group with no constituent connection that wishes to influence a member.

If you want to influence a member of Congress that does Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitchnot represent you, your best opportunity is to have your own legislator work on your behalf to influence that member.

Constituents also play a prominent role in setting the daily agenda for legislators. Any constituent that makes the effort to actually travel to Washington or even to write their member of Congress will almost always receive a meeting or some type of response.

Ultimately, your efforts to persuade any member of Congress depend upon your constituent connection to that member of Congress or your ability to have that member’s constituents make an effort to reach them. Without that association, your efforts may very well come to naught.

To learn more about learning how Congress works, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1/2 day course, Congress in a Nutshell.

Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Part 1 How Government Really Works

Also see

For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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