GETTING YOUR VOICE HEARD
As an American citizen, you have a constitutional right to participate in the development and administration of the nation's policies--including its postal policies. As a member of this industry, you can and must play a key role in our industry's legislative and regulatory affairs programs. Indeed, your participation is vital to our organization's advocacy in your behalf. You are a key link to those legislators who can help us achieve our advocacy goals. You make a difference when you communicate your views to Members of Congress, because elected officials listen to their constituents. If they don't, they don't remain "elected" officials.
No more important source of information is available to a Member of Congress than the people who live and work in his or her state or district. Constituents present more than just general concepts and abstract themes--they offer personal experiences and observations to help to make the abstract more concrete. Senators and representatives are elected to Congress to serve all who live in their states or districts, not just those who voted for them.
As an American citizen, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to inform yourself on public issues and express your opinion. Indeed, our government functions best when its citizens are educated about the problems that confront the nation and are active in seeking solutions. Only through such participation can individuals control their own destinies, rather than be subject to the whims of others.
Apart from understanding how things work in Washington, it is essential that you understand that effective advocacy and responsible citizenry means being prepared to communicate your perspectives on policy issues that affect your interests in a clear and timely way. The local company president, union or association leader, and those with widespread (and positive) contacts such as local politicians, clerics, and physicians have an especial importance in Washington because they influence opinion back home.
Whether you believe it or not, you are important. As former House speaker Tip O'Neill put it: "All politics is local." Your voice adds the local touch. Associations can present testimony, meet with Capitol Hill legislators and staff, and provide information and assistance in your behalf, but the effectiveness of their voices takes on even greater significance when they have the support of their members, i.e., the constituents of our elected Members of Congress.
To have the greatest possible influence on policy making in Washington, it is essential that you do all you can to establish relationships with your elected representative and senators to ensure they recognize and attend to "your local" interest. To do this, you need to be in touch with your senator and representative--most especially when legislation or other policy matters are about to come before them.
As an old hand once put it, Congress legislates for those it sees. Your job, as a responsible member and leader within this industry, it to make sure you're among the "seen." Keep in mind that you can help your members of Congress do their job better by communicating your views on issues that matter to you. Through your personal experiences and professional expertise, you are well positioned to explain to your representative and senators the likely effects any legislative or policy decision will have on your Member's district or state.
There are many ways in which you can make your thoughts and perspectives known. Writing letters, sending mailgrams and telegrams, making phone calls and personal visits, and arranging group meetings are typical ways in which constituents get their messages across.
COMMUNICATING BY LETTER
A personal letter to your senator or representative is a very effective way of communicating your views and influencing your legislators' perspectives. Although representatives receive hundreds of letters each week, and senators hundreds each day, your letter can have an impact. Representatives read a significant portion of their mail personally and senators ask their staff to select the most interesting and revealing letters. Congressional offices keep a weekly and in some cases daily count of how their mail is running on particular issues. Your letter can make a difference. Here are some general principles that should guide your letter writing.
Use your personal or business stationery. If you use your business letterhead, make it clear that your views are your own and do not necessarily represent those of your employer--unless they do. A clearly legible handwritten letter is acceptable, but in most cases a typed letter is preferable.
Address your letter correctly. When sending congressional mail, address letters as follows as appropriate:
The Honorable John Smith
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Smith:
The Honorable John Jones
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Rep. Jones:
Identify the subject of your letter clearly. Don't just state the name and bill number of the legislation to which your letter refers. When we ask you to write, this information will be provided to you. If it hasn't been, ask for it.
Clearly state your reason for writing. Explain how the issue affects you, your company, those you employ, your industry, or its effect(s) on your community or state. The primary mission is to convey your understanding of how a given piece of legislation will affect you and your related business concerns, and to advise the Member of Congress on how you as constituent wish your concerns to be addressed.
Don't send form letters. You want your Members of Congress and their staffs to take an interest in you and your concerns. That interest has to be earned. Sending a form letter means that you really don't want to spend much time and your concerns really aren't that great. Remember that Congress too has one of the finest "lettershops" in America. Send 50 form letters, and you'll get 50 form letters back.
Write using your own words in your own but carefully phrased style. Be brief but not terse. Be positive and specific. Avoid stereotyped phrasing that may make your letter look like a form letter or the product of an organized pressure campaign.
Be respectful and dignified in what and how you write, and be reasonable with your requests. Present the best arguments in favor of your position and ask for their consideration. Don't ever, ever threaten. Don't even hint "I'll never vote for you unless you do what I want." You needn't remind a Member of Congress of electoral consequences. But do ask for action and a statement of the legislator's position in reply. The legislator knows where you stand. As a constituent, you have a right to know his or her side.
Don't pretend to wield vast political influence. Write your Members as a constituent, not as a self-appointed spokesman for your industry. On the other hand, if you really are an industry spokesman, be sure to say so.
Be sure to sign your name yourself over your typed signature at the close of your letter. Nothing will destroy the effectiveness of your letter more than having someone else sign your letter and note so in the signature block.
Remember--when it comes to legislation, timing is everything. When you are asked by your association to write, do so as soon as you are notified.
If you get a satisfactory reply, thank your legislator. It's important to let him or her know when you are pleased, and when you are not. Give credit when it is due. When it is not, you are entitled to an explanation.
When you write, don't tell your legislator that you're writing at the request of your association. But do be sure to send a "blind" copy of your correspondence to the association's headquarters, i.e., one that does not show on your letter to your Member of Congress that a copy of your letter has been sent to the association.
Don't become a pen pal. Some congressional offices don't bother to count mail from seemingly tireless letter writing constituents.
MAILGRAMS, TELEGRAMS, AND E-MAIL
Mailgrams, telegrams, telexes, and e-mail are an effective way to let Members of Congress know where you stand--but less so than they used to be.
Traditionally, because of the cost, constituents only used electronic communications when there wasn't time to send a letter. Members of Congress paid great attention to them because it was felt-- and studies confirmed--that only politically active constituents with intense feelings on an issue would pay for a relatively expensive communication. As the cost of electronic communications has dropped, however, so has their impact.
In fact, while most Members have computer system designed to allow them to receive constituent e-mail, these messages are treated with varying degrees of attention. Members know that any interest group with a computer and a mailing list can generate electronic mail--or mailgrams, telegrams, and telexes, for that matter. Use electronic messages only when there isn't time for a letter.
COMMUNICATING BY PHONE
Telephone calls can be very useful to a constituent who wants to make his views known to a Member of Congress, although one is almost certain to talk to staff. Telephone calls can be used when there isn't time for a letter. If you don't know a Member of Congress' phone number, call the Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121, and ask to be connected with the Member's office.
A phone call is more personal than an electronic message and usually has more impact. They can also be used to learn where a Member of Congress stands on an issue, which a constituent can incorporate into a follow-up letter.
Frequently, Members will have two responses to an issue, one for supporters and one for opponents. Opponents receive a return letter that is as gracious and polite as it is vague. But if you call and discuss an issue with a Members' staff, you will probably be able to sense which way your representative and senators are leaning, even if they are still "uncommitted" or "studying the issue."
Be sure to do your homework before you call. You may end up talking to an aide who specializes in an issue. But remember, part of their job is to answer constituent inquiries. If you truly want to talk to a Member rather than staff, get a group together and try to set up a prearranged conference call. A question-and-answer session, conducted from the privacy of a Member's Washington office, is often convenient. But everyone should do their homework and know the arguments in opposition to as well as in support of their views.
Remember: Members of Congress debate issues at great length with opponents of great skill; in a dialogue, they have as much of an opportunity to persuade you as you have to persuade them. A representative from your local phone company can help you arrange conference calls.
Meeting a Member of Congress or a Member's staff face-to-face is the best way to present your views. While it may be difficult to arrange a one-on-one meeting with a representative or senator, it is always worth the effort.
Know Your "Audience." Before you attempt to meet with your Member, learn all you can about his or her stands on issues that are critical to your interests. Be familiar with his or her background, education, and experience. You want your Member to know where you are "coming from." Spend a little time getting to know where he or she will be coming from.
Learn a little about your legislator's staff. In many cases, they can do more to help get you and your legislator together than anyone else. The importance of the Administrative Assistant (AA) and the Legislative Aide (LA) cannot be overemphasized. Legislators cannot keep on top of every issue. They rely on the AA and the LA to stay informed. The AA knows the legislator's schedule, knows when he or she might have time open to see you. In some cases, the legislator may have an appointments secretary in charge of controlling and monitoring access.
Members of Congress maintain constituent service offices back home. These offices usually have full-time secretaries, and sometimes other professional-level personnel. These people also can help. They are in daily contact with the legislator's Washington office and can provide you with up-to-the-minute information on events and activities you need to know about. They can be most helpful in arranging appointments when the legislator is at home during a congressional recess.
Congress traditionally convenes shortly after New Year's Day, although Members often shuttle back to their states and districts in January. Usually, a ten-day recess is scheduled around Presidents' Day, Easter, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July.
Congress normally goes home around early August and reconvenes after Labor Day. A four or five-day break is taken for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Columbus Day. Congress adjourns in early October in election years in order to campaign. In the nonelection years, Congress rarely ends its session before early to mid-December.
One way to meet Members of Congress is to invite them to address an audience, preferably to answer questions, which requires less preparation than a speech. Almost any kind of organization can play host.
Scheduling the Meeting. To set up a meeting with your member, call his or her Washington or regional office to inquire how you can arrange a meeting. Be flexible with your schedule. If you aim for a traditional congressional recess, you have a good chance of meeting your Member of Congress while he or she is back home. Always remember, though, that if the Member is unavailable, it still will be worth your while to meet with his or her staff at a district or regional office, or at the Member's Washington office.
Sometimes, you can improve your chances of meeting a Member face-to-face by arranging group meetings. Typically, with the proper advance planning, a representative is willing to meet with a group back in the district office and a senator is willing to meet with a group visiting the Washington office. To get the ball rolling, simply call your Member's Washington office, ask for the Administrative Assistant or appointments secretary, and inquire how the meeting can be arranged.
Do Your Homework. Getting an appointment to meet is, of course, only the first step. If you wish a meeting to serve your purposes, you must investigate thoroughly the issues which you wish to discuss, pro and con; you must think about how best to express your views in the forum in which you are meeting; and you must be prepared to discuss issues with a politician--someone who has likely acquired great skills in dealing with people.
You'll need to do some homework before you meet with your senators or representative, and there are several points you should keep in mind to help make your meeting as effective as possible:
Prepare a list of questions or issues to be discussed. Your time and the time of your legislator and his or her staff is valuable. Use that time well by focusing on the business at hand. A planned agenda helps promote a personal dialogue on the issues.
Know the facts. Be sure that the facts you have are accurate. Everyone likes to be right, and there's no better way to ruin a relationship than to embarrass yourself or your legislator or his or her staff member by giving out incorrect information. Know who else supports your position, and know who opposes it. Be familiar with what the other side is saying.
Establish your credibility. Once a legislator believes in and relies on your accurate facts, your honesty and your integrity, you become a valuable resource for your member of Congress.
Leave a fact sheet with the information you want to impart to your legislator with his or her staff. The information should be in simple, understandable terms and should be as succinct as possible. Each legislator is inundated with thousands of pieces of information, so make it as easy as possible for your legislator. Our staff can help create an appropriate "fact sheet" for your use.
Be sure to drop a note of thanks to your member or his or her staff for taking time out of a busy schedule to meet with you.
ARRANGING A VISIT AND TOUR OF YOUR FACILITY
Members usually welcome the opportunity to meet with large numbers of constituents. You can arrange to make this possible by inviting your Members of Congress to visit and tour your place of business, and by arranging for them to meet with your executives and employees. Getting your representative and senators to tour your facility can provide you with an invaluable means for "getting your message across." Getting them on-site will give you the chance to give them a good sense of what your business does and your business' value to your community as a source of local employment.
Arranging an on-site visit, however, requires good advance planning. You can't leave anything to chance. Our staff can help walk you through the process of arranging such a visit--including providing you with the kinds of briefing papers that are essential to such visits--but here are a few of the steps you'll need to keep in mind.
- You need to put your invitation in writing. Suggest a number of possible dates and times. Be flexible. You may have to bend over backwards to accommodate your schedule to that of your guests.
- Don't be discouraged by a "No." Ask when your Member of Congress is next expected to be at his or her home state or district office, and see if you can arrange something around that schedule. Extend your invitation over a couple of months before you throw in the towel.
- If you get an affirmative response, be sure to call your Members' local or Washington office to discuss the arrangements for the visit. Find out how much time your legislator will allow for the visit, and tailor your planning accordingly.
- Determine whether arrangements will need to be made to get your Member to your facility. If he or she is arriving by plane or train arrange to meet them personally at the airport or train station.
- Schedule and plan the visit meticulously. Be sure to plan and have ready an agenda for the visit. Know where your guest will be and when he or she is expected to be there.
- Be a considerate and gracious host. Stick to your schedule! Don't run over time. Your Member is an extremely busy person. His or her time is valuable. Most Members like to stay in touch with their offices while on the road. Alert your switchboard of your guest's presence. Be sure his or her messages are taken with great care, and provided to him or her with dispatch.
- Have your senior executives available to greet and brief your visitor.
- Be sure to have refreshments available. Check to see if your guest prefers coffee, tea, soft drinks, or water. Nowadays, people are particular. If the length of the visit extends beyond noon, arrange for a luncheon meal. Again, be sure you know your guest's preferences.
- Arrange a short briefing session to explain your company and the nature of your business, and to provide an overview of what your visitor can expect to see and learn.
- Have ready "key" facts about your company and industry, i.e., the number of people you employ; the size of your payroll; the kinds of employment related benefits the company provides; the federal, state, and local tax dollars your company pays each year; the amount your company contributes locally through its purchases, contributions to charity, and support for local causes; special programs (educational benefits, on-the-job training courses, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, literacy training programs, etc.) that the company offers to its employees; information on your environmental and occupational safety and health programs, and so on.
- Be sure to "involve" as many of your employees as you can during the tour. Don't just have your executives serve as hosts. Be sure to involve your general workers in the tour and process as well. Most employees are very proud of the work they do. By their enthusiasm, participation, and pride, they'll be able to tell your Member more about the importance of your company to them and their families then you ever will.
- Arrange to photograph the visit. Provide copies of the photos taken with company executives and employees to the Member and to your employees.
- If you have a company newsletter that is distributed to your employees and/or customers, publish the photos taken and report on the tour in the newsletter. Develop copy that will be flattering to your guest. Be sure to send a copy of the newsletter to your Member.
- If you are a major employer within your town, discuss with your Member's staff the suitability of developing a press release on the visit for distribution to your local newspaper. The Member of Congress who doesn't relish good press has yet to exist.
- Schedule a short, executive session with your Member after the tour is through. Use this as the occasion to discuss your particular legislative or postal policy concerns. But don't pass up the chance to supplement this executive session by delivering a subtle "sales" pitch on issues that are of vital importance to you and your business while you and your guest tour the facility.
- Have prepared a packet of materials that summarizes the particulars about your company and the advertising mail industry, and materials that highlight your particular legislative and postal policy concerns. Our association staff can help you with the latter.
- Follow-up the visit with a personally written letter of thanks. Offer again to assist your legislator in any way. Finally, stay in touch with your legislator after the visit. If you've got a company newsletter, provide his or her office complimentary distribution.
EXPANDING YOUR LEGISLATIVE INFLUENCE
Here are a few other things to keep in mind that can help you expand the sphere of your legislative influence. Always remember that your employees and colleagues are "constituents" too. So too are their families and friends. When an issue is important enough to involve you, it's also important enough for you to try to involve them in the issue as well. The numbers of letters and phone calls a Member of Congress gets on any issue matters a great deal. You can maximize your impact by maximizing constituent response.
CAMPAIGN SUPPORT. Nowadays, running for office is a very expensive proposition. The cost of some House congressional campaigns are now reaching and exceeding the one million dollar mark, and most senatorial campaigns are well above the million dollar level. Raising money for the next campaign is an obsession within Washington, and campaign fund raising is becoming a never-ending proposition.
These an old Latin saying: "Manus manum lavat." It means: "One hand washes the other." It's a way of saying that important people tend to remember the friends who helped make them important people.
Consider being the hand that washes the other by contributing to your representative's and senators' political campaigns. You can do this by contributing personally, by arranging for contributions through the association's or your company's political action committee (PAC), or by arranging campaign fund raisers with the support and participation of your family, colleagues, and friends.