Legislators respond best to the people they represent. Any legislator will tell you he or she would rather hear from a constituent than anyone else. Members of Congress depend on ABC members like you to tell them how proposed legislation or regulations will affect the construction industry, your district and especially your company and its employees.
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COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR REPRESENTATIVE
Communication by Telephone Calling is a great option when immediately trying to convey your opinion. Call a member of Congress’ office prior to an important vote to remind him or her how you would like them to vote. Congressional offices almost always count the number of calls received for and against certain pieces of legislation, and consider these calls an informal gauge of their constituents’ opinions. For example, with regard to the card check legislation, one Senate office told ABC that it had received 25 calls supporting the bill for every one call against the bill.
While it usually is best to put your views in writing to your legislators, when a vote is scheduled to take place immediately, calling your representative’s office is a very effective way to make your views known.
Some points to keep in mind:
- Unless you are a personal friend of the legislator, it is not necessary to speak directly with him or her. You can leave a message about your concerns with the individual who answers the phone, or, better yet, with the legislator’s staff member who handles the particular issue in question. Try not to argue. Just express your opinion. Say why you feel the way you do, and state what action you want your legislator to take. “I am against H.R.100 because it will cost my business more than $1,000 extra per employee each year– this is something I just cannot afford. Please let Representative Smith know that I urge him to vote ‘no’ on this bill.”
- Seek assurances that the message will be transmitted to your legislator, and request a response in writing. “Would you please pass this message directly to Representative Smith, and also send me a letter about his views on the bill?”
- It is very important when calling a legislator’s office to remember these cardinal rules:
- Be sure to give your full name and address.
- Keep your call short and to the point.
- Your legislator’s number is available through the ABC Action app.
- Communicating by fax and email is acceptable. When a bill is coming up for a vote, and there is not enough time for a letter or personal meeting, email and fax are the fastest ways to voice your opinion. The guidelines listed above for writing letters apply to these forms of communication as well.
Lobbying Do's & Don'ts
Dos . . .
Do know who represents you. You can obtain this information from the Illinois State Board of Elections. Keep phone numbers and addresses handy. ISAE Legislative Directory is also a great source.
Do identify yourself by name and organization when talking with an elected official.
Do state a clear and concise message. Avoid board statements and focus on what action you are asking for such as vote for HBXXXX
Do explain why the issue is important to you personally. If possible, link the issue to a personal experience or a situation in the elected official's district.
Do be aware of previous actions the official has taken on the issue.
Do get to know your elected officials. Make an effort to appear at town meetings and other events, and be sure they hear you ask at least one question on your issues at each event.
Do get to know and develop a working relationship with key people. Legislators listen to opinion leaders, so work with them whenever possible.
Do join forces with other types of groups that may have the position as you even if for different reasons.
Do wear many hats. When lobbying legislators, identify yourself as a parent, businessperson, campaign contributor, or fellow church/club/team member.
Do work with legislative staff. They often have more knowledge of the issues, can give you vital background on the legislation's outlook, and have clout.
Do get involved in legislative campaigns. Volunteer to work, place a campaign sign in your yard, hand out leaflets, or otherwise help get someone elected.
Do learn how to work with your local press by developing a relationship with reporters and editors.
Do respond to action alerts. Alerts are usually sent when legislation is close to passage or in a precarious position, so your action can make a tremendous difference.
Do provide feedback to your organization. This helps the organization determine the effectiveness of strategy.
Don'ts . . .
Don't threaten or antagonize a legislator even if he or she deserves it. If an elected official opposes your viewpoint, but respects you and bears you no animosity, you may find common ground in the future on another issue. But if you make an enemy, that person may take extra steps to defeat the bill your support.
Don't make enemies. Today's city council member can be tomorrow's governor.
Don't refer to bills by their numbers alone. Describe the issue and why you ar for or against it.
Don't fail to listen to the elected official's comments and questions on an issue. If he or she asks how a bill will impact jobs, or medical care, or the budget, you'll know where her concern is focused. Find ways to address those issues.
Don't ever lie to or mislead a legislator - trust is essential for a working relationship.
Don't overwhelm a legislator with too much information or paperwork. They don't have time for it. Provide them with whatever is key to their efforts and be ready to supply any other needed information.
Don't be inflexible. Sometimes we have to compromise. Learn legislative strategies that might save a bill otherwise destined to die, such as sunset provisions, grandfathering clauses, and placing provisions into a regulation instead of a statute.
Don't forget to thank someone who was helpful. Whenever possible, let your membership know how helpful the person has been.
Don't use terms or abbreviations that may be unfamiliar to an official without explaining their meaning.