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Federal Advocacy

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Current Issues

Communicating with Your U.S. Congress Member

Writing Congress

When writing Congress, you first need to locate your legislators’ names and addresses. You have three federal legislators, two senators and one representative. You can find your Senator at the U.S. Senate’s homepage http://www.senate.gov . You can also find your Representative by district or zip code at http://www.house.gov , the U.S. House of Representative’s website. Your respective Senators and Representative’s website should provide their mailing address.

It is important to use a formal business letter style. The date should be at the top of the page. The legislator’s name and address should be just below, on the left margin, above the salutation.

Heading for a Senator:

The Honorable (full name) _(office#) (name of i.e., Russell, Dirksen, Hart) Senate Office Building United States Senate Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

Heading for a Representative:

The Honorable (full name) __(office #) (name of i.e., Cannon, Rayburn, Longworth) House Office Building United States House of Representatives Washington, DC 20510

Dear Representative:

*Remember that if they are the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House, then you properly address them as: Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman, or Dear Mr. Speaker.

Begin with a brief introduction including your name, city of residence, and occupation.

Make sure your purpose for writing can be easily found in the first paragraph of the letter. If it is about a specific piece of legislation please, try to identify it properly, e.g. House bill: H.R. # , Senate bill: S. # . Try to address only one issue in each letter and be brief and to the point. Only include key information with examples to convincingly support your position, while always being courteous.

This letter should fit on one side of a page. Close with a handwritten signature and your typed address, email, and phone number.

Emailing Congress

When e-mailing Congress, follow the same suggestions from the "Writing Congress" section. Your Senators’ and Representative’s e-mail address should be on their web page, or there should be a section with information on contacting the legislator.

Calling Congress

When calling Congress, the person who picks up your phone call will most likely be a staff assistant. (see "Who’s Who in the Office") When they pick up, tell them your name and the organization/company you are with, or the city you live in, in order to verify that you are a constituent or an entity that the Member is familiar with.

If you are a constituent and would like to voice you opinion on a certain matter then tell the staff assistant you would like to leave a brief message for the Member. For example, "Please tell Senator/Representative (name) that I am for/against Senate bill__#­­­__/ House bill ___#___."

If you have questions regarding the Member’s position on a certain piece of legislation, then ask the Staff Assistant, again referring to the bill as either S.__#__/ H.R. __#__. If they can not answer your question then they may be able to transfer you to the staff member who handles that issue, but don’t be offended if you have to leave a voicemail. The staff members have very busy schedules, usually full of meetings and committee hearings to attend. If you get their voicemail leave you name, where you are from (or which organization you are representing), and a number where they can reach you.

If you need to set up a meeting with a staff member or the Member him/herself please see "Visiting Congress."

Visiting Congress

When visiting Congress, you first must make an appointment by contacting you legislator’s Scheduler/ Appointment Secretary. Tell them who you represent and explain your purpose for the meeting, so that they can arrange your meeting with the correct staff member or with the legislator him/herself.

Guidelines for a Successful Visit:

  1. Be on time: if not ten minutes early.
  2. Be patient: legislators are often late.
  3. Be flexible: you meeting may be interrupted.
  4. Be prepared: bring all the information and materials you need to support your position/ purpose. Make sure you share all the information you can with the legislator about the impact and benefits of your particular issue.
  5. Make it personal: there are several methods to get an issue to catch a legislator’s attention and have influence. One way is personal interest. A legislator will support what he or she truly believes in or can relate to, especially if there is a personal connection. Point out how your purpose is beneficial to their constituents. Give examples of locations, facilities, and people they may be familiar with, making it personal. The legislator’s main job is to represent the best interests of their district or state. Because of this, truly heart-felt communications from a constituent will influence a legislator’s vote. A constituent with solid information who has personal conviction and belief can tell the story of the issue with a sense of commitment.
  6. Provide a PR opportunity: Legislators are always looking for positive press coverage to support successful re-election campaigns. During the meeting request a photo with the legislator and suggest submitting an announcement of the meeting to a local newspaper covering the ways in which the legislator has supported your issue.
  7. Be responsive: know exactly what you want to achieve in the meeting and be knowledgeable on your topic, so that you will be ready to answer questions that may be asked. If you do not know the answer to a question, tell them you will follow-up with the necessary information as soon as possible.
  8. Express gratitude: make sure to follow up your meeting with a thank you note that recaps some of the different topics discussed during the meeting. Also make sure to send any additional materials they requested.
Who’s Who in the Office

Chief of Staff/ Administrative Assistant (AA): This staffer reports straight to the Member. The AA is responsible for measuring the political outcomes that could come from supporting or not supporting various legislative proposals or constituent requests. The Chief of Staff is also responsible for the overall run of the office, including the supervision and hiring of the staff, as well as allocation of work.

Legislative Director (LD): The LD monitors all legislation that is going on in Congress and watches the schedule in order to make recommendations regarding the pros and cons of a particular piece of legislation. They are also responsible for making sure the Member is informed and for overseeing the Legislative Assistants.

Legislative Assistant (LA): Legislative Assistants are supervised by the LD and are assigned to monitor legislation on a specific topic or committee with which the Member is concerned or responsible. The LA handles meetings with organizations that fall under their specific area, as well as constituent concerns. They also complete research in order to keep the Senator informed on the legislation in their specific area, such as health and education.

Legislative Coordinator (LC): Some Congressional offices hire Legislative Coordinators, supervised by the LA, in order to help the legislative assistant with their meetings, research, and constituent concerns.

Communication Director and/or Press Secretary: Some Congressional offices have both a Communication Director and a Press Secretary position in order to lessen each person’s load. These positions deal with all of the media and press requests, as well as insure the Member receives positive press. These staff members brief the Member before interviews or press conferences. They also make sure that the Member keeps a positive and open line of communication with the constituents.

Personal Secretary and/or Appointment Secretary (Scheduler): Depending on the size of the Congressional office, there may be one or two individuals in these positions. The scheduler handles the schedule for the member including anything from dinners, travel plans, and speaking dates to meetings with organizations, constituents, and committee meetings. The scheduler is also the staff member, along with the personal secretary, who insures the Member is on time to all events as well as rearranges the schedule as their day changes, which may happen at any time. The personal secretary handles the Member’s personal phone calls, the day to day administrative duties, and anything else the Member may need, including personal thank you notes.

Staff Assistant: A staff assistant is normally located in the front of the Member’s office and greets you as you arrive. This individual alerts staffers when you arrive for your meeting and directs you to the appropriate meeting space. Staff Assistants also manage the phone as well as respond to constituents and assist with tours and visits to Washington DC.

Correspondence Coordinator (CC): Some Congressional offices hire a CC to handle all of the mail and email the office receives on a daily basis. The Correspondence Coordinator sorts all the mail and distributes it to the staffer responsible for the issue addressed in the letter. Correspondence Coordinators do the same for all the e- mail received. This individual plays a major part in providing constituent services to the residents of a legislator’s state or district or state.

**Many of the positions like the Legislative Coordinator, Staff Assistant, Correspondence Coordinator, and sometimes the Legislative Assistant are filled by recent graduates and young professionals, who are interested in the legislative process.

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