What Is Lobbying and Can It Be Good?
How to Lobby Politicians
Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence the opinions, decisions, or policies of an elected government official. Lobbying is done by individuals, interest groups, communities, or companies and organizations to address their concerns on a wide range of issues from global human rights to local community development. Learn how you can lobby a politician yourself.
Contacting a Politician
Locate contact information.Find the address, email, and phone number to use to send correspondence to the politician you want to discuss an issue with.
- Check the website for your local, state, or federal government to find the contact information for elected officials.
- In the United States, you can check the USA.gov website to search all types of government for contact information.
- Note that if you are unsure about who to discuss your issue with, or the matter is affected by multiple individuals and levels of government, it’s worth gathering several points of contact to send correspondence to.
Dial the U.S.Capitol Switchboard.Call 1-202-224-3121 to reach a U.S. Senator or Representative.
- Ask for any Member by name once on the call in order to be connected to the office of that person.
- Note that by dialing this number, and when calling any other elected official by phone, you will not reach the politician but rather a staffer in their office. These staffers are very knowledgeable about where the individual stands on any given policy or issue, and will make note of your call and opinion.
Email or write a letter to a politician.Reach out with a written opinion via email or letter. A physical letter demonstrates that you are passionate enough about an issue to put in the time and effort it takes to compose and mail one. Write any letter (or email) in four parts:
- Part 1: Express your appreciation for the work that the politician is doing or has already done.
- Part 2: Clearly and succinctly state the issue at hand, making sure to strongly word opposition against tactics rather than individual people.
- Part 3: Provide the politician an exit in the form of a decision, policy, or reform he or she can make or influence.
- Part 4: Provide the politician a reason to use you as a “nurturing agent,” i.e. how you can help or how you provide the solution to the issue.
- Mail an original, handwritten letter to the district office of the official and a copy to their Washington, D.C. office. Try to write a letter every month for a greater chance of it being seen.
Meet with the politician in person.When possible, attend an event held by the politician you wish to reach and ask questions if provided a period for feedback.
- Keep in-person questions very short and to the point. Don’t use this particular opportunity to argue with a politician if you find his or her response to your question inadequate.
- For example, stick to questions like “Will you vote for S. 1219?" or "Will you make a public pledge to support this campaign reform effort?"
Maximizing Your Influence
Do thorough research on the topic.Do your own research into the issue you feel strongly about so that you are fully familiar with all sides of the issue, as well as the related policy or bill that politicians have the power to influence.
- Check out a directory of American public policies to learn about pieces of legislature that are being supported and challenged by various groups in the U.S., and how you can get involved.
- Always read articles and other information on the issue from a wide variety of sources, not just the main organization that opposes a bill, for example, or a news source that could be biased toward a particular stance or political party.
- Make sure you understand a politician’s exact stance and influence on a given issue. Searching for contact information for politicians on a website like Common Cause will also give you the bills they’ve introduced, committees they serve on, and political contributions they’ve received.
Reach out before an important vote.Find out when legislation is pending for a given issue you’re concerned about, which is the ideal time to contact a politician with power in that legislation.
- Check out Common Cause for pending legislation and important current issues, as well as who in government to reach out to that will be important to persuade.
- Consider that you want to start lobbying well in advance of a vote on the matter, especially if you plan to write letters or make several attempts at outreach over time. Quantity of communication is important in swaying an opinion, especially if you are an individual lobbyist.
Define your opinion clearly.State your opinion on an issue clearly and succinctly in order to effectively let your elected official know why you care about and are affected by it.
- Stick to a clear opinion rather than a general observation on what a politician is doing or what a given issue means. Identify the issue clearly and give the name and bill number of the legislation in question.
- Avoid threats or other hot-headed arguments, which will be quickly dismissed rather than taken seriously by any politician. Avoid making unreasonable requests.
- Request clearly that the elected official you reach out to states his or her position on the issue. You have a right to know his or her stance on any public policy.
Be polite and well-spoken.Remain pleasant and courteous in any correspondence with a politician for a better chance to be heard, read, and taken seriously.
- Whether in writing or in person, use clear and concise speech to communicate your point without attacking the individual actions of the politician.
- In written correspondence, you must also use proper grammar and punctuation to be taken seriously. Proofread your writing and have someone else look at it if you don’t trust your own editing skills or just want feedback on how to make it read more professionally.
Say it with your vote.Vote in a public election poll on the matter in question if you are able to, as nothing communicates your stance on a subject more clearly.
- Make sure you are registered to vote in the county in which you currently live in order to affect local policy. Or, opt to absentee vote if you can on an issue for which you cannot make it to the polls in person.
- Register to vote online or at a voter registration office, DMV, or public assistance office. You’ll need to be 18 years old and have proof of your identity and residency.
Defend your opinions with lobbying laws.Know that you are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, under which you have the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”Get familiar with what kind of lobbying is acceptable in your area.
- Find your state’s laws surrounding lobbying and the expenses put into lobbying efforts, especially if anyone hassles you about your right to do so.
- Note that most states regulate lobbying with laws such as the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act (1946), which states that you must report expenditures involved in lobbying, but most lobbying that deals with voluntary public involvement is very difficult to regulate.
Joining Others to Lobby
Volunteer for an organization.Contact an organization you care about or one who has a stake in an issue you feel strongly about, whether it’s a local business or a worldwide environmental advocate. Find out what measures they have in place for lobbying, and offer to volunteer your help.
- Lobbying on behalf of an organization is helpful to them as well as to you, as they typically lay out the information on a given piece of legislation very clearly and thoroughly, and will often provide you with a sample script and an easy way to correspond with the correct politician.
- Support a non-profit organization that advocates for certain legislature that directly affects them and their cause. Non-profits are in particular need of volunteer lobbyists, as they often don’t have the money or resources to hire professionals for this purpose.
Join an interest group or campaign.Find local interest groups, campaigns, or clubs that meet to discuss and coordinate lobbying efforts and keep track of progress on an issue.
- If there isn’t a group already established in your area, go online or start your own group, however casual you want it to be. Use the group for members to help motivate and inform each other on ways to reach out to elected officials.
- If you’re an entrepreneur or owner of a small business, consider joining a trade association in your industry to potentially gain access to legislators themselves, as well as meeting up with other individuals and businesses who may be like-minded on influencing policies.
Reach out to the public.Sway public opinion to make the greatest impact on politicians that can affect legislation, as more voices on the subject will always be more powerful in getting government attention.
- Try writing a letter-to-the-editor to a prominent state or national newspaper to inform the public on why an issue matters and what they can do to help lobby politicians involved. You may even have a chance to write an opinion piece about it. Elected officials are also likely to read letters-to-the-editor and op-eds, so convey your argument carefully.
- Reach out to a reporter for a local news outlet about writing a story on the issue, or even a story revolving around you or your group’s lobbying efforts. Call into political radio hours or even ask to feature on a radio show about your topic.
- Distribute flyers and other advertising if you want to start your own grassroots lobbying group, or simply educate the general public on the issue at hand.
Video: Interest Groups: Crash Course Government and Politics #42
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