A GUIDE TO CONDUCTING THE CONGRESSIONAL MEETING
We ask that State Leagues take responsibility for meeting with their Senators. Local Leagues are responsible for meeting with members of the House of Representatives. Local Leagues that “share” a representative should work together to plan and attend the meeting together, if possible. State League presidents may wish to help coordinate this process and ensure that every member of Congress is covered. In addition, if you do not know if other Leagues have members in your representative’s district, or if you need contact information for those local League presidents, please contact LWVUS Grassroots Lobbyist Christina Hildebidle at email@example.com or 202-263-1328.
Meetings should be conducted so that you can complete the reply form by February 1. Most members of Congress will be in their home states or districts in December and for part of January. After your meeting, you may submit your reports easily on our website.
Setting Up The Meeting
The traditional format for the League’s congressional meeting is to have a small group of League leaders meet with the elected official to discuss specific issue areas and provide information on the League’s stand on each issue. The League president attends the meeting with others appointed by the president and board. These in-person meetings usually elicit more nuanced views from the Representative or Senator than he or she might share publicly.
To set up an appointment, call the district office (regional office for Senators) and, as the president of your League, make a request for a half-hour meeting with the Representative or Senator. You may find contact information for your official on the LWVUS website. It is possible that they will tell you there is no time during the recess but you should be persistent. If they still will not allow you to meet with the actual official ask for time with the Chief of Staff. If you have a relationship with a staff member in the office, that person might be helpful in arranging a meeting. However, in some offices, only the scheduler will make meeting appointments. Some offices might ask that you send a meeting request by fax or email.
Preparing for the Meeting
It is important to be well-prepared for the meeting. If more than one person is attending it is advised that you agree beforehand who will take the lead, who will take certain questions, etc. No more than three or four people should attend the meeting – two or three is ideal. Everyone who goes to the meeting should know the questions and background material well. Attendees may want to write the list of issues on a small “cheat sheet” if you are concerned about forgetting one. While it is generally better not to work from paper, it would be worse not to cover all of the issues!
The more you know about your legislator, the better able you will be to develop an effective strategy for this meeting. Know something about the Representative’s or Senator’s biographic history, campaign platform, party affiliation, committee assignments, and position on the subject of the questions. One option is to find news clippings or a member’s website by searching online. Also, talk with League members who may be knowledgeable the official’s background.
Some things to consider:
• Has the Representative or Senator traditionally been for or against the League’s positions on campaign finance reform? Where does he or she stand on other issues of concern to the League?
• What are the legislator’s own priority issues for the 112th Congress? What have been his or her priorities in the past? Review the information available on the Internet, and consult with other leaders in your League or community.
• What is your legislator’s career history? How was political power achieved? Who or what constituency groups does the member listen to? What have been the sources of the MC’s campaign funding?
We hope that these suggestions are helpful whether you are a first-time or an experienced lobbyist. However, if you would like more guidance, feel free to contact LWVUS Grassroots Lobbyist Christina Hildebidle or your state League president. We also encourage you to consult with other League members who may have met with your member of Congress or other elected officials.
During the Meeting
During the meeting, try to assess how much your Representative of Senator knows and cares about the issue. Provide some background for the question, if you sense the need. Also remember that this is a great opportunity to point out the League’s basic purpose as a nonpartisan, political organization and to build a good working relationship. Here are some other tips to consider:
• Congratulate a returning member on re-election and a new member on his or her election.
• Thank returning members for past support on any League issues. Keep the door open for further discussion, even if their general attitude is negative.
• Keep in mind the members status and positions on issues. A newly elected member may need to hear more about the League, while a fifth-term official may be encouraged to take a leadership role on an issue of mutual concern.
• Do not read the questions or leave the list of questions or any background materials at his or her office.
• It is fine if the conversation wanders to other issues, as this can be enlightening and build rapport but be prepared to redirect the conversation back to the question at hand.
• Try not to take notes, as it might seem more like an interrogation than like a discussion of issues. But do remember what is said. It is often helpful to take notes immediately after the meeting.
• Be a good listener. Allow for response and elaboration. When the response is interesting, say so. Demonstrate that you appreciate his or her side of the issue.
• Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if a question comes up that you are unable to answer. Such honestly is usually appreciated. If you find that elusive answer later, you can follow up to share your knowledge. That way you, and your League, might become a “source” on that issue.
• Leave the office with a friendly feeling, even if you disagree. Remember that the primary purpose of the meeting is to strengthen the lines of communication. The emphasis should be on exchanging views and information.
Don’t forget to report back to the LWVUS shortly after you conduct your meeting. There is an easy, interactive form on the LWVUS website for you to complete. The information you gather will be valuable to our lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., and it is helpful to hear back as soon as possible.
Also after the meeting, you should send a note or email of thanks to the Senator or Representative from you and your League.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact LWVUS Grassroots Lobbyist Christina Hildebidle at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-263-1328.