How to Lobby
Provided by Cornerstone Government Affairs
Thinking about visiting a public official? Here are a few tips that will help you be a successful lobbyist. First and foremost, you don't have to be an expert to lobby your representatives. Your viewpoint is important and worth expressing. Never forget that democracy depends on citizens expressing their views.
- Always be polite! Never be argumentative, call names or threaten.
- Make an appointment. Don't be disappointed if your appointment is set up with a staff person. Legislators are busy and staff members pass the information they receive on to their bosses. Often, by developing a rapport with a staff member, you open an important line of communication to that office. If your meeting is to be with the legislator himself/herself, it will usually be specified.
- Be on time. Identify yourself and the organization you represent. If you are a registered voter in the legislator's district, say so.
- Present a clear message. If you are with a number of people, choose one person to speak for your group. Get your point across in the fewest possible words. Say exactly what you want the policy maker to do--using your own words or the language prepared by your advocacy organization. If your issue involves legislation, cite the specific bill's name or number.
- Use hard facts to support your arguments. Leave supporting documents whenever possible.
- Be prepared for questions, even challenges. If a question throws you off balance because you don't know the answer, don't be afraid to admit it. Say you will research the matter and report back to them.
- Be a good listener. Give the legislator or staff member a chance to express his/her point of view.
- Give special recognition to legislators who are known to be on your side (champions). Ask them for advice and help in reaching other legislators and suggestions for ways to communicate the issue to their colleagues.
- If a legislator or staff member expresses opposition to your viewpoint, try to leave on a friendly note so you will have access to them in the future.
- Be gracious. If your meeting was with a legislator, thank him/her for taking the time to listen to your point of view. If your meeting was with a staff member, thank him/her for communicating your viewpoint to their boss and ask for a written reply if you want one.
- Follow up your visit with a thank-you letter. Restate your case briefly and provide any information you may have promised during your meeting. This gives you a second chance to make your point. Always remember that the basic principle of effective lobbying is grassroots pressure. While it is important to see your legislators, lobbying is often ineffective without the help of large numbers of letters and telephone calls or faxes from people who live in the representative's district. Elected officials do pay attention to the opinions of those who elect them--letters really count!
You don’t need to be a high powered, big name, professional lobbyist to make an impact. It is to your advantage that you are an Iowan concerned enough about the issues that you have come to speak to them. As a constituent, you have a level of credibility that professional firms do not. No elected official can survive with a reputation for ignoring his or her constituents.
Example: "Senator Smith, please vote yes on S.F.123 which would give all Iowans free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for the rest of their lives."
= (talking to a legislator) + (asking for a specific action) + (action on a specific piece of legislation)
Example: "Anyone who lives in Polk County, please call Senator Smith and ask her to vote yes on S.F. 123 which would give all Iowans free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for the rest of their lives."
= (talking to a citizen) + (asking them to talk to a legislator) + (asking citizen to ask the legislator for a specific action) + (action will be on a specific piece of legislation)
Example: "’Iowans for Free Ice Cream’ supports S.F 123, which would give free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to all Iowans for the rest of their lives."
= (talking to anyone) + (stating your position on legislation OR giving general information about the issue) + (could encourage them to do a general action)
Goals/Purpose of a citizen lobby visit:
- Familiarity – Elected officials need to see the human face of the issues and the citizen lobbyist provides that face. Getting to know the legislators makes it more likely that they will meet with you in the future.
- Press them to vote the right way on issues that will better society.
- Make them accountable for votes they have made already.
- Speak from the heart.
- Tell your story. It will be the most passionate thing your representative hears all day and it’s the easiest for you to remember.
- Use the facts. A few compelling facts will make your case. Make sure the facts have a credible source and use statistics in your story that will bring a face to the numbers. Also, make sure to discuss the local implications of your facts.
- Ask for one thing and stay focused. Never leave without asking your public official to do something. Make sure your request is clear and that you understand the response. This will allow you to stay focused and leave your official little room to avoid a commitment. Prepare for the meeting. The elected official’s job is to know the issues at hand. Citizen lobbyists add to the official’s knowledge and ask for a specific commitment. Know the official’s priorities, record, and major supporters. Also know the local impact and cost of the issue.
Know the Target
A significant component of lobbying is knowing whom to target and knowing about that target. Taking the time to map out who has influence over an issue and who has influence over that decision maker is one of the most effective tools for understanding an issue and creating change. The first critical step in pressuring public officials is determining which official actually has the power to do what is needed. This person is your target. Most of the time this is a simple matter of paying attention as public officials tend to be very outspoken on the matters people care about. When you are unsure of who can do what, just ask! Officials will be forthcoming about what lies within their purview. This will also be extremely helpful in the future as no one wants to meet with an official who cannot address the issue at hand. Next, research your target. Find out: Who is important to the elected official? To whom is she or he accountable? Does the official receive contributions and if so, from whom? Who are the major employers and institutions in the district and would they be affected by your position? Simply put, you are looking for the major influences already affecting this official. Ideally you want to get these influences to work with you.
Know the Issue
For a public official to take you seriously, the citizen lobbyist needs to know at least as much about the issue as the target does. Background research into stakeholders on both sides of the issue will help you understand the other forces acting on the public official. Come prepared to discuss the history of the issue and always be prepared to discuss the local impact of the issue. If the issue is a national or statewide issue, be sure to highlight how the issue affects the district that the public official represents. Lastly, only say what you know. A white lie or exaggeration can damage a group or person’s reputation.
Know the Solution
Come prepared with a solution that the target can enact. Be specific and direct. The more specific the solution the better. For example, instead of asking a legislator to write a bill, write it for them and ask them to introduce it. They will want to edit it and you must be prepared to work with him/her. If the solution is a vote, be prepared to discuss the specific merits/flaws of that bill. Every meeting should have one person asking the "pin down" question.
Tips for Lobbying:
- Identify everyone in the room. The elected official should know exactly who you represent, where your organization is based and how many members your group has.
- Be sure to point out which advocates are constituents of the legislator. Name tags make it very easy for everyone to be identified!
- Anticipate the arguments of your opponents. It is better to address your opponent’s arguments early in the dialogue. Do this directly and openly without being defensive.
Briefing materials should be just that; brief. Elected officials will read a well assembled one page fact sheet, but usually not much more.
The Citizen Lobbyist
HOW TO LOBBY