Posts tagged ‘public policy’

How Legislators Make Decisions

Congress is both slow and deliberative, by design. When the new government was established in 1789, it was created through the rather elaborate use of a system of checks and balances that were meant to ensure that no single section of government would be able to dominate the process. Although this system can be frustrating, it remains the single most important reason why America has managed to endure for over 200 years.

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Individual members of Congress must work within this system, deliberative as it might be. At the same time, they must blend their own beliefs within political pressures. A complicated political formula is often used by legislators for deciding when they should vote for or against bills, whether they should oppose or support funding for initiatives, and whether they should cosponsor certain pieces of legislation. When everything else is peeled away, legislators must consider three factors.

First, decision makers must recognize that the decisions they make will affect the lives of others. Toward that end, they are often guided by their own beliefs and value systems. Although there are no hard and fast rules, members of the Senate tend to be more deliberative and thoughtful as opposed to members of the House, which are slightly more prone to being swayed by passions of the public.

Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad FitchSecond, members of Congress must also research issues when making a decision. Fortunately, Congressional staffers and members have access to practically every study every written regarding public policy. Independent studies help to guide thinking while also justifying policies.

Third, legislators listen to their constituents when making a decision. In most cases, the personal beliefs of a legislator and the attitudes of a legislator’s constituency are not far apart, which is why the legislator was elected in the first place. Even so, most legislation will not usually affect most of the citizens in a state or a district. Instead, it will impact small groups, possibly in very significant ways.

Legislators assess the political impact of decisions in many ways. For almost every decision, each legislator will generally conduct a personal political analysis regarding the ways in which the perception of voters in his or her state or district will be impacted.

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 3 How Legislators Make Decisions

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Engaging the Media as an Advocate and Lobbyist

Each year, countless dollars are spent on public relations efforts that are specifically designed to capture the attention of legislators. Whether it is an advertisement in Roll Call or a web site ad meant to persuade busy lawmakers and staff, a creative array of messages are developed to formulate a successful advocacy campaign.

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The media can be a powerful vehicle for disseminating information regarding policy debates. Therefore, it is necessary to have a solid understanding of the best way to work with the media as well as with media distribution resources.

Lobbyists are frequently called upon to organize media events, introduce public officials, prepare congressional testimony, and serve as a spokesperson. The message you want to deliver will be competing with an increasing number of messages. This presents increased challenges for lobbyists in getting their message out.

The rule of knowing your audience is particularly applicable when it comes to influencing public policy–the ultimate goal of legislative media coverage is to influence the outcome of public policy. Your goal is to reach critical constituents with your message. Simply gaining media exposure is not sufficient, you must influence the public opinion that actually drives legislation.

You must also plan and coordinate. An effective public relations strategy depends on anticipating your public affairs activities in advance and then coordinating the legislative and public relations staff of your organization. Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna GelakOne of the biggest and most common mistakes many lobbyists make is failing to include media relations staff in the early stages of planning a legislative campaign. Including experienced and qualified media affairs professionals can prove to be invaluable in your efforts to develop new strategies. The key is to make sure you plan in advance.

For more comprehensive information regarding media training for government affairs professionals, consider our Media Relations for Public Affairs Professionals and Advanced Media Relations Workshop. Also consider Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill and the 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Section 10.2 Media Engagement

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

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