Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Call your congressperson!" - A guide to HOW

Please call your congressperson, and do so regularly, about the issues important to you.

For example: Today, I had a very lengthy conversation with the Legislative Director for my congressperson. They are not directly involved in the specific committee on the issue I called about, but are the back door to the delegation members who are.

I gave the Legislative Director an extensive background overview of the case in question, especially noting links to other columns and blogs with pertinent information, and also referred them to a Senator's office with more information. The Legislative Director took good notes, is going to be checking the links, and assured me they would follow up on this through their House contacts.

I was calling them in the capacity of citizen and constituent, not as a blogger/ unauthorized journalist, and this seemed to make them more forthcoming with how they were planning to work the information. I was advised that for "official comment", I should talk to their Communications Director and was provided with that person's name and contact info.

Interestingly, the person I usually communicate with, when I identified myself to him (I call them a lot) and asked about the specific issue (a hot issue involving potential scandal and a likely executive-branch cover-up), they couldn't get me to the legislative director's phone fast enough. This is a first for me. The other times I have gotten to speak with the Legislative Director, I was called back to discuss policy issue questions that I had raised and it took 24 hours or more to hear back. The fact that I got put through immediately indicates to me that some types of issues still carry serious weight in the halls of Congress.

Some advice: Having names, dates, and places handy when asked for more detail REALLY helps your credibility. Being able to tell the Legislative Director about something that is easily verifiable and FACTUAL really got their attention.

When trying to force action about an agency's abuse, it helps to be able to demonstrate how their actions might affect another agency's relationship with the citizens, or with diplomatic concerns with an allied country. A Congressional Representative will likely not have direct oversight on your issue, but might be able to sway State, or Commerce, or another agency that your issue affects them too and they will then be able to pick away at the edges from another angle. We need to use our contacts to force them into using theirs. If nothing else, a Congressman wants to be seen as 'doing something'. It helps them to be able to direct their efforts if you know, or can envision, consequential effects and you communicate these to them.

Please also remember this when contacting them: Be CALM. Be rational. Be credible. Be persistent. Be friendly. And, ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH. Your congressperson's office fields hundreds of calls per day. If you only ever call them when you are angry about some piece of legislation that 'tramples your puppy', then you will only be known as a malcontent.

Every time I call, I am friendly and pleasant. I identify myself by name. I am clear about the current status of the legislation in question (use THOMAS to search for it). I have already checked their website (HOUSE and SENATE) to see if they have issued a position statement. I know what I am trying to say to them (use bullet-point notes if needed). Most importantly, I have my facts handy. As my call today with my Congressman's office showed me, sometimes you get put right through and YOU NEED TO BE READY.

My "take-aways" are these:
First, stay in regular contact with your congressperson's office such that they know you and at least respect your commitment to the issues.
Second, have your facts handy and readily transferred so that it is easy for them to get to.
Third, some of them really do care and will work with the people who have the legislative or committee power, even if their office does not.
Fourth, see item one, Call your Congressman!



Old NFO said...

Good lessons Newbius! I usually email mine, since I'm on the road so much... and yes SPECIFICS are important!

WV- dousee Do U See how to impact Congress... :-)

Stretch said...

Don't forget to point out how legislation may affect them professionally. When the auto bailouts were still bills I called both of my senators offices (one never talks directly to senators) to remind them that if a voter's car breaks down the complaints would come to them, not dealers. One staffer was impressed (depressed?) with the idea while the other just hung up on me.