Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lame Duck Session

It is an interesting time in Washington, a time that comes along only a couple of times in a decade.  In a few weeks a new Congress will be sworn in and a new President will be moving into the White House.  People all across town are trying to prepare for whatever changes come in the new Trump Administration.

This jockeying extends to the current 114th Congress and the changes from the recent election are impacting how this year finishes.  Decisions must still be made about government funding for FY17, which is currently under what's known as a Continuing Resolution (CR). That CR will run out on December 9th, which means that the government will shut down if the deadline isn't extended. Whether to extend the CR and for how long is a decision that will be made by current members of Congress, whether re-elected or not. This is what's known as a "lame duck" session.

Members of Congress will be working in their districts this week, as well as observing  Thanksgiving.  They will take up this issue of the CR upon their return to DC.House and Senate Republican leadership believes the best course of action is to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) until March 31, 2017, giving the new Congress, and new Republican President the chance to vote on the FY 2017 federal spending.House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) confirmed this approach in a comment the week of 11/13, saying  “The bottom line is that we must fulfill our constitutional duty to responsibly fund the federal government, and do right by the taxpayers who have elected us. To this end, my Committee will begin working immediately on a CR at the current rate of funding to extend the operations of our government through March 31, 2017."

So keep an eye out for what happens with the CR in the next few weeks. The battle over FY17 funding issues -- whether now or in the coming session -- will give us a sense of how stormy the relationship between Congress and the incoming administration will be.

-- By Jeff Kratz, Contributing Author, The Sower Group

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Go Out and Vote!

Just a friendly reminder, don’t forget to go and vote on November 8!!

The absolute most important act any grassroots advocate can do is to research the issues, research the candidates, and vote in every election. Needless to say, this election cycle has been more frustrating than probably any other in recent memory, however failing to vote negates any subsequent grassroots action undertaken. Your right to vote gives you the power to have your say in the direction of our nation. As the old cliché goes, “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” 

No matter whom you’re voting for on Tuesday, spend some time over the next few days to research the issues and go vote next week. Make your voice heard!

Monday, October 31, 2016

What Frightens Grassroots Advocates…and what you, a Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator, can do about it!

It’s late October, the World Series is underway, the leaves on trees are changing color and Halloween is just around the corner. This is that one time of year when we allow ourselves to be frightened in the name of fun. We attend parties dressed up as zombies, pay money to go to haunted houses or just stay at home and stream B-horror films where the acting is as fake as the blood. This once-a-year ‘season of scare’ always comes to an end, but for grassroots advocates, the fear of taking your message to Congress can last for 12 long months.

With the white marble hallways, media cameras, and pages and pages of bills, laws, and regulations, Capitol Hill can be as intimidating as the scariest haunted house - even to the most seasoned lobbyist. 

For many grassroots advocates, meetings on Capitol Hill can foster up images of Lt. Colonel Oliver North grilled by Members of Congress at committee hearings, investigating the Iran-Contra affair during the summer of 1987. Fortunately for grassroots advocates, we are not covering anything up, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill really want to hear what we have to say.

Our role as Grassroots Advocacy Coordinators is to ease these fears.  To do this, we need to prepare and inform our grassroots advocates of their upcoming experience. As a Coordinator, your role isn’t to confuse your advocates about the complicated federal appropriations process or the interworking of a particular department or agency. Your job is to make their job easy. 

Whether it’s advocacy from your home state or in Washington, DC, at a coordinated “fly-in,” there are really only 3 things grassroots advocates need to know:

1.  Their personal story. Any good grassroots advocate needs to have a personal story.  Grassroots advocates must know how the implementation of a policy or law impacts them in the real world. Lawmakers need and want to know this information to do a better job making laws for people they serve. If grassroots advocates can effectively tell their personal story and make the case that a policy or law will impact that district and the constituents, lawmakers will listen. No one can make that case better than grassroots advocates who live in that district.

2.  The Ask.  An “Ask” is what an organization collectively decides to request from their lawmaker. Grassroots advocates need to know what to ask during their meetings. The Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator must communicate that “ask” to the advocates and ensure there are no lingering questions.

3.  How to find their government relations team. Grassroots advocates need to know their organization’s government relations team and how to contact them. This way, if a lawmaker or staff asks a grassroots advocate a question during a meeting, the grassroots advocate can put them in touch with the government relations professionals to better answer (and give a correct answer) to the question.

Grassroots advocacy shouldn’t be frightening. Coordinators can prepare grassroots advocates with 3 simple items to eliminate the fear of advocating to lawmakers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Speaking the Code: What do all those Congressional terms mean?

For those grassroots advocates who have been taking their message to Congress for any amount of time will quickly come to understand that Capitol Hill is a subculture of the Washington political world. As with any subculture, Congress his it’s own terms and lingo. To be a better grassroots advocate, it is sometimes helpful to have an understanding of what these terms mean and how to best use them when speaking with legislators. Below is a list of a few Congressional terms that maybe helpful to grassroots advocates. Information is taken from senate.gov and for a more in-depth glossary of Congressional terms, please click here.

Appropriations: A bill that provides funding for federal programs.  Must be passed every year.

Authorization: Legislation that establishes federal programs or policy. Does not fund established programs.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR): Is the codes and rules of the federal government. Published in the Federal Register.

Committees: Subsections of the Congress that works on assigned issues of jurisdiction.

Companion bills: Similar legislation that is introduced in by the House and Senate often in a coordinated effort to gain support.

Conference: Selected Members of the House and Senate who meet to resolve differences between two versions of a bill that have passed their respective chambers.

Continuing Resolution (CR): Legislation that funds the federal government for a short amount of time when a full year appropriations bill has not been passed. A CR will fund the federal government at the previous fiscal year level unless otherwise stated.

Dear Colleague Letter: A letter sent between Members of Congress. Dear Colleague Letters are often used to ask for support of an issue or to share information on an issue.  

Discretionary spending: Spending in which Congress can determine the direction of the funds. Discretionary spending is split up between defense discretionary spending and non-defense discretionary spending.

Entitlement spending: Federal spending that Congress does not annually determine. Examples of entitlement spending are Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Executive Orders: Is an order issued by the President that has the force of law.

Markup: When Congressional committees or subcommittees meet to consider legislation.

Political Action Committee (PAC): An organization regulated by the Federal Election Commission that raises and contributes to Congressional and Presidential candidates.


Written by Jeff Kratz, Guest Contributor, Sower Advocacy Group

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Getting the most out of Social Media

We made it! It’s the 21st Century and the future is finally here.  While we don’t have flying cars or time travel just yet, modern advancements still impress us everyday. One innovation during this young century that can both impress and confuse many of us is the development and popularity of social media. Social media has changed the way we communicate with each other, leading to a seemingly smaller world with easier access to information. 

How can grassroots advocates use this new 21st Century technology to advance our policy goals?

Today, everyone from teenagers to grandparents use social media.  The popularity of this new communications medium, combined with its inexpensiveness, has become a helpful tool for Members of Congress to connect with their constituents. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or another platform, you’d be hard pressed to find a congressional office that isn’t on social media. 

Here are a few things YOU can do to connect with legislators over social media (after you learn their basic functions):

1.  Use Twitter and Facebook to get your issues in front of Members of Congress. Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents. They want to know what’s on the minds of the voters who will potentially re-elect them. Therefore, “tweeting” (posting on Twitter) about research papers, news articles, one pagers, or questions at Members of Congress helps them know the issues that matter to constituents. This is an excellent way to get your issues in front of Congress.

2.  Thank Members of Congress via social media. Everyday, all day long, constituents, lobbyist, and advocacy groups are asking Members of Congress for something. By tweeting at a Member of Congress or posting on their Facebook page, advocates can show Members of Congress their appreciation for their action. This communication will set you apart from other advocates, and help Members of Congress recognize you the next time there is an issue you want to influence.

3.  Use social media to show positive action. After you meet with your Member of Congress or staff, or your Member of Congress or staff attends an in-district event or site that supports your issues, make sure you tweet to your elected official’s page or post on Facebook about that action. Congressional offices like the free publicity of meeting since it shows that they are working for their district. Also, it reinforces the importance of their activity with your association/group.

Using social media can be an effective tool in your grassroots strategy. Importantly, social media is inexpensive and can reach hundreds, thousands, or even millions, of people.   

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What advocacy can I do in the closing days of the election?

Finally, after 19 months, this election is about to end. In three weeks, the robocalls, non-stop super PAC ads, and constant mud slinging will all be over and America will be headed to their local polling place to select the direction this country for the next few years. But, in the mean time, what can grassroot advocates do in the 11th hour of this campaign?

We’re not only selecting a new President, we’re also selecting whom we want representing us in Congress.  One-third of the U.S. Senate is up for re-election and all of the U.S. House of Representatives are facing the voters on November 8th. Even if you live in a district or state without a competitive race this fall, you can still make your voice heard.  Now is the time when elected officials are listening to their constituents more than ever. You have a perfect opportunity to voice your support for your cause. These are a few ways how:

1.   Attend campaign rallies for both candidates. If you are in a district with a competitive race, chances are that both the Republican and Democrat candidates are holding daily rallies and meeting with voters. Attend these rallies for both candidates, even if you have already made up your mind on how you will vote. If you get to meet the candidate or have an opportunity to ask the candidate a question, take the opportunity to bring up your issue. If a candidate hears enough about a particular issue, they will remember it when they get to Washington.

2.   Write a Letter to the Editor. Write a Letter to the Editor in your local paper. Highlight the issue you’re concerned about and challenge both candidates to form a position on this issue. Candidates read these papers, and your letter can help make your issue an issue in the campaign.

3.   Vote! The most important thing you can do is go vote on November 8 for the candidate you feel will most likely support your cause once elected.      

This long election is almost over. However, there is still time for grassroot advocates to make an impact and shape this campaign, setting the groundwork for legislative activity in the upcoming Congress. Formulate your strategy to make an impact in your local community that is felt all the way to Capitol Hill!

Written by Jeff Kratz, Guest Contributor, Sower Advocacy Group

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Influencing the Regulatory Process


Let’s talk about another important branch of government that advocates must deal with.  The bureaucracy is part of the executive branch of government, often serving as the point of contact between the public and the executive (Mayor, Governor, President, etc.) While I know the stereotype of a government bureaucrat is someone with a certain attitude that exudes “lack of helpfulness,” most of these public servants really do want to help people.  Unfortunately, many of them are caught in internally created “intransigent bureaucracies.”
What? Our government is supposed to have bureaucracies? Chances are you thought they were an unfortunate side-effect of runaway government spending. In fact, a bureaucracy is simply “A formal, hierarchical organization with many levels in which tasks, responsibilities, and authority are delegated among individuals, offices, or departments, held together by a central administration.” They are the structures that executive branch agencies use to ensure that the policies passed by the legislature are properly implemented.
The problem with bureaucracies is that sometimes the people in and around them become more committed to the rules and regulations governing programs than they do the actual benefits of and original reasons for the programs themselves. This creates the tunnel vision that leads to the problem of “intransigent bureaucracies.”  One recent example is the EPA’s regulation of spilled milk, under which milk used to be treated on par with oil. One might say that citizens, the agencies and Congress were LITERALLY “crying over spilt milk.” 
So how can an advocate make a difference in this environment? Here are some ideas:
·       Participate in the executive agency’s public comment process: Almost all executive agencies, from your local Department of Water and Sewer to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, are required to offer an opportunity for public comment whenever they propose a change to their rules. Anyone with an opinion is allowed to file a comment and anyone with an informed opinion based on some level of expertise may actually be heard. Agencies actually review these comments pretty carefully and may use the more provocative and trustworthy information to make changes to what was originally proposed.  You can learn more about the process (and even submit comments!) at http://www.regulations.gov
·       Work on the executive agency through your elected representatives: Your local, state or federal representatives have an amazing ability to gain the attention of agency officials – mainly because these agencies rely on the legislative branch for their budget. Utilize your own amazing power to be heard by your elected officials to enlist their assistance in “cutting through” the red tape.
·       Contact the media: Reach out to media outlets, whether local, state, national, or internet-based.  Journalists love a good story, and may very well run with a piece on the executive agency’s policy.  Such public exposure can change a bureaucratic policy. Just be sure you know what you’re talking about!
The lesson here? Instead of beating your head against the wall of the “intransigent bureaucracy,” look for the most effective ways to apply your true power. Consider the example of the recent water pollution crises in Flint, MI. This was brought to the attention of the world through the actions of just one person -- a Flint pediatrician named Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She’s taken great steps toward exposing failures on the part of the state and federal government to deal with her city’s lead-contaminated water supply.  Her story (as told by the American Academy of Pediatrics) is a powerful example of how an ordinary citizen advocate managed to be heard in the executive branch process. .  Try the methods I suggested the next time you have a problem with executive “red tape.”.  You may be surprised at the results.

  - Written by Stephanie Vance, Advocacy Guru