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How to Write Your State Legislator | Tips on Meeting with Your Elected Official
Know Your Legislator | How to Succeed in Lobbying | Do's & Don'ts of Lobbying
Ten Commandments of Citizen Lobbying

How to Write Your State Legislator

Every legislator is sensitive to grass-roots opinion. He/She keeps in touch as closely as possible with voters in his/her district. Letters from constituents, which arrive every day at his/her home or in Springfield, are one of the best indications of what those constituents are thinking about. 

  • State your position — Explain how a bill would affect you, your family, your firm, or even your state or community. 
  • Thoughtful, sincere letters on issues that directly affect the writer get the most attention. Such letters are often quoted in committee hearings or in debate. 
  • Be brief and to the point; discuss only one issue in each letter; identify a bill by number and title if possible.
  • Use facts — Arguments that cannot be substantiated are dismissed. Be sure of your facts, but do not overload the letter with them. Facts tend to validate your letter and illustrate that you have given a lot of thought to your position.
  • Use your own words and your own stationery. If you are writing as the representative of a group, use the organization’s stationery. 
  • Be reasonable — Do not ask for the impossible. Don’t tell a legislator to vote your way “or else.” Do be firm, confident and positive about your position. 
  • Use human terms — Make it your own letter: write in your own style. Avoid using legal jargon. 
  • Keep it short — Write your letter about one issue. If you are concerned about three issues, write three letters. This makes your letter easier to read and your position easier to understand.
  • Ask for a reply — Indicate to your legislator that you would appreciate a reply containing his/her position on the issue. As a constituent, you have a right to know how your representative feels on an issue.
  • Do write when your legislator does something of which you approve. Legislators hear mostly from constituents who are against something; this gives them a one-sided picture of their constituency. A note of appreciation will make your legislator remember you favorably next time you write.
  • Do write early in the session before a bill has been introduced if you have some ideas that you would like to see included in legislation. If you are “lobbying” for or against a bill and your legislator is a member of the Committee to which it has been referred, write when the Committee begins hearings. If your legislator is not a member of the Committee handling the bill, write him just before the bill is to come to the floor for debate and vote. 
  • Do write the chairman or members of a Committee holding hearings on legislation in which you are interested if you want to. However, remember that you have more influence with legislators from your own district than with any others. 
  • Do write the Governor after the bill is passed — Indicate to your legislator that you would appreciate a reply containing his/her position on the issue.

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Tips on Meeting with Your Elected Official

The following tips were written for communicating with Representatives and Senators, but they are helpful guidelines to remember when you are meeting with anyone you hope to persuade or inform. 

  • Present your case. Explain what you want your Legislator to do and why.
  • Give examples of the impact proposed legislation will have on your home state or district.
  • If you do not know the answer to a question, offer to find out and send information back to the office. Make yourself available as a resource person.
  • Do not expect members of the State Legislature to be specialists; their schedule and workload make them generalists — open, we hope, to listening.
  • Do not confront, threaten, pressure or beg.
  • Keep control of the visit. Do not be put off by smokescreens or long-winded answers. Your appointment time is limited.
  • Do not make promises you cannot deliver.
  • Find out if your Legislator has heard opposing views. If so, find out what the arguments are and what groups are involved. Find out if there are other key Representatives or Senators you should contact. Ask for your Legislator’s assistance in accomplishing your goals.
  • Spend time with your Legislator even if his or her position is different from yours. Sometimes you can lessen the intensity of opposition.
  • Leave a brief opposition paper or fact sheet in the office when you leave.
  • Follow up every visit with a thank you note and share your reflections on what you felt about the meeting
  • Evaluate the meeting - what went well, what happened and what did not happen.

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Know Your Legislator

  • Study, Study, Study.
  • Know your legislator’s party, expertise, geographical area served, and committee assignments.
  • Take time to get to know your legislators personally.
  • Be aware of political ideologies. It helps to research legislators’ past votes and the positions taken on issues.
  • Remember, locally, you are the most effective legislative advocate.
  • Make sure you are the best advertisement for your firm. Be professional.
  • Get to know the legislator’s district staff.
  • Use the district office so they think of you when they are seeking information or they need a favor.
  • Invite your legislator to tour your firm.
  • Extend invitations to your legislators to take part in anniversary celebrations, dedications, golf events, annual conferences and other noteworthy events. Issue additional invitations to legislative candidates during campaign years. They are especially willing to accept invitations to events that offer good exposure.
  • Invite your legislator to lunch.
  • Send legislators your firm’s brochure and include them in your VIP mailing list.
  • Provide recognition and publicity for a legislator who assists your firm in working toward a goal.
  • Provide your legislator with a calendar of your firm’s meeting dates and extend an open invitation to attend any meeting. Follow up with a courtesy reminder call about the meeting each month.
  • Work for candidates who support legislation favorable to the defense bar. No greater connection to your legislators can be created than through helping with their elections. Donate money. Donate time. Organize activities, stuff envelopes, ring doorbells, etc. Give legislators opportunities — both during the campaign season and during the off-season — to be present at industry or company functions and events.
  • Make sure that your firm is a good advertisement for the defense bar.
  • Communicate during the off-season.
  • Remember all politics are local.

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How to Succeed in Lobbying

  • Know thy legislator.
  • Listen to your legislator.
  • Keep your legislator aware of issues.
  • Be persistent.
  • Understand the legislative process.
  • Cultivate friends in key staff positions.
  • Remember the sphere of influence strategy.
  • Build grass root support.
  • Know your subject matter.
  • Document your position.
  • Be brief, succinct, and sincere.
  • Be considerate.
  • Ask for your legislator’s support or response.
  • Gain media support.
  • Follow through on commitments.
  • Remember, “timing is of the essence.”
  • Recognize legislators for their efforts.
  • Support your legislator at election time.
  • Do not threaten or burn bridges.

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Do's and Don'ts of Lobbying

DO look for friends in unusual places. In politics, a friend is someone who works with you on a particular issue — whether a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — even if that person or group opposes you on every other issue.

DON’T promise anything you cannot deliver. Your word is your bond.

DO know the legislative calendar and its constraints. Far too often constituents meet with their lawmakers to request legislation to alleviate some problem within their communities — only to find out they have missed the deadline for new legislation. Lawmakers will respect your opinions more if it is obvious you understand the legislative process and its constraints.

DON’T lie or mislead a legislator about the relative importance of an issue, the opposition’s position or strength, or any other matter.

DO know when to contact your legislators. Never assume that your opinion will not matter on a piece of legislation. Lawmakers need your input. Never forget that your constituents are also their constituents. To be an effective lobbyist for your community, you need open lines of communication with your lawmakers.

DON’T cut off anybody from contact. Do not let a legislator consider you a bitter enemy because you disagree; today’s opponent may be tomorrow’s ally.

DO know when “not” to contact your legislators. Every effective lobbyist knows not to “go to the well” too often. Not every piece of legislation will devastate your community. It is essential for your lawmakers to recognize that when you call, it is important. Never both them with trivial matters.

DON’T get mad. ‘When you are crossed politically, don’t get mad. Get even.” (Bobby Kennedy) The power of ballot box is yours.

DO provide lawmakers with accurate and factual information. Never use incomplete, outdated or simply inaccurate information when presenting your case. If your lawmakers do not believe your information is credible, your pleas will fall on deaf ears.

DON’T threaten your lawmakers — either implicitly or explicitly. You do not like to be threatened, neither do they. Never imply public reprisals from “back home” if a lawmaker does not support your position. No tactic can permanently close lines of communication faster.

DO make certain you communicate a unified position. If your lawmaker has reason to believe that your position does not represent a unified position within your community, your efforts will carry little weight. Convince your lawmakers your position represents as many groups and organizations as possible.

DON’T waste time on opponents who are publicly committed to their position. It is more productive to shore up known allies and to lobby legislators who are least committed or who claim to be neutral or keeping an open mind.

DO understand your lawmakers. If a lawmaker disagrees with your viewpoint on certain legislation, do not be quick to criticize. Remember that lawmakers must represent all of the constituents within your area, not just you. Many lobbyists have found out too late that burned bridges, stay burned. Successful lobbyists build bridges, not bum them.

DON’T gossip. Knowing legislators’ peculiarities and peccadilloes is one thing; talking about them is another. Remember that discretion is the better part of valor.

DO share the spotlight. No lawmaker appreciates doing most of the work to correct some problem in your community, without sharing in the credit.

DON’T forget to notice and thank anyone who has helped you. The “good ole boy/good ole girl” system is alive and well.

DON’T grab credit. “Nothing is impossible if it does not matter who gets the credit.”

DO carry a rabbit’s foot. In lobbying you can know your opponent; you can develop imaginative and reasonable compromises; you can bum the midnight oil to digest all the arguments; but it can all go right down the drain if you don’t have a little luck.

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Ten Commandments of Citizen Lobbying

  1. Know your facts; express them accurately and positively. Facts and figures matter; so do sources. Never misrepresent your opponent’s view. Long-term credibility is more valuable than short-term gain; it helps you win the war even though you may lose the first few battles.
  2. Know your opposition. Identify your opposition early. Analyze your opponent’s position and attempt to neutralize it. This analysis is as important as your own case. Carefully prepare rebuttals to your opponent’s views.
  3. Correct errors immediately. When many individuals participate in a lobbying campaign, errors can occur. Anticipate them. Carefully follow policies regarding individuals authorized to speak for the group.
  4. Plan, coordinate, and follow-up on each lobbying contract- Carefully plan your approach to each legislator. Know the role s/he is about to play in the outcome of your issue before you make contact. Keep careful notes about meetings and follow-up with a brief summary letter to the official you visited. Develop networks of friends in the legislature, including staff and other lobbyists, and keep them informed of your activities. Thank those who have helped you.
  5. Avoid being a zealot. No one is impressed by fanatics. Credibility is enhanced by a reasoned approach supported by your commitment to the issue.
  6. Cultivate your allies; make sure they do their part. Work in coalition with groups that share your concerns on a particular issue, even though they may differ on another issue. Articulate and agree upon mutual goals, strategies, and tactics. Unlikely allies are the surprise ingredients in many successful political outcomes.
  7. Know the legislative process. Good intentions are no substitute for knowing how a bill becomes a law. Know the key players, the role of leadership, the folkways, customs, and timing of the legislative body. Cultivate and revere those who have developed such expertise in your group. Consult with them often.
  8. Be knowledgeable of Illinois ethic laws. Lobbying campaigns can be expensive.
  9. Grow thick skin. Taking a position can often evoke criticism. Do not take it personally. Although lobbying is serious, do not take your self too seriously. Above all, maintain a sense of humor. Lobbying can be fun.
  10. Win. Dedicate yourself to winning. Dream of it, plan for it. Believe in yourself, your group, and your issue. This is what give you power as a citizen lobbyist. Share the credit with everyone who helped. Be gracious to your opponents. They may be your allies on another issue.

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