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How to Lobby Your Elected Officials
And Other Ways to Make Your 
Voice Heard

Who to ContactOne flag for many
     Your Members of Congress were elected to represent you, so by all means, let them know what you think. Contacting House and Senate leaders during the build-up to an important vote can be extremely effective. The President's office also keeps track of communications on current issues. You may not get a personal response, particularly if your e-mail, phone call or letter is one of hundreds on the same topic, but be certain your message will be heard, loud and clear.

How to Contact Your Legislator
    Technology has provided us with a range of opportunities to make our voices heard. Particularly when time is of the essence, e-mail, faxes and telephone calls are effective - nearly instant - communicators. Western Union also provides a low-cost opportunity to send a mailgram to your Member of Congress.
     Bear in mind that an opinion on current legislation receives more attention than general observations.  In general, for all types of communication, be as specific as possible. Keep it brief. Identify your subject clearly, give the name and bill number of the legislation you are concerned about. Be reasonable; don't ask for the impossible or engage in threats. Ask that your legislators state their positions on the issue; you are entitled to know.

E-Mail or Fax your Members of Congress. The Common Cause Take Action section will provide you with fax numbers and e-mail links for all Members who currently can be reached on-line.

Call your Members of Congress at their offices in Washington, DC or at their state offices. You can also call your Senators or Representatives by dialing 1-202-224-3121 (U.S. Capitol Switchboard) and asking for the Member by name. Although you most likely will end up talking to a staffer and not the Member, your call - your voice - will be heard.

Write your Members of Congress. Writing an actual letter has its merits as it can show officials that you are interested enough to set the time aside to write and mail in a letter. The following are some guidelines for writing letters to elected officials and was taken from a talk given by Omar Ahmad at TED2010:

Write a personal (preferably hand-written) letter with appropriate letterhead (if available) to your congressperson. Adhere to the following as a template of what to put into the body of the letter - which should be about 4 parts long:

  • In part one – make it known that you appreciate the politician and especially their tough job.
  • In part two – make your point or political cause known clearly and directly without attacking people, but instead attacking tactics.
  • In part three – provide the politician an exit.
  • In part four – provide the politician a reason to use you as a ‘nurturing agent’. This is where you make it clear to the politician why you can help and why only you have the solution to the aforementioned political cause.

Put your return address on your letter. Envelopes get thrown away. Be sure to re-write the letter at least once a month. Send the original copy of the letter to your congressperson’s district office. Send a copy of the letter to your congressperson’s main Washington D.C. office.

with your legislators and question them at public events. Keep questions short and to the point. Make sure your question is specific: "Will you vote for S. 1219?"* or "Will you make a public pledge to support this campaign reform effort?"
*In the above example, S. 1219 would mean Senate bill number number 1219. Often there is a similar bill in the House of Representatives. An example might be HR. 1429.

     Do not use a public forum as an opportunity to argue with a Member of Congress. If you disagree with his or her response or find it inadequate, discuss this with the Member after the forum, schedule a meeting in his or her local office or send a letter outlining your concerns.

     E-mails, faxes, letters and other written communications to Members of Congress have maximum impact when they concern pending legislation. To learn when key legislation is coming up, see the "Take Action" section in Common Cause’s Website. This includes late-breaking facts on pending legislation and background information.

How Laws are Passed in Congress
After a Senator or Representative introduces a bill, it is assigned to the appropriate committee, according to subject area, for mark-up. Here it is studied and rewritten. Hearings are held to solicit both public and special-interest views.
     During mark-up, the committee considers the specific language of a bill and may amend or change it. When the bill clears the committee, it goes to the floor for general debate and action.

     Once both houses pass a bill, a conference committee made up of both Senators and Representatives works out any differences between the House-passed and Senate-passed versions.

     The final conference version must be approved by both houses, then the bill goes to the President to be signed into law. The President may veto the bill. In that case a two-thirds veto override vote in both houses is required for the bill to become law.

When to Lobby
     At any point in this process you may want to personally lobby your Representative, Senators, the House and Senate leaders or the President. There are special times in the legislative process when your letters and calls can be especially productive.

     When a bill is introduced and assigned to a committee, you can contact your legislators to request that they cosponsor the bill. Obviously, the more cosponsors a bill has, the more likely it is to gain support and move through the legislative process.

     If the bill is bottled up in committee and appears unlikely to ever emerge, you might contact your Members of Congress and urge them to get the bill moving.

     In the Senate, a minority of Senators can stop passage of a bill by launching a filibuster, essentially an endless debate. Many campaign finance efforts over the years have fallen victim to Senate filibusters. The votes of 60 Senators are needed to end a filibuster and allow action on a bill. You might contact your Senators and urge them to fight obstructionist filibusters blocking action on important legislation.

     When legislation is about to come up on the floor of the House or Senate, you could contact your legislators and urge support for the position you advocate.

Other Ways to Make Your Voice Heard
     In addition to communicating with your legislators, there are other ways to influence issues you care about.

     A letter-to-the-editor gives you a chance to inform thousands of people about a critical piece of legislation. Many people read these sections of the newspaper, especially elected officials. Even if it is not published, your letter might inspire an editorial on the same subject.

    When writing a letter-to-the-editor, observe how long the average published letter is, and keep your letter within this length. Make your letter concise, avoid rambling, be specific. Be certain to sign your name and give your address and telephone number although the latter will not be published. Most newspapers do not print anonymous letters, although they may withhold your name if you feel strongly about it. Newspapers often receive more letters than they can print, so if your letter is not published the first time, try again.

An Opinion Piece
     Many newspapers feature a section opposite the editorial pages (often called the Op-Ed page) for citizen opinion. If you are comfortable writing, consider submitting an article on a subject you know and care about.

Talk With Reporter Or Editor
     Stop by your local newspaper's office and chat with reporters or editorial page editors. Give them special information like editorial backgrounders - updates on issues prepared by Common Cause especially for the media. You can find editorial backgrounders in Common Cause’s News and Information section.

Radio Call-In Shows
     Let others know what you think. Ask questions of those who appear on these shows. Ask a Representative or Senator how he or she intends to vote on an upcoming issue. Encourage listeners to call their Members of Congress. Radio talk shows are also great opportunities to mention Common Cause and our issue fights.

Distribute Action Flyers
     Distribute informative flyers on reform issues in your community. Give them to friends and neighbors, or hand them out at your local library or public meeting place. Urge other citizens and community groups to become active.

Encourage Membership
     Join us and ask your friends to join. The more members we have, the more clout citizens will have in the battle to clean up Washington.

Reach Out to Other Organizations
     Bring up issues at meetings of other groups you belong to, and enlist others' support in letter-writing and grassroots lobbying campaigns.

This article is by Common Cause, one of the foremost organizations working for change in the campaign finance system and other government reforms. It works on both state and national levels.
     Since 1970, Common Cause members have lobbied Members of Congress for government reform. Common Cause was built on the belief that individuals working together can change the world. Its successes have come from persistence and the strength of unified citizen voices. 
     Common Cause could never have won its important victories in the fight against corruption in government without the lobbying of many, many members. Your effort could tip the scale and help change a vote!

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