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How to lobby
by Debra Danburg
Policy making, goal setting, and sharpening issue positions are the proper concerns
of our feminist organizations. And we can
be as democratic, as informal, and as non-
hierarchial or as non-manipulative as is
humanly possible in our internal deliberations. But if our group decision is to influence the legislative process, we must
secure people who can play the "good ole'
gals" game, and we must trust their judgement and cooperate with them to the
We are not the average lobby, with the
average lobbyists. Possibly 98 per cent of
the influence peddlers who haunt the
halls, restaurants, and bars of the Capitol
are middle-aged men in three-piece suits
and western boots. Many are former legislators, and most are being paid over
$20,000 per client, with several accounts
per session. Their idea of "grassroots support" is the $500 or $1,000 campaign
contributions that their clients paid to
each legislator. They would be embarrassed to ask for an appointment without
the security of these "door-opening,"
By contrast, the public interest contact person . . . the "people's lobbyist,"
is often young, a woman, and outrageously underpaid.
This one paid staff person is often required to train the hiring support groups
in lobbying techniques, coordinate constituent response through the organizational "network," and choreograph all
committee hearings which affect their organizations' interests.
The most important resource available
to a public-interest or an issue-oriented
lobbyist is the people who support their
issue(s). Without money and favors to attract a legislator's interest, the only remaining lever is popularity.
Public opinion is an abstract commodity by comparison, but legislators can be
made to respond to their constituents,
provided that the pressure strategically
placed on the official is in a manner
which cannot be ignored or overshadowed.
Knowing who needs pressure, when,
and in what form is the most important
function of the lobbyist. Targeting swing
votes, focusing support energies, and providing "problem" legislators with just the
right "excuse" to vote with us are the
most important things our lobbyist can
do. For all legislators to receive random
letters is far less impressive and influential
than to have the four "swing votes" on a
critical committee receive all 2,000 pieces
of mail on an issue.
For that mail to be influential, it
should be in the form of personal letters,
especially when sent to one's own representative. The most ineffective thing that
one can do to influence a legislator is to
send him/her a random form letter or petition.
Suggestions for an effective personal
• State that you are a constituent/voter/
supporter (if true).
• Cite specific bill numbers, so that staff
members can better find and trace them.
• Give personal examples and creative
arguments that might lend new light to an
old subject, but keep it short and concise.
• Ask for a response. This insures that
the letter will be read and filed. Make the
responses available to your lobbyist when
your correspondent is committed or remains a swing vote.
% If you plan to visit your legislator,
state your intentions.
Another real attention getter is carefully timed and targeted telegrams. Few
people can help but yield to the pressure
of 50 to 75 telegrams from local constituents, especially when they all come the
morning of the vote.
A personal visit to the Capitol is best.
It demonstrates dedication, and the sort
of committment that is irresistable to
most elected people. Clearly, anyone who
would go to that trouble also stays abreast
of issues, follows voting records, votes in
almost all elections, and probably would
be a likely volunteer in the future. Grassroots supporters can provide what no
amount of lobbyists' money can buy, and
that is dedication and fervent support.
If you plan to visit the capitol, here
are some tips to make your visit effective
• Dress as if you were going to court or
to a job interview. Your issue is more important to you than your freedom of attire.
• Study the voting record of those
whom you will visit. Be informed.
• Be polite and friendly with administrative aides. They read your letters and are
informed on the issues and their employer's position. If they like what you have
to say, they can insure an audience with
the elected official, and can even call
him/her off the floor to meet you. They
will communicate how well-informed and
active you are.
• Represent your organization, when
possible. Go with the power and influence implied in the numbers of a well-
• Stick to your one issue. Do not allow a
person to ignore you simply because you
disagree on another unrelated or even collateral issue. Do not debate, argue, intimidate, or threaten. Do not get offended by
ignorance on your issue, or by sexist language. The only way to handle such a
comment without being detrimental to
the primary goal of vote-securing is to
politely and quickly change the subject.
• Lobby with a realistic time frame. Often the time of a hearing changes. Be prepared. Be realistic. Plan an overnight stay
• Beyond a doubt, the most influential
way to lobby is to produce personal visits
by a major contributor, known campaign
volunteer, or personal friend of the legislator. Naturally these people will just
make more sense and seem more rational
than others, because they have already established points of credibility and agreement.
We must play by the rules. The "rules"
represent 100 years of pink granite "good
ole' boy" tradition that no one group or
issue can topple in one legislative session.
Remember, the rules are not the issue,
the ISSUE is. Stay focused. Keep targeted.
Subrogate all collateral concerns to the
issue. We cannot fight on all fronts, if we
want to win.
Debra Danburg is a third-year law student
and is currently in Austin serving her second legislative session as Administrative
Aide to State Representative Ron Waters.
Breakthrough welcomes your expression
of opinion on issues of interest to our
readers. Please send your Opinion (typed,
double-spaced, maximum length 1000
words) to Breakthrough, P.O. Box 88072,
Houston TX 77004.