Posts tagged ‘grassroots’

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.

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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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The Life Cycle of Lobbying

There is a distinctive life cycle in lobbying. The moment a bill is introduced, interest groups that track that issue will begin lobbying the legislation related to it. Often, reporters monitor congressional committee consideration quite closely and will pose questions to members of Congress regarding their position on that legislation. As increased public awareness is directed to the measure as a result of the media and interest groups, constituents learn more about the legislation and will then ask their own members of Congress to identify their position.

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Most members of Congress have decided their position on a piece of legislation by the time a bill moves to the floor. As a result, communications must be made as early as possible within the legislative process. The astute lobbyist begins the communications process before a member formulates their position on a bill.

You will have far more influence shaping member votes when you concentrate your efforts early in the legislative cycle. However, even when you are able to achieve victories early on this is not an indication that you can stop working. Lobbying, press and constituent pressures intensify immediately before a vote and can result in significant changes in position as well as the degree of support offered to legislation.

Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna GelakThe first stage of the lobbying life cycle involves planning and strategy. This includes surveys, research and analysis of issues. The second stage involves education and advocacy, including testimony, letters to Capitol Hill, personal visits, advertisements, emails and mobilizing grassroots efforts. During the third stage, you work on issue maintenance. At this stage you track developments in states as well as courts, while keeping an eye on public opinion.

The all important vote will occur during this final stage. During this stage, you focus on determining the next step. This can include whether the measure will move to the other chamber, joint House-Senate Conference Committee, Presidential consideration, implementation, etc.

To learn more about the lobbying and advocacy process, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course, Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill and their 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Section 4.36 The Principle of Early Intervention: the Life Cycle of Lobbying

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

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Recognizing Effective Grassroots Efforts

When your grassroots efforts are successful, there are many ways to recognize and reward those efforts.

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  • Give out annual awards for outstanding citizen efforts. Host a major event and present the awards during the event or cover it in a publication.
  • Provide an opportunity for citizens to share their success stories with their peers by holding informal sharing sessions at receptions during legislative conferences.
  • Profile grassroot advocates and their success stories in your publications. This is a great way to recognize individuals and educate others about your organization’s grassroots program.
  • Make a point of publicly recognizing successful advocates during meeting or speeches.
  • Create video or slide shows of advocates testifying before state legislatures or Congress.
  • If a constituent’s letter is used in a congressional newsletter, provide a copy of that publication to the constituent.
  • Whenever grassroots members are able to effectively recruit peers, make a point of recognizing those efforts. There are many creative ways in which you can do so. Appropriate gifts can be provided for specific efforts or contributions.
  • Provide access to premium opportunities, such as invitations to important conference calls, meetings or including members in the advisory council of your organization.

Taking the time and the effort to recognize the efforts and Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelaksuccesses of your members can help build loyalty while at the same time energizing the entire organization. It does not much time to recognize outstanding efforts by your grassroot advocates, but the impact can be tremendous. Technology now makes it possible to automatically generate thank-you notes to grassroots communicators.

Remember, people enjoy hearing updates regarding their efforts and they always enjoy the opportunity to win prizes and have their efforts recognized. Calling attention to outstanding examples of communication not only recognizes your members, but also helps to motivate others as well. Such rewards can also prove to be effective recruitment tools, helping expand your network.

To learn more about grassroots campaigns and networks, consider these Capitol Learning Audio Courses: Building and Nurturing Your Grassroots Campaign, How to Organize a Capitol Hill Day, and Visiting Capitol Hill for First-Time Grassroots Advocates: An Introductory Course.

Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Section 7.13 Components for Building and Maintaining an Effective Grassroots Network

For more information about grassroots advocacy in Washington, also see

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Identifying and Cultivating Key Members of Congress and Contacts

When it comes to identifying and cultivating contacts and influential individuals who can assist you with your issue, it is never too early to begin. Start working with key decision makers on your issue as early as possible. Make it a priority to identify leaders that other congressional members will look toward regarding the development of their own position on the issue.

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One of the worst mistakes you can make is to neglect top leaders and other influential members as these are the people who can quickly influence other members. If you do not take action quickly enough and reach them first, key leaders can easily become solidified against your position on that issue if your opponents persuade them first.

Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna GelakOne of the first steps you must take is to identify and then connect with anyone who might be a champion for your cause. Identify key committee and personal staff early on. And you need to work both the Senate and the House. It can be quite easy to neglect one chamber of Congress when all of the action is taking place in the other chamber, but that is a mistake. Make certain you work and monitor both chambers at the same time.

Do not make the mistake of waiting until the bill has made its way out of committee to begin contacting influential members and leadership. While it can be a challenge to gain the attention of influential members and leaders on an issue before it is out of committee, you must make the effort. Begin grassroots activity early on to help ensure all members are familiar with your issue and have some knowledge about it. This is particularly important if it is possible your issue might quickly move to the floor.

At the same time, continue cultivating your contacts. On Capitol Hill, memories are relatively short-lived. You must continually work on maintaining contacts and your own usefulness as a reliable and credible resource. It takes skill to provide information that is valuable while avoiding the trap of becoming annoying, a skill worth developing.

For more information about communicating with congressional leaders, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course, Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill and their 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Section 8.12 Lobby Tips and Section 8.13 Continually Cultivate Contacts

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

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Who Really Has the Power in Washington? The Surprise Answer: Ordinary American Citizens

Feeling shut out of the political process by lobbyists and special interests? Insider Bradford Fitch has some good news for you: As it turns out, you’re the one in charge—NOT those rich and powerful lobbyists.

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Brad Fitch’s latest book, Citizen’s Handbook To Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, makes a compelling case for the power of the ordinary citizen to influence members of Congress—IF you understand how to do it right.

Fitch, who worked on Capitol Hill for 13 years as press secretary, legislative director, and chief of staff for four different members of Congress, interviewed dozens of Senators, members of the House of Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad FitchRepresentatives, and key staff to provide a comprehensive guide to getting members of Congress to listen—and act.

And according to these consummate Washington insiders, the real power in Washington is neither in huge campaign donations, nor in high-pressure special interest campaigns. Rather, the power rests with the well-informed, well-prepared, polite but persuasive constituent. Yes, ordinary citizens can gain access, be heard, and see their input influence the way a member of Congress votes.

Some key points:

  • It’s much easier to influence a decision before the Member makes a public commitment.
  • Personal stories trump everything.
  • Provide useful information, and you’ll be rewarded with access: “The most valuable gift a lobbyist gives a member of Congress isn’t a campaign contribution—it’s a detailed analysis of how a particular issue affects the lawmaker’s district or state”.
  • When you speak for a larger group, your words carry more weight: “One House Democrat…summed it up. ‘Their money is beside the point. They can mobilize and intensify a group of motivated constituents who can put the fear of God in members of Congress”. But preparedness can outweigh numbers.

The book includes several success tips checklists, including ten points to manage a face-to-face meeting, seven hints to get written communications noticed, and six things staffers look for in a phone call. A matrix chart of how legislators rank different issues is one of eight useful appendices. The book also includes the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

For more information about Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials, including sample section and secure online ordering, see CitizensHandbook.com

2010, 128 pages
Softcover, $11.95
ISBN 10: 1587331810
ISBN 13: 9781587331817

Ebook: $7.99
EISBN 13: 9781587332326

Journalists and Bloggers: to request interviews and review copies, contact the publisher: 703-739-3790, ext. 0, or use this form.

BusinessWire: http://eon.businesswire.com/news/eon/20101109005007/en/

Coming soon: A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal – Citizen’s Guide to Legislative Reform, by Joseph Gibson

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