Friday, December 01, 2006

This and That

A couple interesting pieces in the Washington Post this morning got me thinking about the challenges Congress is facing as the Democrats take over.

First of all, there was a somewhat poignant piece about Congressmen moving out of their office. In "Out go the Congressmen" Lyndsey Layton follows the difficult process of Curt Weldon and his staff moving out of their Capitol Hill office by today -- even though Congress is still in session. In addition to boxing everything up, responding to inquiries, voting and all the regular work of Congress, all of the staff will be looking for new jobs. All the outgoing offices will be provided one desk and one phone (for usually about 10 staff) in the basement of the Rayburn office building. It will be like a lame duck sweat shop down there. Not a very merry Holiday gift. It's just a reminder that there's a very human side to the reorganization of Congress that we all should keep in mind.

Second, E.J. Dionne had an insightful piece about the true "Democratic Power Struggle." He notes that the "Old Bulls" coming in to chair the Committees have been around since before Clinton, before Gingrich and the 1994 takeover and before all the "Young Turks" who might expect Congress to be run more openly and, well, democratically. The incoming chairs are used to almost complete authority over the legislative process within their jurisdiction. They likely won't take kindly to interference from "outsiders" -- even within their own party. Pelosi will have an interesting time negotiating between these two groups to maintain unity and give the Dems a shot at maintaining their majority in 2008 and perhaps even winning the presidency.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Electronic Voting, the Wave of the Future

Washington, DC is in the dark ages when it comes to voting methods. We still do paper ballots AND the pencils they give us don't have erasers. What's up with that? If you make a mistake (as I did once) you can't erase the line you've accidentally drawn in. No, you have to shamefacedly go to the ballot clerk, admit your error and ask for a new ballot.

So while some jurisdictions are worry about electronic systems and fraud, I'm hoping that at some point we might be able to get erasers. Is that too much to ask?

The thing is that the next generation is going to be far more comfortable with an electronic system -- many of them probably haven't even SEEN a pencil. A recent article in the Washington Post bears this out. In "Young VA Voters Go High Tech," Tara Bahrampour tells the story of a student government election at an Arlington elementary school that was done entirely by computer (only kindergartners, who probably wouldn't be able to read the ballot, were given paper ballots with pictures). Most students agreed that it was much easier and less confusing than the old way.

How likely do you think they will be to tolerate our old-fashioned paper ballots? I think a revolution is afoot!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Reflections on the Elections

In November, 1994 I had the opportunity to be part of history when Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Of course, I was on the losing side of that battle: my boss lost his seat and I lost a job I loved. And I wasn’t alone. Most of the people I knew on the hill – from senior Committee staff to lowly staff assistants -- lost their jobs. Two-income families suddenly become no-income. Staffers with 19 years of experience took jobs as front desk staff to hang on to their pensions. Very few organizations off the hill wanted to hire Democrats and some people were out of work for months. And to top it off we saw dramatic changes being proposed to some of the institutions we’d spent years nurturing – from public broadcasting to welfare. It was a tough time.

Perhaps the Democrats had become arrogant and complaisant and deserved to be taken down a peg. Perhaps Congress needed a shake-up and some new perspectives. Nevertheless, as I boarded the long flight home from the campaign on the day after the election (wearing dark glasses to hide my red, puffy eyes) it was impossible to have such a philosophical perspective about the future. I was unemployed and potentially unemployable, as was almost everyone I knew – it was like the Great Depression had hit.

Today I’ll admit that it’s tempting to gloat. Now the “other side” is going to get a taste of what it’s like to reduce staff levels by 2/3rds and suddenly have everyone stop returning your phone calls. But gloating probably isn’t going to get any of us anywhere. If the American people “spoke” (as many people say they did), they said “let’s stop bickering like 12-year olds and actually do some real work.”

As to the exact nature of that “real work,” well, reasonable people will disagree. Some will consider dealing with the war in Iraq as most important. Others will want Congress to focus on increasing access to health care. Still others will consider ethics reform as the most important matter. The thing about “real work” is that it’s a little like pornography – it’s difficult to describe, but we’ll know it when we see it.

Clearly, it will take some time for the new leadership to sort out their priorities, and that’s where your efforts come in. Grassroots organizations have a golden opportunity in the next few months to let elected officials know what YOU think should be brought to the forefront. Elections serve as important reminders to “those people in Washington” that the people play a critical role in our American democracy. Newly elected members and incumbents alike are thinking about their constituents right now. Take advantage of this time to have your voice heard!

As always, tips on effective advocacy can be found on our resource page at You can also find the book on effective communication with Congress at

Go forth – and no gloating.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


'Nuff said... Check in tomorrow for some thoughts on the election

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Engaging those 20 Something in Advocacy

One of the chapters of the book I'm writing (E-scapism: We're Not Tuning Out, We're Plugging in) focuses on the relationship between e-scapism and citizen advocacy. And wouldn't you know it, but USA Today did an article on how the 20-somethings (variously known as Generation Y, the Echo Boomers and the Millenials) have been powered by the Internet to become involved in the world around them. The catch is that they're involved in non-traditional ways. Rather than doing boring things like, oh, voting, they might instead start an online petition or join an virtual community of concerned citizens.

Unfortunately, because our current measures of "political involvement" focus on very traditional ideas (being an active member of a political party, signing a paper petition, joining a boycott, etc.), we are inclined to think that the Millenials are disengaged. In fact, they aren't necessarily "disengaged." They're just "differently engaged." Where they are turned off by the negativity of traditional politics, they might be turned on by a social consciousness that is more broadly focused on helping the poor or bettering the environment.

So next time you think to yourself -- gee, those young people just don't care -- be careful. They may care more than you think. They're just expressing it in a new way.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Making politics fun again!

Over the last several decades, Americans have turned out for elections at a rate significantly less than European countries – or even our own past. In fact, in the 1800’s and 1900’s, turn out rates were around 65 to 80%. Today, we’re lucky fi we hit 40%.

Why is that? Well, part of it is, of course, ongoing dissatisfaction and disillusionment with politics. Negative campaigning turns some people off. Others think that politicians don’t really listen to citizens anyway, and have translated that into an idea that voting doesn’t matter (never mind that they certainly won’t listen to you if you’re not speaking -- but I digress). In still other cases, registration requirements, which were designed to limit some of the, umm, interesting practices of “voting early and voting often” or turning in ballots for those that were no longer among the living, have erected barriers to participation.

But what does it really boil down to? Voting just doesn’t feel fun anymore. Whereas 100 years ago voting on election day was a national pastime, today it feels like a chore. You have to find time to go to your local polling place, face quizzes from the workers as to your identity (are you sure you’re Stephanie Vance? What’s you address?), and then fill out the ballot in a very specific manner or face the humiliation of asking for a new ballot (yes, I’ve done that). No one feels inspired to go to the polling booth and then hit the local bar with friends to speculate, and argue, about the outcomes of the elections.

Perhaps our attention has been distracted by other forms of amusement (television, video games, etc.), and we no longer need to spectacle of politics to keep us entertained. But I wonder how a society that LOVES the World Wrestling Federation and Nascar can possibly find politics boring. Have you seen some of the fights out there lately? It’s better than a night of bare knuckle boxing.

This election day, think about what you can do to really enjoy the spectacle. Invite both donkey and elephant friends over for a party. Set up a system of tracking totals for both the House and the Senate. Award prizes for people who are closest in terms of guessing the final numbers.

Oh yeah, and vote!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Perhaps this is a Dog Bites Man kind of story...

... but, it appears that campaign ads are getting nastier and nastier. A recent article in CQ indicates that a number of factors have converged in 2006 to make this the most negative campaign ever. First of all, there's the fight between Republicans and Democrats for control of the House and Senate. Second, there's all the fodder that both parties have thrown toward the campaigns (either willingly or unwillingly) in terms of scandals and ethics problems. Finally, of course, there's the ongoing disagreement over the war and whether as a country we're doing OK or whether we're on the verge of a horrific terrorist attack or economic collapse. For the party in power, that's a fine line to walk. For the party out of power, it's been difficult to deliver a cohesive message on what their candidates would do differently.

Unfortunately, negativity seems to work, especially when campaigns are sophisticated enough to "narrow-cast" their messages in such a way as to reach segments of the population with specific negative messages that focus on what those individuals care most about. Campaigns have the ability to run ads that, for example, tell people who have self-identified as "concerned about security" how the "other guy" will leave them open to terrorist threats and attacks. That "gets them where they live" as it were, and is tremendously effective.

Check out the article online here:

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Politics of Marriage

Did anyone else see the really interesting USA Today article a few weeks ago on the "marriage divide" in politics? Turns out that the 25 districts with the highest percentage of married people are ALL Republican held and that the 25 districts with the lowest percentage of married people are ALL held by Democrats. Only ONE of the top 50 districts with the highest rates of married couples (and that's, ummm, traditionally married couples), is represented by a Democrat. That's pretty astounding and clearly indicates a "marriage divide."

Further, the Democratic-controlled seats also tend to have fewer traditional two parent households than the Republican-controlled seats, which explains why the parties talk about children's issues differently. Chris Cannon from, not surprisingly, Utah, has the most number of children in his district. The vast majority of them (84%) are in two parent households. In another district with a high number of children, Jose Serrano's in New York City, only 29% of the kids live in two parent households. This fact offers startling evidence as to why the two members talk about "family issues" in completely different ways.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Coming soon to a townhall near you

Congress is out of Washington, DC (I can tell, because there are more parking spaces), and its members are hitting the campaign trail hard. Now's the time for concerned citizens to check in with their elected officials to see where they stand on the issues you care about. I remember working on a campaign one election year, making phone calls to voters that had expressed strong views about gun control (they were for it, as was the candidate I was working for). I talked to one very nice lady who told me that she had already sent in her ballot and had voted for the other candidate. I asked her what other issues had changed her mind, since she and the candidate I was working for agreed on gun control. Her response? "Oh, I didn't know that. Is there anyway I can get my ballot back?"

Don't let that happen to you! If you fell strongly about an issue ask your elected officials and their opponents where they stand on that issue. You want to be sure to support the people that reflect your views and values.

You can find out about campaign events by contacting the campaign offices of the candidates. Information is usually available through your State Board of Elections or through a google search. You can also check in with the Democratic National Committee ( or the Republican National Committee ( for more information.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Evidence that the Personal Approach Works

Long time readers of the blog and related tipsheet know that I like to go on and on about how advocates should focus less on facts figures and statistics and more on telling a personal story. Well, an article in the Washington Post offers evidence for this assertion -- and suggests that the power of the compelling anecdote goes both ways.

Studies dating back to the 1930's have demonstrated that emotional appeals are essential to any winning strategy. The aticle notes the ". . . mordern research confirms that unless political ads evoke emotional responses, they don't have much effect. Voters . . need to be emotionally primed in some way before they will pay attention."

I know this will shock you, but elected officials are people too! They respond to the same types of emotional appeals. Consider that the next time you pick up a pen or sit down in front of a keyboard to craft a message.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What Leaders Do

My next edition of the tipsheet is out at and it offers up my 10 Principles for Effective Leadership. I'm including three of them here --

How did I start thinking about this? Well, recently, my husband and I became obsessed with HGTV’s “Design Star,” one of those – you guessed it – reality shows. In this show’s iteration of that time-honored format, the grand prize for the last-standing designer is the opportunity to host their own HGTV design show. Apparently, there aren’t enough design shows in the world right now. At any rate, it’s over and (spoiler alert) David won.

In the midst of the show, however, one of the other designers was asked to lead a project. She had some very, umm, interesting ideas about what leadership means. To her, it meant telling everyone they were a team, writing them a nice note, and then hoping the project would get done. It didn’t. But the episode made me think about what leadership REALLY means. And since leadership is integral to any grassroots advocacy organization, I thought I’d give you my 10 principles for leadership.

Here are the first three -- the remainder are at

1. Leaders Build and Present a Clear Vision: Leaders may not always be 100% sure of where they want to go. However, true leaders recognize that if they don’t have a clear vision, they need to work with others to build one before embarking on a project. True leaders also understand how to present that vision clearly and concisely so that everyone knows where the organization is headed. In applying this to the advocacy world, make sure you are presenting a clear vision of your overall goal, whether it’s passage of a bill, building a much larger and stronger network or world domination.

2. Leaders are Willing to Alter That Vision: If there are material reasons why the ultimate goal as originally outlined simply cannot be achieved, leaders will recognize that a change is needed. They will work with others to identify a new (and better) direction. For advocates, that means (for example) seeking a regulatory approach when a legislative avenue is closed. Or giving up on world domination and settling for peace on earth.

3. Leaders Are Benevolent, not Dictators: Many people believe they are “leading” when they bark out orders based on some plan for success that they (and only they) have in mind. They may say “well, I’m the leader and I know the plan, so people should just do what I say.” This is the “because I said so” approach to leadership. It didn’t work for your parents when you were 12. It probably won’t work for you now (except in a few high-pressure situations usually involving either the military or rent-a-cops). In the advocacy world, this translates into the “you have to do what I say, because I pay your salary” argument that some advocates make. Actually, if you live in a U.S. House district, you pay 1/750,000th of a House member’s salary. That 23 cents isn’t going to get you very far.

Want to hear the rest? Go to

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Voted!

At least, that's what the sticker says that I got from the polling place. Today was Primary day in Washington, DC, and I feel like the long siege is over. For those who don't know DC, a number of factors have come together this year to make it one of the busiest election seasons ever. First of all, DC has a long tradition of voting almost exclusively Democratic (something like 70% of registered voters are democrats). So, whoever wins the Democratic primary will usually win the election. All campaigning is done around the primary. Second, we have an open mayoral seat, an open seat for Council chair, and several open Ward council member seats. This has made it even crazier than usual.

For weeks we've been hiding in our house with the shades drawn to avoid the 4 to 5 people showing up at our door every weekend day to ask for our vote. Yesterday we had 13 phone messages -- all of the taped variety from various campaigns -- all deleted after the first 10 seconds (note to people doing taped calls -- tell us who you're calling on behalf of in the first sentence). Frankly, it was getting a little irritating. That's right, you heard me. The Advocacy Guru was irritated by the electoral process.

But today, as I navigated through the 20 people all huddled around the "no electioneering beyond this point" sign, I realized how lucky we are to live in a society were people care enough to irritate us for weeks on end. Regardless of whether we think their ideas make sense, are right for the community and fit with our values, we are truly fortunate to have so many people who care enough about DC to want to go through the grueling process of a campaign. When you think about it, that's pretty cool.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Congress and the Truth

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting article on research showing that -- prepare to be shocked -- Congressional debates often involve only half-truths and misleading statements. I know. It's hard to believe...

In fact, the research shows that about 75% of "factual" statements made during a debate are inaccurate. It is unclear whether members of Congress know that what they are saying isn't correct -- often they are relying on information provided to them from often biased sources. In addition, there is the issue of half-truths. During debate, members of Congress may tell only half the story, basically picking and choosing the pieces of information that help them make their point.

Many people will be shocked and horrified by this information, but I'm not sure why. The point of any legislative debate is to win, right? Why would our elected officials be any different than any other organization or business trying to get their message across? Does Coca-cola say "oh, by the way, too much caffiene and sugar can be bad for you." They don't want you to make an "informed decision." They want you to buy their product.

We may wish that Congress and other deliberative organizations were different, but the reality is they aren't. And as long as there are human beings involved (and winners and losers) it's going to be pretty much the same. That's why it's critical for citizens and interested organizations to get as much of the correct information out there as they can.

I just hope they didn't try to measure the accuracy of statements like "I have great respect for the gentleman from [insert name of state here]." I think those are probably true even less of the time...

To see the article, go to

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Have You Bugged Your Congressperson Today?

After a very restful two weeks away, I came back to a pleasantly quiet Washington, DC. No one's in town. Almost every e-mail I send out comes back with an out of office reply. It's actually quite nice.

But what quiet in Washington DC really means is that members of Congress are wandering around outside the beltway spending time in their districts and states. They'll be back in DC next week so that gives you only a few more days to try to connect with them while they're at home. Why would you want to do that? Well, a number of decisions about important policy and funding issues will be made in the next few months -- decisions that may impact you and the issues you care about. It's always a good idea to try to grab the attention of elected officials when they're at home to be sure they remember what they're supposed to do (or not do) when they get back to DC.

Try checking their websites at and or call their district offices to see their schedules. You may find that there's a town hall meeting or other get together already scheduled that you can be a part of.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Newest Tipsheet Posted / What if Congress Engaged?

I hope you'll take a minute to review my newest tipsheet at In it, I talk about how you can actually do something with the do nothing Congress. Take a look!

In other interesting (hopefully) thoughts on the Advocacy front, I was talking in my other blog ( about the newest, fasting growing sites on the Internet, and what they have in common with one another. Essentially, they all seek to engage the user in some way, such as by finding and rating news stories ( or allowing users to create their own profiles and collect a network ( I was thinking... What if Congress figured out a way to do that? What if, instead of worrying about logic problems and math puzzles, members of Congress figured out a way to use new technologies to let constituents rate what problems they think are most important or what solutions they think are most viable. Sure, it sounds like fancy polling, but what it really might do is give real live people a way to become more engaged in the policy process. Perhaps, just like people are flocking to (their subscribers are doubling every day), people might flock to a real, viable site where they actually have some say in what government is thinking.

Someone get on that, OK?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Incumbents Losing!

When incumbents win easily 95% of the time, it is news when three incumbents go down or are threatened on one primary day. Yesterday, Connecticut, Michigan and Georgia, among other states, hosted their primaries. In those states, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), she of cell phone throwing fame, was defeated, along with Rep. Joe Schwartz (R-MI), a moderate Republican. And, of course, the big news was Senator Lieberman's (D-CT) defeat based largely on his support of the Iraq war.

Pundits are all acquiver about what this means for November. Is there really a seething electorate out there that is eager to "throw the bums out?" It's hard to say. In each of the races that incumbents lost yesterday, one can certainly see extenuating circumstances based on the individual politics of the region and the candidates' own foibles. Perhaps is McKinney could keep her temper, she might still be in office -- and this isn't the first time she's lost. Perhaps if Schwartz were a little more conservative, he would be more appealing to his rural, conservative district. And perhaps if Senator Lieberman had been opposed to the war, he would have kept Democrats with him.

Nevertheless, what these primaries do point to is a stronger willingness on the part of voters to try someone new, and less of willingness to vote for the incumbent "just because." It will be interesting to see how that plays out in November.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Congressional Attention Span

There is a really interesting new study available at regarding the use of computers to track phrases or packets of words in the Congressional Record. The researchers describe in their report their method for assigning computers certain words to track and then measuring the use of those phrases in comparison to other phrases. Essentially, what the scientists have achieved is a means of finding out what members of Congress are talking about and how those topics change over time. For example, "Judicial nominations" is the most used phrase, while "abortion" has been on the decline. The findings also offer interesting insights into the perspectives of members of Congress. According to the authors "[t]he most interesting meta-cluster is the substantively odd “regional” grouping of energy, environment, agriculture, and trade. Exploration of the language used here shows that these are topics that divide rural and or Western senator from the rest – distributive politics at a different level of aggregation."

Note that the overall report is very technical -- the most interesting findings for practitioners start around section 4.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Do Nothing Congress

If current trends continue, this Congress will have the distinction of meeting less and having fewer voting days in decades. In fact, it will have fewer voting dates than the infamous "do nothing" Congress of 1948. With the House gone until after Labor Day and the Senate leaving soon, members are focusing more on connecting with their districts than with passing legislative initiatives.

But is this really such a terrible or unexpected thing? On the one hand, it would be nice to see Congress a little further along with its appropriations bills (none have made it all the way through the process, and the fiscal year ends September 30th). On the other hand, those who attack Congress for its lack of progress on legislation fail to recognize one important fact -- "passing laws" is actually not the "end-all, be-all" of being a member of Congress. Congressional sessions should not be judged on how much legislation was actually passed -- in many cases, members of Congress play a more important role in halting legislation than in moving it forward.

Consider the wide array of activities in which members of Congress and their staff are involved besides passing legislation:

* Meeting with Constituents to hear their views, both in Washington DC and the District
* Working to bring federal dollars and projects to their districts
* Working with federal agencies on questions about implementation of laws
* Shedding light on domestic and international problems and concerns (through the hearing process)
* Responding to the thousands of requests for information that flood into their offices
* Learning about complex societal issues, such as emergency preparedness or homeland security
* Publicly stating their views on issues that matter to their constituents

In addition to all this, they must spend a great deal of time outside the office campaigning for re-election! As such, it's no wonder, and perhaps not such a tragedy, that Congress hasn't passed a lot of legislation.

If you want to read more about the "do-nothing" Congress, check out this Washington Post article.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

MP3 of "Government By the People" -- This Week Only

I have just finished an MP3 version of my book, "Government by the People: How to Communicate with Congress" I am making it available for free to blog readers for one week at:


After that, I will be posting for sale at a price comparable with the hard copy price.

If you do download the MP3, please give me feedback on any errors you find in the recording. I know there are a few small "stumbles", let me know if those are highly irritating. I'm also interested in hearing about glitches, overlaps, weird cut-offs, etc.

Thanks, and happy listening!

Stephanie Vance

Thursday, July 20, 2006

National Journal Article on E-mail Logic Problems

OK, I just have to say that it seems weird to type the words "Congress" and "logic" in the same sentence :)

At any rate, in an article titled "Experts See Lawmaker Mismanagement of E-mail", National Journal reporter Winter Casey noted that "Congress needs to find ways to more effectively deal with citizens via Internet communications, a group of political technology experts said Wednesday." As noted in the story, according to Steven Clift, board chairman of, the fundamental issue is if Congress can "listen to its citizens in the digital era. . . Will they be overwhelmed and befuddled by e-mail or be respectful of it?" Alan Rosenblatt, executive director of the Internet Advocacy Center, was also quoted, arguing that typing your personal information to send an e-mail should be enough; there is no problem big enough that requires a quiz.

And, surprise, surprise... "Stephanie Vance from Advocacy Associates said citizens should not be discouraged from sending form letters but added that "advocacy groups need to educate their citizens" about the effectiveness of their various communications."

The interesting back story here is that this whole discussion happened over a very informal luncheon at the Rayburn Cafeteria. Steven Clift, a leader in the e-democracy world, was in DC and suggested that we all get together to chat. Well, the National Journal reporter was there for an interview with him and he graciously invited the rest of us to join in the discussion!

I hope I didn't have spinach in my teeth.

For more about Steven Clift, visit For more on Alan Rosenblatt, visit

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Tour de France

I have been sucked in to the Tour de France lately (blame my husband) and have been struck with its similarity to how things get done on Capitol Hill. I'm not talking just about the scandals (although both have certainly had their share). It's just interesting that it's such a strategic race -- as much about physical stamina as it is about smarts. Following are just a few interesting correlations:
  • You don't have to win a stage to win the whole thing -- it seems counter-intuitive that you could come in second or third or fifth EVERY DAY and still win the overall race. Yet that's the case with the Tour de France and it's often the case in trying to get legislative initiatives through the Congress. You don't have to get your initiative through every single step (from subcommittee to the House and Senate floor and conference committees), rather, you just have to get it in at key points and keep it there.
  • It doesn't matter that people are ahead of you -- what matters is WHO is ahead of you and where they are in relation to your time -- Floyd Landis (the current leader) isn't going to get concerned if some yahoo who is 28 minutes back in the overall classification gets 6 minutes ahead. He knows that he'll still keep the yellow jersey and will also keep some of his strength for assaults on subsequent days if he doesn't chase. But when someone who is closer to him in time gets ahead, that's a problem. And he's prepared to put the hammer down at that point.
  • Even if you don't win the whole race there are other prizes along the way -- the dizzying array of jerseys (white, green and, umm, polka dot?) make it possible for riders to specialize in sprinting or riding mountains or just being a good young rider (I wish I could specialize in being young). Likewise, in dealing with legislation, it is important to look for those "alternative victories" along the way -- especially since overall success is so difficult.
I'll be exploring these and other similarities between the tour and the advocacy process in my next newsletter. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 17, 2006

What Congress Really Wants

The Congressional Management Foundation has put together an interesting newsletter with lessons learned from the whole "Congress e-mail logic problem" situation. They make the very good point that both sides of the debate (both the pro and anti logic problem camps) feel strongly that they are promoting democracy. And, as CMF points out, both have something useful to say. For Congress, the point is that by reducing the number of "point and click" letters, where it's not clear how seriously the sender feels about the subject, they are allowing the more serious and concerned citizens to have their voices heard. Grassroots advocates (and, of course, the businesses that make money promoting advocacy) feel that the many new tools available have allowed more people to join in the debate, even if at a low-level.

The main lesson that comes out of all of this is that, one way or another, whether we like it or not, Congress is continuing to decrease the attention it pays to form letters. Frankly, it never paid much attention to them anyway -- it's just more obvious now. Grassroots organizations need to understand and adapt to this phenomenon if they are going to be successful in swaying elected officials. Form letters have their place, but that place is often not about making a difference in the political process. Generally, form letters do far more to help the organization learn about its membership than anything else.

To see the CMF's Newsletter, go to

Friday, July 14, 2006

Dogbert the Lobbyist

Scott Adams, the comic strip creator of "Dilbert" fame, has been running a series featuring Dogbert as a corporate lobbyist. You will not be surprised to know that the series is, well, not very flattering toward the political process (or dogs, for that matter). You can see some of the latest strips at

Believe me, I'm not going to get all righteous here and try to make the case that not everyone who lobbies is the next Jack Abramoff. What disturbs me is that many people reading these cartoons (and laughing) will think to themselves "gee, that really is true." It's perpetuating a negative stereotype which, I suppose, is part of the job of comic strip writers. If you find yourself inclined to giggle (as I do), remember that while this is humorous, the real story of lobbying in our nation's capitol is not reflected in Adams' panels. Frankly, Dogbert the lobbyist would be kicked out of any Congressman's office on his four furry paws...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Using Wiki for Advocacy

Although they've been around for years (think Wikipedia, the site where users can add to the general knowledge base on a topic), wiki's are finally gaining some respect, and can have tremendous application in the advocacy arena. The "command and control" approach to the Internet is making way for a process where users can more interactively engage in the content on the sites they use. Essentially, any site that has a Wiki plug in allows users to edit the content they see on that page. So, for example, if you want interactive feedback on a topic or to collaborate on a project, Wiki allows you to do so quickly and easily over the web. Like Blogs, there are a number of locations where you can set up a free Wiki site. Here's a listing from Wikipedia

Consider how you can use this entirely cool and free software to engage advocates in the process of understanding and sharing their views on the issues you're working on!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Congressional E-mail Folly

Some of you may have heard about recent efforts by Congress to address the influx of e-mail communications coming in to their offices by requiring that people solve simple math and logic problems before their e-mail will go through. If you haven't, you can read about it at

This will stymie, at least in the near term, many of the cyber-advocacy tools upon which associations and businesses rely. I'm not a fan of form letters -- personal, thoughtful communications are far more likely to receive the attention of your elected officials. I agree that people sending e-mails should demonstrate that they are constituents. However, I believe that requiring them to also solve math and logic problems (even simple ones) before sending an e-mail serves no legitimate purpose. True, it will shift out the truly concerned citizens from those that may be practicing "point and click" democracy (i.e., just sending form letters from a website). Nevertheless, as much as I prefer personal communications, I do not believe that constituents should be forced into sending only these types of communications.

I wrote a letter to the Washington Post on this issue, which was actually published!

Here's the link

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

We're moving!

As of Thursday, February 23, 2006, our offices will be at:

1640 19th Street NW
Suite #2
Washington, DC 20009

We are extremely excited about our move! I hope that you all like our new office as much as we do!

Advocacy Associates, LLC