Archive for the ‘Lobbying Communications’ Category

Research Review: Communicating with Congressional Staff – What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why: Part One

Friday, August 3rd, 2012 by Nicholas

Lobbyblog is happy to introduce our guess writer for this week, Amy Showalter with the Showalter Group.  Amy, thank you so much for being here this week.

I was happy to see some solid research conducted via a partnership between Lobbyists.info/The Original U.S. Congress Handbook, David Rehr of The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, and ORI. [ed. Found here at: www.congressionalcommunicationsreport.com]

The research sought to find out what tactics are most effective when communicating with congressional staff, particularly from a lobbyist’s perspective. The goal of the report is to help organizations and lobbyists learn how to better communicate with congressional staff.  I’m gratified to see several of the findings correlate with previous research conducted by Dr. Kelton Rhoads and myself, which you can find here: http://www.showaltergroup.com/products/tc2.php as well as research that formed the basis for The Underdog Edge: How Ordinary People Change the Minds of the Powerful. . .and Live to Tell About It. www.underdogedge.com. #underdogedge
I’ll be commenting on various aspects of the findings in this and future articles, including my insights on how to apply the findings to your work.  I believe the ground truth from the research is that is helps us focus on what matters, and which to tactics we should allocate more (or less) resources.  First, I want to address the best thing about the survey – the methodology.

Methodology Matters

The researchers asked congressional staff what they prefer regarding communications tactics, rather than asking the staffer what their member of Congress thinks about a tactic. Seems like a small matter, but in the research world, it’s vital. Asking someone what another person thinks or would do and drawing conclusions from that might be interesting, but I would not base a strategy on those kinds of findings. Dealing with respondent veracity is hard enough, but to ask an individual what someone else thinks puts the findings in a congressional staff member, how they personally view certain types of communications, so I give it an A+.
OK, I’ve stepped off the soapbox.

“Where You Are is Who You Were”

One of the questions asked staff what factors determine whether a lobbyist will gain access. The one that caught my attention was the “reputation of the individual seeking the meeting.”

In Chapter Two of The Underdog Edge, I write about building your street cred. We found from interviews with powerful people whose minds were changed that they factor in your reputation when deciding whether to give you time and access. Busy people don’t have time to do all the necessary research to determine if you’re a credible communicator. Therefore, your reputation determines in part whether you will get access.

The bottom  line: Where you are now is in part based on who you were years ago. Think about where you want to be in five years. Get your “street cred” repaired or ramped up for future success.

Lack of Bias = Lots of Influence

What’s effective to influence legislation? One of the top four responses include to  “present/refute opposing views.” Again, in Underdog Edge, our research revealed that a key element of credibility is being unbiased. Many of the legislators I interviewed whose minds were changed by constituents said that the unbiased presentation of the facts got their attention.

The bottom  line: Know what your opponents say, as well as their influence strategies, for increased persuasion (and more credibility).

What did staff consider an ineffective technique to get their attention? “Organizing email/postcard/call campaigns” and “sending daily issue emails/ newsletters” as well as those very expensive ads in Capitol Hill publications.

Why organizations do things that don’t get results, I’ll never know, but hopefully this research will provide for better allocation of organizational resources.  In the next Roots of Success, we’ll review more research findings and how you can apply them for greater communications and persuasion success.

Lobbying Tools that Influence Congressional Decision-Making: What is More Effective, What is Less Effective

Thursday, July 19th, 2012 by Nicholas

LobbyBlog is happy to introduce another guest writer: Dr. David Rehr with the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

The complexity of influencing or affecting public policy in Washington, DC has never been greater.  According to Lobbyists.Info over $8.1 billion dollars was spent in the last two years by the lobbying community trying to affect the outcome of laws and regulations in the U.S.
Congress.

For many, “lobbying” is a bad word.  It connotes individuals using inside information, their personal connections, or other tools to impact the minds of 100 U.S. Senators, 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the over 12,000 congressional staffers that work in the legislative branch.

The focus of today is to help clarify which advocacy tools work and which do not work when an individual or organization wants to passionately impact the legislative process in Washington.

Newly released research from the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University (www.gspm.gwu.edu) provides clues never before unearthed.

THE CONGRESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS REPORT (www.CongressionalCommunicationsReport.com) provides a monumental look at how America communicates with the Congress.  The nearly 3,000 congressional staff and lobbyists who participated in this study provided incredible insights and valuable outcomes measurement.

One question was designed to find out from congressional staff which lobbying tools influence members of Congress’ decision-making (just some of the 16 advocacy tools are listed below).

“In your opinion, how effective are each of the following lobbying activities in influencing or shaping members of congress’ decision-making on legislative issues?”

Lobbying Activities Very
Effective (4 & 5)
Not at all
effective (1 & 2)
Providing consistently
reliable information
87% 2.3%
Presenting a concise
argument
85.2% 3.9%
Holding face-to-face
meetings
58.4% 10.9%
Making a pending vote an
organizational “KEY
VOTE” with
results to be
communicated to
organization’s
membership
29.2% 36.4%
Conducting opinion
surveys,
Polls
17.7% 43.1%
Bringing in former
members
of congress
25% 38.1%
Organizing
email/postcard/call
Campaigns
13.1% 57.7%

The tools are pretty straight forward.  Most interesting is that congressional staff ranked “providing consistently reliable information” and “presenting a concise argument” as their top choices.  This means that every American can influence the process provided they are able to meet these expectations.

Another “takeaway” is that these tools need to be “laddered” in their use and by the resources available.  Less effective advocacy tools include making a vote a “KEY VOTE,” using surveys or polls to affect outcomes, or leveraging former members to affect their former colleagues or staff.

Here’s one insight: Take a look at the advocacy tools you use.  Make an honest assessment of what works and what doesn’t.  Then, measure your assessment against this landmark research to see how it fares.  It will help you be even more effective.

Another question asked how congressional staff learns about policy issues.  This reveals to citizen advocates and professional lobbyists where hey need to go to ‘shape’ the conversation (just a few of the 19 areas asked about are below).

“How valuable are each of the following as ways for you to learn about policy issues?”

Ways to learn Valuable/Very
Valuable
Slightly
Valuable/Not at all Valuable
Congressional Research
Service (CRS)
85.8% 3.3%
Academic or issue
experts
81.5% 4.3%
Blogs 51.3% 16.7%
Constituents 50.3% 19.6%
Internet Searches 50.3% 15.7%
Survey and poll results 26% 37.8%
Interest Group websites 22.9% 27.5%
Social media 12.2% 61.1%

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) and academic and issue experts were selected as two of the most valuable tools. Blogs, Constituents and Internet Searches fall into a second tier; Interest Group websites, and Survey and polls results are in the third tier.

Despite social media’s deep penetration into other parts of our society, it is not considered a valuable resource to inform policy at all by congressional staff.

Here’s one insight: As yourself and your team if you are connected with the CRS and do their researchers seek you out for data, empirical evidence or your unique perspective on an issue they are researching.  Frankly, I don’t think many of us in the advocacy business think much about CRS.  But we should since the data clearly indicates that congressional staffers find it highly valuable.

THE CONGRESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS REPORT answers many of the questions I have been asking for decades.  It’s a treasure-trove of data for those who want to be at the pinnacle of the advocacy field.

 

David Rehr, PhD, is the lead researcher for THE CONGRESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS REPORT and an Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University.  He is former CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.  He has been recognized as one of the most effective advocates in the nation’s capital.  He can be reached at DavidRehr@gwu.edu or 202-510-2148.

 

 

Six Deadly Sins of Lobbying Days Part 2

Thursday, July 12th, 2012 by Nicholas

In the last post, I covered the first three of the deadly sins of lobby days. To be most effective, you’ll want to avoid all seven, so here are the remainder!

Sin #4 – Member-itis: Never, ever insist that a meeting with a member is more important than a meeting with a staff person. In fact, it’s actually better to meet with the staff person.  All you’ll probably get with the member is a “grip and grin,” and the vague feeling that your issues weren’t really covered. True, it’s sometimes hard to get advocates to understand that — so tell them the Advocacy Guru said so!  But if that’s not enough you might consider inviting a member of Congress to your conference so everyone can meet a legislator.  Also impress upon them the fact that they can much more easily meet with the legislator in the district.

Sin #5 – Inflexibility: This is particularly a problem when it’s combined with high expectations. Too many groups offer a very small meeting window and then are irritated when staff or members are not available in the 12:00pm to 2:00pm time slot they’ve designated for meetings. Try to have an entire day available – and ask participants in your lobby day to bring a good book.

Sin #6 – Overzealousness: If you have multiple people coming from one district or state, do everything you can to coordinate before requesting meetings. In too many cases, each individual will request their own meeting. By the fifth meeting on the same topic, the staff are generally pretty cranky. They will thank you for your consideration of their time if you coordinate well.

Sin #7 – Abandonment: Once your advocates are done in Washington, DC or your state capitol, their advocacy for the year isn’t finished. In fact, it’s just started. In most cases you will need to work with the office on an ongoing basis to help them truly understand your issues and the impact of certain policy actions on their constituents. After your meeting, don’t abandon your elected officials and their staff – embrace them (although not literally. Some of them aren’t huggers).

Lobbyblog wants to thank Stephanie Vance for her special feature and remind evereyone to head on over to her site advocacyguru.com.

Six Deadly Sins of Lobbying Days

Thursday, June 28th, 2012 by Nicholas

Lobbyblog.com is again happy to bring back Stephanie Vance with Advocacy Associates for a special two-part focus on common mistakes people make during fly-in days.

At Advocacy Associates we schedule thousands (yes, thousands) of Congressional meetings per year.  From the American Association of Museums to the Heating Airconditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (a good group to know in a heat wave) – if you’ve got people coming to town, we make sure they get to Capitol Hill.

Although we now get between 99 and 100% of the constituency-based meetings we request, we’ve made the occasional mistake over the years.  The good news is that you don’t need to make those same mistakes – just don’t commit the seven deadly sins we’ll be covering in the next two blog posts and you’ll be just fine.

Here are one through three:

Sin #1 – Non-Constituency: When requesting a meeting, whether with the member or a staff person, the first question you will be asked is “are you from the district or state?” Elected officials and their staff are there to represent a discreet group of people. You absolutely MUST demonstrate your relevance to that discreet group of people or they won’t meet with you. Our meeting request letters always include the city of the constituent asking for the meeting – and some offices will ask for a full street address just to be sure!

Sin #2 – Non-Written Requests: OK, I lied. Actually the first thing you will be asked by the usually incredibly young person who answers the phone is “have you sent your request in writing?” Don’t even bother to call before you have either faxed in the request (look it up in the United States Congress Handbook or go to http://www.congress.org to look up fax numbers or e-mailed it through the Congressman’s website (accessible through www.house.gov and www.senate.gov).

Sin #3 – Assumption: As Robert Siegel once asked me when I worked at NPR “do you know the etymology of the word “assume?” My response was “who uses a word like ‘etymology’?” If you don’t want to make a donkey’s behind of yourself, never assume that your faxed or e-mailed request actually got to the office or that the scheduler will just magically get back to you. With hundreds of requests to go through a day, things get lost. Often. Be sure to follow-up (and be very polite – they don’t lose things on purpose, they’re just overwhelmed).

Stay tuned for four through seven — and  you’ll be on your way to a fabulous event in no time!

Why Some Special Interests Dont Win in The Influence Game

Thursday, June 14th, 2012 by Nicholas

This week LobbyBlog is happy to welcome guest writer and Advocacy Guru Stephanie Vance:

Advocacy Guru Stephanie Vance spills 50 D.C.-insider secrets for effective influence. These tactics will move any immovable object, be it Congress, a corporate board or your intransigent children, to action — or inaction, depending on your preference. In an exclusive set of blog postings, LobbyBlog will be covering several of these tactics in the coming weeks. To start, we’ll look at perhaps the most important thing any effective lobbyist should know – 5 things NOT to do.

Number 5: Use the “Because I Said So” argument.

Good lobbyists know how to answer the question “why should I care about what you have to say?” effectively. They make a connection either to what gets the legislator up in the morning (like policy issues they love) or what keeps them up at night (like a high unemployment rate or re-election concerns). Bad lobbyists use the “because I said so” argument.

Number 4: Interrupt the Decision Maker with Communications That Are Not Really High Priority.

“High priority” communications include those from constituents, those related to a specific (and timely) ask and those that will help the legislator move forward on his or her policy agenda. “I just wanted to touch base” meetings are not high priority.

Number 3: Be Vague About What You Want.

Without a goal, you’ll never know if you’re getting to yes — nor will your audience know what they can do to help you. As one chief of staff I know put it: “You get one ‘hey how are you doing’ meeting per year: after that, you better want something.” Don’t start your government relations effort until you know what that is.

Number 2: Not Knowing What You’re Talking About.

Nothing says “you really shouldn’t listen to me” like peppering your communications with inaccuracies. Take steps to learn everything you need to know about your cause, including the benefits and downsides of your proposed solution to a problem. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you.” Then do it.

Number 1: Give Up.

It can take years to move a relatively minor proposal through the legislative process, even with a variety of powerful tools at your disposal. The founding fathers designed our system of government to be completely and totally inefficient – and they did an excellent job. Persistence is the only thing that ever works – and it works almost all the time.

Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates, is the author of five books on effective advocacy and influence, including The Influence Game. A former Capitol Hill Chief of Staff and lobbyist, she works with a wide range of groups to improve their advocacy efforts. More at www.theinfluencegame.com

Lobbyists.info set to release report on landmark Congressional Communications Report

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Nicholas

As the writer of both Lobbyblog and one of the authors of this report, I am extremely excited to announce that it is nearly complete and almost ready for sale. While I have gone out of my way to avoid mentioning all the work that has gone into this report the past few weeks, I want to share with LobbyBlog readers part of the release for the Report so that they can know about this landmark study.

Lobbyists.info, in partnership with the Original U.S. Congress Handbook, George Washington University School of Political Management, and research partner ORI, is set to release the landmark “Congressional Communications Report.”

The report is the result of one of the largest surveys ever completed of Congressional staff and the lobbying community. Of nearly 3,000 responses, more than 700 came directly from Congressional staff.
“We have been overwhelmed by the number of surveys we’ve gotten back. To get this kind of response from the Congressional community and lobbying industry is incredible” remarked Dr. David Rehr, one of the survey’s creators. “I’m unaware of any Hill survey that is even close to the kind of numbers we’ve been seeing.”

Also shocking is the disconnect the numbers reveal between lobbyists and staff. “Lobbyists with 10, 15, even 20 years of experience may no longer know how best to interact with this current group of Congressional staff. A lot of what they are doing and information they are putting out there is just getting lost in the shuffle. People who have been working in the industry for a long time will be play online pokies amazed, and maybe even disturbed, by the difference in lobbyists’ perception of what staff thinks verses reality.” Remarked Joel Poznansky, President of Columbia Books Inc., parent company of Lobbyists.info & The Original U.S. Congress Handbook.

The report covers with detailed charts and analysis:

· The best ways to contact members of Congress and their staffs

· How changes in Hill demographics that have shifted perspective – and what common practices can now be a waste of resources

· What factors determine who gets access to Members or Hill staff

· How staffers prefer to learn about issues

· What lobbying tactics get results

· Which Congressional staffers are engaged in social media – and why

· How to walk the fine line between information and information overload

· Surprising findings about how staffers view bias in today’s information age and how they weigh it

· How staffers interact with each other and with media during their work day

· What types of media staffers prefer to hear, read and see

Lobbyists.info and the report’s sponsors are also holding a June 12th breakfast for the launch of the report. At the event an expert panel of lobbyists, researchers and Congressional staff, will break down the results and reveal groundbreaking news for an audience of industry insiders and lobbyists. Using the hard numbers in the report, strategies for how to best maximize lobbying time and money will be analyzed, discussed and dissected.

The Congressional Communications is currently available for pre-order at www.congressionalcommunicationsreport.com and will be published in June 2012. For more information on the expert panel breakfast in Washington DC on June 12, 2012 please visit www.congressionalcommunicationsreport.com/live

Legislative Strategy: What to do when Congress isnt in session

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 by Nicholas

Thanks to a wacky legislative schedule, and this being an election year, there are going to be many, many days where no one is around on Capitol Hill, either Members or staff. The current schedule has many holes in it where Congress won’t be in session, with many whole weeks off. As a result, there will be longer than usual stretches without legislative activity.

However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something to be done. These weeks when Congress isn’t in session offer valuable time to reassess legislative strategy (or plan new ones), catch-up on work that is currently outstanding, and hold meetings with the staff that is available. Here is a list of things that can be done during a non-session week that will pay off in the long term:

- Handle any and all outstanding requests for information that might have piled up over the last few weeks.

- Update contacts lists, both for staff and other lobby groups that you are working with. Databases like Lobbyists.info are essential here and cut down on wasted time.

- Map out future legislative activity and what you can do about it now. For example, if you think that you will have a chance to introduce new language to an upcoming bill that wasn’t predicted before, start drafting the language now so you will have a jumping off point and save valuable time during the session.

- Do a frank assessment of resources that you have or are currently using. How are those resources currently paying off and how are they helping your long-term legislative strategy? Too often people get tunnel vision and focus on the help of one office or Member to the detriment of their topic. Is everyone you’re working with doing their jobs or should you shift more focus elsewhere? Remember, you should have a clearly defined strategy that will get you to a specific destination.

- Speaking of shifting focus, is it time to shift from one body of Congress to the other or one Committee to the next? Downtime gives you a chance to tailor you game plan to the phase of your strategy. So if you know that you are getting out of SubCom soon, what do you need to do to get out of Committee?

- Take (primarily staff) meetings that you think will help pay off in the long-term, especially if you have any requests that you foresee will require an existing relationship.

- If you meeting targets aren’t in town, unless it is very urgent, I recommend against leaving messages or e-mails during a break. When Members and staff get back they usually have a long, long list of things that NEED to be done and it is very easy to get lost in the shuffle. Even the best staffer has only so much time in his/her day and if they don’t triage their schedule, then things will pile-up to an impossible point.

If you go into a break with a plan, rather than just trying to use it to catch your breath, you can get a head start on the competition before they can gather themselves.

Grassroots lobbying and SOPA/PIPA

Friday, January 20th, 2012 by Nicholas

In the 1980s the National Rifle Association pulled off one of the great lobbying/advocacy moves that is still remembered to this day. In an effort to defeat Congressional action, the NRA was able to organize over a quarter of a million calls and letters to Congressional offices within a 48 hour period. And this was during the 1980s! Before the Internet, before email, even fax for the most part! Since they proved their ability to organize members and generate interest, they have rarely had to do so again on such a mass scale. While there is debate as to whether they are still capable of organizing the required numbers of constituents to affect legislation, few offices in swing districts want to call their semi-bluff. Since it happened once, it can happen again. This week Congress saw the 2012 version of that NRA plan, and moving forward there are going to be some important lessons to be learned about grassroots advocacy and organization structure.

First, grassroots, like most legislative activity, can be divided into defensive (for example: trying to organize to prevent Congressional action) and offensive (trying to make changes to the current situation that will require some kind of active action). Offensive action is more technically complicated, since everyone needs to be on the same page, asking for the same thing, giving the same reason why it needs to happen, etc., but has the advantage of usually choosing the time it is required. This allows thing to be planned out and, more importantly, gives the upper tiers of the organization time to mobilize their members. Therein lays the weakness of most defensive grassroots organizational efforts: you don’t get to choose the time they are required.

The dirty little secret to real grassroots political power isn’t the number of members your organization actually has, but what you can do with those members and whether those members can be used at critical legislative times. If you have 10 million members that aren’t actually going to demi moore pokies do anything and can’t be mobilized, then they really aren’t going to make a difference in your legislative agenda when you need them. The number helps you get into meetings or maybe access to more resources, but when it comes down to generating letters or votes then the cat is out of the bag and the group can lose one of their main legislative tools.

However, a smaller group with a good top-down structure that can generate calls, letters, and e-mails, hold town hall meetings, contact other constituents, etc., in a timely basis can be much, much more effective. The question has always been how do you find a balance between an organization large enough to make a difference, but nimble enough to come together quickly, when needed?

This past week might answer that question. The opposition to the Senate’s Protect IP Act was able to passively organize a defensive grassroots movement. People go to Wikipedia on a daily basis, and when it blacks-out, they then want to know why. All Wikipedia had to do is shut down and post some info on what they want to be done, the site’s users do the rest. Google didn’t even have to shut down to generate interest and action; they just needed to black-out the site’s name. Most of the sites didn’t really provide facts or briefings for their users, just the message “Protect IP Act = BAD”. When people contacted their Congressional offices, they often didn’t have the correct facts on the phone or e-mail, but they were able to register their opinion with the legislation.

By shutting down, Wikipedia and others fulfilled the dream of every grassroots organization: they activated their members, and changed legislative policy. While black-outs aren’t a long-term legislative strategy, like the NRA they only need to be done once and then everyone knows that you can. Maybe the real lesson moving forward is the best way to organize your grassroots is to not go to work the next day.

Legislative Strategy: Co-Sponsorship Solicitation

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 by Nicholas

A common mistake is to overvalue the recent past.  It is easy to look at the last action or series of actions, and say that was the cause of success or failure for a given issue, when in fact the seeds may have been planted long before the legislation is ever actually introduced.  As a result, the planning that was put into the introduction of legislation is rarely re-evaluated since it happened at the beginning of the process.  One of the aspects of that planning that is often over-looked is the process of gathering co-sponsorships and that a genuine strategy needs to be developed, rather than just trying to get as many as possible as fast as possible.  Because most issues aren’t going to lead the 6:00 news or become the point of major partisan policy, what determines their success or failure is the plan that is put in place at the beginning.  To avoid getting bogged down, buried in a committee schedule, or become part of the partisan debate, a plan needs to be in place from the beginning that keeps these factors in mind when soliciting co-sponsors for your topic.

First, figure out where you are, where you actually need to go legislatively, and how many co-sponsors you need to get there.  From that number, set your goal for 10 more offices than you need as your minimum in the House, 5 in the Senate.  Throughout the year members that support you are going to retire, resign, etc., and you want to make sure you have enough lee-way to still pass your issue. Knowing from the start how broadly you need to craft your legislation to reach your goal will make life easier down the road and give you guidelines for all the co-sponsor decisions you will be making.  If you make a deal that gets you one co-sponsor at the cost of not getting two down the road, it only makes sense if you are at or near your goal and not at the very beginning of the process.  Sticking with a goal will keep you from mortgaging the future for the short-term, a more temping thought in the heat of the moment that people expect.  It is an extremely dangerous game to start adding or subtracting things after introduction to get more co-sponsors and still keep the ones already on it happy.  REMEMBER: you don’t need everyone!  You just need enough to win and no one piece of legislation is ever going to make everyone happy.

Alright, so we have a number, how do we get to it?  Getting co-sponsors is a lot like throwing a party.  You’re going to want to make sure that everyone you want comes and, most importantly, you aren’t stuck with a bunch of pizzas by yourself at the end of the night. Therefore your first goal is going to be to introduce the bill with as large a number of initial co-sponsors as possible.  In every Congress thousands of bills are introduced, sent to committee, and die.  The initial co-sponsor offering and constant follow-ups are what is going to separate your legislation from those other dead pieces of legislation.

To do this, you’re going to have to consider the order in which to solicit co-sponsors.  First, who are the friends of your issue and of the legislation’s sponsor?  Consider those your first picks, they should be easy and added upon introduction.  Who is on pokies hard the committee of jurisdiction for the topic

?  Usually the Chair and Ranking Member won’t co-sponsor legislation in their committee, but you’ll want as many of the other members as possible, if for no reason other than they are easy to approach and “cold sell” as well as allowing potential legislative maneuvering later down the road.

Continuing on that train of thought, an often overlooked resource is the Congressional caucuses.  People tend to forget about caucus membership (even those who actually belong to the caucuses), as well as “axillary” committees, for example Veteran Affairs for an Armed Services issue.  Next, look at other members of the sponsor’s state or region of the country, especially if it is a rural issue.  Lobbyists.info’s US Congress Online database of members will allow you to quickly locate good targets, especially the ones that fall under more than one of your groups.

Another good target group are the Freshmen Members.  They tend to be “cheap dates” as they are eager to get their name out, do favors, and like being asked to help more than some of the more senior offices do.  Finally, seek out the more “popular” members.  People in leadership positions tend to make the issue “safe” for the rest of their party and makes recruiting other co-sponsors easier.  Using the party analogy, people will often ask “is XYZ on it” when first contacted and you want as many people out of the gate since it is easier to keep the ball rolling than it is to jump-start it.

So while that gives you a good list of targets, there are a few pitfalls to avoid.  First, make sure you don’t go heavy on either Dems or Reps early.  Try to keep the ratio as close to even as possible and it will be much easier to recruit on both sides.  Stray too far to one direction and you might pick up the “partisan” tag when it isn’t necessary.  Same thinking for regional issues, make sure everyone isn’t just from the Mid-West or cities.  Also, avoid anyone who might be seen as “toxic,” which I loosely define as “would you cringe if you saw their name next to your issue in the paper.”  Very controversial members can sometimes cost more co-sponsors when other offices see their name attached to an issue than having their one co-sponsorship gains.

Keep in mind, even though adding their name to a bill doesn’t technically “cost” a Member anything, they are free to co-sponsor as many pieces of legislation as they want, most offices are hesitant to actually co-sponsor anything without getting something in return.  This is primarily for two reasons.  One, co-sponsoring something is basically a favor and it is rare in DC that favors are done without getting something in return.  Two, because so many bills aren’t successful, offices feel that the odds of any one thing going through are low so why support a failure?  Get ready to hear “we can’t help now, but come back when you have the required number and we will join then.”

After all, success has many fathers while defeat is an orphan.  A good co-sponsorship strategy will often lead to an overwhelming victory, as it is not uncommon to see something like 90+ Senators on a winner.  However, a poor effort with no plan or momentum will add yet another “Cosponsors (12)” tagline to the thousands of other lost bills on Thomas.

zp8497586rq

Contacting Members of Congress? You’re Not the Only One.

Friday, October 14th, 2011 by Autumn

A new Congressional Management Foundation report entitled “Communicating with Congress How Citizen Advocacy is Changing Mail Operations on Capitol Hill“ found that constituents are contacting their Congressmen far more frequently than they were 10 years ago: Senate offices reported a 548 percent increase in mail volume since 2002 (including one office that experienced a 1,422 percent jump), and representatives in the House received 158 percent more mail.  Despite receiving overwhelming amounts of constituent mail, 90 percent of congressional staff surveyed still say that constituent communications remains a “high priority.”

Offices that embrace technology find responding to constituent communication much easier than those that don’t, but the report found that in many cases, “‘old school’ habits on Capitol Hill are inhibiting the potential for Congress and citizens to have a more robust, active and meaningful relationship using online technologies.”  In the past, many offices refrained from sending emails, resorting to phone calls and snail mail instead because they were afraid their messages would be altered.  Even still, 86 percent of congressional offices are answering email messages with emails, a rise from 37 percent in 2005.

However, if you’re feeling like an office isn’t getting much done, or is taking forever to respond to your scheduling request, it’s because staff is also spending an increasing amount of time sifting through the influx of constituent mail.  The survey found that on average, staff spend 58 percent of their time on constituent communications, and 46 percent say they have had to shift resources to manage the increased mail volume.  Response time seems not to be dependent on the request: 42 percent of staff surveyed say it takes more than three weeks to draft and approve a response to an issue that previously has not be raised, and 41 percent say they need “more than a week to respond to a constituent email even if a prepared text response has been drafted and approved.”  All of this with the same resources; Congress has not increased office staff sizes since 1979.  In 2009, Congress debate a high number of high profile issues, and as a result, offices also experienced the greatest jump in constituent communications that year.

Senior managers in congressional largely believe that the biggest challenge they face as it pertains to responding to constituent mail is mail volume (35 percent), but 41 percent of “mail staffers” state “the review and approval process” is the mostly responsible for the delay.