The Top Ten Ways
How Not to Advocate for Your Business on Capital Hill
Every policymaker and his or her staff have tales to tell
about their, well, “interesting” meetings. Like those
businesspeople who start their pitch with, “you never agree with me
and always take money from the other side. I don’t even know why
I’m here. But do you think you could vote for this legislation?
What if I paid for your vote with a big campaign contribution?”
With a few notable exceptions, that approach is likely to get you
shown to the door – and quick.
Or how about those entrepreneurs who are outraged to meet
with a staff person instead of an elected official? They may say
something like “I have to meet with just you? Isn’t there someone
more important I can talk to? I don’t think you’ll be able to
understand this complicated issue.” Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like a
good way to make friends and influence people.
And then there are the large trade associations that
literally back policymakers in to a corner at public events, all the
while shaking their fingers and saying things like “We demand an
answer right now. After all, we pay your salary. You better do
what we say.” Again, while you may be thinking that, saying it is
not always the best way to get opinion leaders on your side.
Needless to say, this is no way to get your policy interest
heard on Capitol Hill. Yet businesses continue to believe that
offering to buy votes, being rude to the staff and overwhelming an
office with demands for answers works. With a new administration,
new Congress and, unfortunately, many of the same old problems, more
people than ever are expected to reach out to their elected
officials and staff people to discuss policy issues. If you’re
interested in making a difference, it’s critically important to know
what NOT to say to elected officials and their staff. Some of these
tips may surprise you!
Number 10: But I
thought my appointment was with the Senator. I don’t want to meet
with “just staff.” Never,
ever indicate that you are disappointed to be meeting with a staff
person. On Capitol Hill, having a good relationship with a staff
person can make or break your cause.
Number 9: Here’s
some reading material for you – our 300-page annual report.
with a member of Congress or staff person, try to limit your leave
behind materials to one or two pages, and include details on where
this information can be located on the web, if appropriate.
Offering the information in a file folder with your organization’s
name on the label will also help ensure that the materials are put
in a file drawer, as opposed to the round file.
Number 8: How much
of a campaign contribution did your boss get to vote against (or
for) this bill?
Believe it or not, most staff has no idea who
contributed to their boss’ campaigns. Not only is this question
insulting, but even if it were accurate, the staff person isn’t
likely to know.
Number 7: I assume
you know all about HR 1234.
With thousands of bills being introduced during each
Congress, no staff person will be able to keep them all straight.
Always provide information on the bill title, number and general
provisions when communicating with a Congressional office.
Number 6: No, I
don’t have an appointment, but I promise I’ll only take ½ hour of
Unless it’s an
emergency, or you are good friends with the elected official or
staff person, try not to engage in the dreaded “stop-by.” Most
staff are happy to try to set up a meeting if you are relevant to
the office (i.e., you are a constituent).
Number 5: No, I
don’t really need anything specific.
If you don’t ask for something – a bill co-sponsorship, a
congressional record statement, a meeting in the district, whatever
– some staff will wonder why you came by. Updates on your issue are
fine, so long as they are accompanied by a request. That will
ensure that someone in the office thinks about you and your issue
for longer than 5 minutes.
Number 4: What
you’re telling me can’t be right. I heard Jon Stewart of The Daily
Show say otherwise.
Jon Stewart is
hilarious. But the phrase “opening monologue” should be a big clue
as to whether you should take his assertions with a grain of salt.
Most staff, or members for that matter, won’t lie to you. They know
that lying will get them in big trouble. Sometimes, they may see
things differently than you do, but if they say a bill definitely is
not going to be considered on the floor, or if there is no such
legislation, I’d believe them. A perfect example is a petition that
was floating around the Internet about a House bill number 602P from
a Congressman Schnell that would impose fees on use of e-mail.
There is no such thing as either House bill 602P (that's not even a
possible number), nor is there a Congressman Schnell.
Number 3: We have
10 (or more) people in our group.
offices are tiny. If you have more than 5 people in your group,
you’ll be standing out in the hallway. Plus, having so many people
talking at once can dilute the impact of your message. Try to limit
your group to no more than 5.
Number 2: What do
you mean we have to stand in the hall?
See number 3. A request to meet in the hallway is
simply an indication of space limitations. Nothing else.
Number 1: No, I
don’t represent anyone from your district. I just thought you’d be
interested in what I have to say.
elected to represent their constituents. Period. If you are not
their constituent, you are not relevant to them. Some members do
rise to higher positions, but that just means they represent the
interest of other members, not the entire nation. Your time is
always best spent working with your own elected official and turning
them into an advocate for your cause.
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