Archives for lobbying

Know the Facts Before You Lobby

resources listDo you know everything that you need to know about what you’re trying to have an impact on?

Before you set out to have an impact on any particular issue it helps to have more than just a thumb-nail view of the facts in order to be able to make a case for what you believe.

Whether it’s plain old citizen-lobbying of a local council, or the multi-million dollar corporate variety, good research is the foundation of good lobbying – but good research can require a lot of work.

The problem for elected officials is the huge number of issues that scream for attention. They don’t have the time to follow the nuances of every piece of legislation, but they put their name, reputation and possibly their career on the line with every vote. As a result, good information is invaluable.

The rule is this: do the work for them.

Politicians aren’t super-human and don’t know everything about everything (you probably knew that already), and can’t learn it all. Though as individuals they may know more about various subjects, most of them are forced to be generalists. So part of the job of good lobbying is to be an expert on the issues you want to advocate.

Things that elected officials need to know about legislation or proposals:

  • The details of any proposal
  • How it changes current law or the status quo
  • How those changes will impact their constituents

Without that knowledge, most elected officials can only hope and pray that they don’t accidentaly stumble into a politically explosive situation, (something most of them try to avoid because they want to get re-elected).

Where do they usually find the information they need to make a decision? A good bit of it comes from educated constituents who have done their homework or who offer the benefit of their own expertise.

In other words, it could be you.  You’re certainly more of an expert on the things you do and the situations you face every day than most politicians.

Spend time researching and organizing information on the issues you want to impact. Then turn it into a resource for friendly elected officials.

Remember, knowledge is power. Get it and use it.

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.

How to Have a Productive Meeting with Elected Officials

gearsWhen it comes to lobbying, the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease.  And while many different forms of lobbying can produce positive results, the most effective method is to meet with your elected officials personally.

But if you’re going to have a personal meeting with elected officials, you want to do what you need to do in order to get the most out of the visit. You want them to know what you think and why. You want to know what they think – and what they will do. And you want to make it as likely – and easy – as possible for them to agree to say “yes”.

Here are some simple tips to keep in mind that will help you get the most out of it.

Plan Your Visit

Treat it like you would any important business meeting (or at least the ones that you actually prepare for!). Be clear about what you want to accomplish. Identify which members of the legislative body (or council) you need to talk with to help achieve your goals. Elected officials usually won’t give as much priority to people who are not in their districts, so be sure to meet with the ones who represent YOU. If you don’t live in their district, take someone with you who does. Know what you want to say beforehand. Prepare a fact sheet or position paper that you can leave with them AFTER the meeting is over, (along with your contact information).

Schedule an Appointment

The “higher up” the political food chain the official is, the more staff they are likely to have. For local (and some state) officials, you can probably contact them directly. Federal officials with have a scheduler that you will need to contact to arrange a meeting. Explain your purpose and why you want to meet with them. Make sure that you have an understanding of how long the meeting will last. Elected officials typically like them short and sweet. Fifteen minutes is a good rule of thumb.

That’s enough time for you to accomplish two goals: 1) tell them what you want them to do and why, and 2) get feedback so you know what to expect from them, (and if whether or not they need more pressure from others who think like you do).

Be Prepared

Make sure that you have accurate information and material available on your issue. Elected officials have to deal with many issues, and it’s possible that they might not have the information that you can provide. Remember that there are always two sides to any issue (at least), and the more you know about the arguments of the opposition, the more effective your information should be in countering it.

Remember, frame the “problem” to fit your “solution”. Of course this doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. The most important points for you to get across are why the issue is important to you, and that you feel passionately about it. You’re a citizen with concerns. More importantly (to them), you’re a registered voter.

Be On Time and Be Patient

When seeing any elected official, be punctual. But remember, it’s not uncommon for them to run behind schedule or to have meetings get interrupted. If there is an interruption, be flexible. If possible, continue the meeting with a member of their staff.

Don’t Be Intimidated

Don’t let yourself get nervous or intimidated. Sure, you’re on their turf, but you’re also their boss. They work for you. Just remember to be polite about it. You’ve got something they want (your vote…and maybe even your help).

Pin Them Down

Elected officials will usually try to be noncommittal because as soon as they take a position they probably make someone angry. They would rather just listen politely, empathize, then shake hands and lead you to the door. Your job is to get to the bottom line. Sure it’s nice to have the satisfaction of being heard, but where do they stand at the end of the day? Be polite, but pin them down. (For example, “I’m glad that you’re concerned, but will you vote for or against the bill?” or, “I’m glad to hear you agree in concept, but will you cosponsor the bill?”) They may not like it, but they will respect you for it.

Be Political

Most elected officials try to represent the best interests of their constituents, (or at least the good ones do). Whenever possible, draw a correlation between what you want and the interests of your community, (i.e. their district). Show them that you are not the only one who feels the way you do.

They may not want to take your side in order to avoid taking “heat” over the issue, but you could offer to help solve this problem by working to counteract the heat. Offer to write supportive letters-to-the-editor, phone calls to local talk radio, or even send out a press release from your group thanking them for their support. Find out what “cover” they may need to help get them over the line. Offer to work with their staff to get it done. Be helpful and make it easy for them to say yes.

Be Responsive

If an elected official expresses an interest in your issue or request, be ready to answer questions or provide any additional information they may need. Afterwards, follow up with a thank-you letter highlighting your discussion, (especially if they agreed to anything), and include any additional information they may have requested.


In our system of government, the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease, and given that the percentage of people who take the time to meet personally with elected officials is so incredibly low, it shows commitment on your part. And it lets them know just how squeaky you might be.

If done consistently and professionally, meeting with your elected officials will help you be a much more effective advocate for the things that you care about. Building relationships with them will not only further your credibility as a citizen (or organization), but it will also provide opportunities for you to have a greater impact for the conservative cause in the future.

Make sure to get the most out of it!