Archives for grassroots lobbying

Local Lobbying (or How to Fight City Hall)

local lobbyingHave a problem with local government? You’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last. But what can you do about it?  That’s were local lobbying comes in.

Keep in mind that there are some key differences between lobbying for local change, versus at the state or national levels.  And there are some specific tactics that you should keep in mind to be more effective in local lobbying.

Unique Aspects of Local Government:

One Chamber: As opposed to state legislatures and Congress, whether you’re talking about school boards, city/county councils or commissions, you’re only dealing with one group of elected officials, rather than two.

Fewer Officials: The typical local government has fewer elected officials to keep an eye on, (the national average is six), versus potentially hundreds at higher levels.

They Represent Fewer People: Local elected officials represent far fewer constituents.  This means that they are more susceptible to organized, outside pressure.

Fewer Targets: When you have fewer elected officials that means that there are going to be fewer “undecided” or persuadable officials that you need to target…possibly just one or two.

Local Lobbying Tips:

Learn the Process: There can be wide variances in the legislative process (from cities, to counties, to school boards), so research how the process works in your area.  Contact your local council or board member and ask for information.  The more you know about the process in your area, the more effective you will be.

Do Your Research and Identify Your Targets: Find out exactly where they stand, and then relentlessly focus all of your time and attention on the undecided/persuadable votes.  When you consider that you’re focusing on just a couple of officials who themselves represent a small number of constituents, this gives you tremendous leverage.

Choose the Right Lobbying Tactics: Phone calls, letters, emails, personal visits, petitions, something else or all of the above?  “What” you do can depend on how much time you have and how many people are willing to help.  Choose those that best leverage your resources.  (You can see some of the basics in my “Nine Grassroots Opportunities” report).

Get to Know Them: Personal relationships at this level of government go farther than at the state and national levels.  Make an effort to get to know them personally.  Contribute to and help the ones who think like you do.  Be active in local organizations that they are involved in (especially the local GOP).  Remember, “politics is people”!

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You can “beat City Hall” (or any other local government), but you need to do your homework first.  And don’t forget, most state and national politicians used to be local politicians – so investing in local lobbying can pay big lobbying dividends in the future!

The Five Types of Elected Officials

elected officialsIf you’ve been paying attention to politics for any length of time you’ve probably noticed that there are several different types of elected officials. Not just in terms of partisanship or ideology, but in the sense of how active or vocal they are.

If you’ve ever done any lobbying, you’ve noticed a difference in how reliable they are in terms of their vote and how hard you have to work to nail them down.

Here’s a shorthand way to categorize elected officials:

Hopeless:

These are the guys (and gals) that are so far on the other side of the street that you can forget about wasting the time even thinking about getting them on board with anything you support. Pretty much all liberals will fit into this category.

High Maintenance:

These are officials you have to constantly watch and check in with on virtually every issue. Whether it’s because they are constantly trying to make everyone happy, have their fingers in the wind, or are just more concerned about themselves, you end up spending a lot of time chasing them and bringing pressure on them to make sure they vote right when the time comes. And even then sometimes you come up short.

Low Maintenance:

They’re not completely reliable, but it doesn’t take as much time or pressure to bring them around. But the point is that they still require some time and effort.

No Maintenance:

Just like the label implies, you never have to question what they will do and you can always count on them to vote right, whether they get pressured or not. They’re “on the team”, and you don’t have to waste time on them, freeing you up to focus on the first two groups.

Team Leaders:

Not only are they “No Maintenance”, but they will actively help move ideas, drive debate and publicly advance the cause.  Whether it’s the public speakers or the behind-the-scenes legislative “mechanics”, they’re the true leaders of the conservative movement in government at all levels.

Knowing what type of category elected officials usually fit into can help when it comes to doing any type of grassroots lobbying, as it gives you an idea of who you have to work on, who you can count on no matter what, and who will help you advance your agenda.

If you’re actually engaged in any sort of grassroots lobbying on any issue, take some time to take inventory of the elected officials you have to deal with and categorize them accordingly so you’ll know where to spend your time, energy and resources.

Now, quick quiz: which one of these five types of elected officials do we need more of?

The more conservatives who actually get involved and “do something”, the more maintenance we can do on the elected officials who need it – and the more people we can elect who will actually help advance the cause.

 

Get Leverage with Grasstops Lobbying

It’s one thing to have organized pressure coming from “real” people and having them relay their real concerns and real stories to elected officials. That the essence of “grassroots” lobbying. But it’s even better to pair that with community leaders who matter to the elected officials or other politicos that you’re trying to influence.

That’s where the grasstops lobbying comes in.

It’s lobbying by people who matter to other people who matter, and it can be a force multiplier and add a new dimension to your efforts. It’s not that grassroots pressure doesn’t matter. It does because numbers matter. But if you can match a local organization’s grassroots with a similar network of grasstops leaders, you will see a tremendous leap in the ability to influence legislators.

Grasstops lobbying is effective for many reasons.

It Promotes Accountability

While many legislators may deceive themselves into thinking that they can ignore or fool the average constituent, they don’t usually feel the same about “Mr. Big” – and they don’t want to get on his (or her) bad side. These are people who are thought of as pillars of the local community, organizational leaders or opinion leaders, and they influence other people – which is why politicians usually like to keep happy. They are people who can make life easier for them if they stay on their good side.

It Breaks Through Barriers

Sometimes elected officials can become insulated from grassroots pressure. While many legislators don’t like being bombarded by letters from constituents, they may choose not to read them. But they can’t afford not to take a phone call from the president of the largest employer in the district or the pastor of the largest church.

Similarly, the number of phone calls coming into a legislator’s office eventually becomes irrelevant. All that registers in their mind is that they got a lot of phone calls. However, several calls from key community leaders or even a personal visit will stick out in their minds.

Examples of Potential “Grasstops” Community Leaders:

  • Pastors
  • Large employers
  • Other elected officials
  • Political party leaders
  • Former staffers to other elected officials
  • Major contributors to the elected officials you’re targeting
  • Civic or other advocacy organization leaders
  • Newspaper publishers
  • Opinion leaders
  • People who have credibility with the media
  • Neighbors, relatives or friends (of the elected official)

Think through the list of names that come to mind. Who has the most influence with the officials that you’re trying to influence? Who represent a constituency that your targeted officials can’t afford to ignore? Whose phone calls have to get returned?

The rule of thumb is to identify those who can get directly to your targets, and not just to their staff. Identify those people and approach them about joining your efforts. Some of them might even be classified as “strange bedfellows” politically speaking, but that’s even better as it makes your effort look more diverse.

Keep a running list of the people that you identify, what they care about and who they can potentially influence. It will be a good reference for you when the next issue campaign comes up.

When you get your new contacts involved, make sure that they are informed. They’re probably busy people, so the more that you lay things out and make it simple, the more likely they will be to help. Then incorporate them into your overall lobbying plan.

Grasstops lobbying can be just the leverage you need to make your grassroots efforts pay off.