Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 2012 House Calendar has been Published!

Great News! House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has just released the 2012 House legislative calendar. The calendar is important as it outlines when congress will be in session, constituent work weeks, voting limits, etc.

If you are planning on having a lobby day, be sure to consult this calendar before deciding on a specific day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Electoral College vs. The Direct Vote

With the Republican primary going into high gear, the 2012 elections are gradually taking center stage in the news. A few days ago, there was a Politico article that featured a Gallup poll showing a majority of Americans are in favor of changing the presidential election from the Electoral College system to a direct vote. Under the Electoral College, each state receives the same number of votes as Representatives and Senators and that represent it. Whoever wins the popular vote in a particular state, wins their electoral votes. Currently there are 538 electoral votes in the Electoral College; the extra 3 belong to the District of Columbia. Under a direct vote, the president would only need to win a majority of votes in the entire country.

Remember the 2000 Gore v. G.W. Bush Election? George W Bush went on to the become president even though Then Vice-President Al Gore won the voting majority of the country. Unfortunately for him, winning the “popular vote” does not capture the presidency in or Electoral College system. Bush won 271 electoral votes to Al Gore’s 266. Interestingly, this is NOT a frequent issue in presidential elections. This situation has only occurred in three previous presidential elections (John Q Adams 1824, Rutherford B Hayes 1876, and Benjamin Harrison 1888). That’s less than 10% of US presidential elections to date.

If the Electoral College was eliminated and the direct vote implemented, it is likely that large sections of the nation would probably be ignored during an election. All a candidate would need to win the election are the votes in the nation’s population centers and major cities. Because of this, it is unlikely that small and rural states would ever ratify a Constitutional amendment. With that in mind, if your organization is contemplating jumping into the 2012 fray, remember to not just campaign in areas with the most people, but in the “swing states” that seem to determine the next President.

***For more tips and strategies after the election, sign up for our FREE webinar, "Winning, No Matter Who Wins" on Thursday, November 15. More information here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It’s Halloween, Time to Put on Your Best Advocate Costume!

The air is turning crisp and cool, the trench coats and boots have been brought out of storage and dusted off, and it’s almost time to don your best disguises for Halloween. As I started planning out my own costume, it occurred to me that it can also be beneficial to disguise yourself a bit when you’re advocating Congress—but not as a vampire or a pirate wench (and no, I’m not dressing up as either of those).

First, let me mention the characteristics of your inner advocate that you do NOT want to disguise. Don’t try to hide your passion or your persistence, as these qualities make up the foundation of effective advocacy. That said, there is a difference between passion and the need to say absolutely everything that’s on your mind, like “You just want more campaign money!” or “You should agree with everything I say because I’m obviously right.” It’s important to stay true to who you are, but if you find yourself starting to go this route when you’re communicating with your legislators, just know that you’re not going to get very far. Insulting someone is never the best way to get what you want from them. If you’re the type of person that normally tends toward these opinionated outbursts, try to rein it in when you’re advocating. Put on a mental disguise and become someone that, well, doesn’t do that.  

Until your next advocacy adventure, have a Happy Halloween! And gentlemen, I know you might think it’s hilarious but please spare us all the former New York Congressman gray boxer-brief costume—no one wants to see that. At the very least, keep it off of Twitter. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Clock is Ticking: The Super Committee's Timeline

Between the Occupy Wall Street protests, Republican primary debates, and recent death of Muammar Gaddafi, many people seem to have lost sight of something very important: The 12 member bipartisan debt “Super Committee” that has been charged with finding $1.2 Trillion in cuts over the next ten years. In case you have not heard, The 12 members of the panel include:

Rep. Van Hollen (D-MD)
Rep. Clyburn (D-SC)
Rep. Becerra (D-CA)
Rep. Camp (R-MI)
Rep. Upton (R-MI)
Rep. Hensarling (R-TX, co-chair)
Sen. Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Murray (D-WA, co-chair)
Sen. Kerry (D-MA)
Sen. Portman (R-OH)
Sen. Toomey (R-PA)
Sen. Kyl (R-AZ)

With extraordinarily secretive proceedings, there is only speculation about where the group is in terms of finding a consensus. There is a nice timeline at the Atlantic that outlines the urgency of the situation. Roughly five weeks from today, the committee will vote on its proposal. This will require a simple majority to pass. Assuming the proposal passes, a month later both chambers of Congress will vote on the proposal. That is right around the corner.

Whatever your advocacy issue is, I would HIGHLY suggest that you begin to reach out to your respective legislators and tell them how your issue should be treated in the Super Committee’s deliberations. You can also send your recommendations directly to the super committee on their website.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Advocacy Tips: Sometimes You Have to Start Small

When Senate Democrats tried to get a passing vote on Obama’s American Jobs Act last week, it was quickly shot down. But that doesn’t mean they have to give up on the legislation entirely. This week the Senate plans to introduce a portion of the Jobs Act as its own separate bill for consideration—the piece that would provide $35 billion to prevent teacher and first-responder layoffs. So why are they introducing part of a bill that was already rejected? The idea here is that this component of the Jobs Act has more bipartisan support than the bill as a whole, so separating it out might yield a passing vote.

You should consider this strategy for your advocacy efforts. If your Members of Congress are giving you a hard time about giving you everything you want (don’t you hate that?), see if you can narrow down your ask to something they are more likely to agree to. Instead of demanding $10 billion in funding for your programs, ask them to speak up in support of some of the provisions that fit their legislative profile a little better.This doesn’t mean you should give up on the rest of your goals, but sometimes you have to start small to get things accomplished. If you are willing to compromise with your legislators in this way, it shows them that you are reasonable and that it would be worth their time to work with you in the future. From there, you can work your way up to the bigger asks. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Advocacy Tips: Tie in a Winning Message

The pressure is on for Congress to make difficult decisions about where to cut federal spending. Congress has until November 18th to finalize appropriations for Fiscal Year 2012 that include $7 billion in cuts compared to Fiscal Year 2011 (or else pass another Continuing Resolution), and the Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has until November 23rd to devise and agree on a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years. If you’re worried that the programs that are important to you are on the chopping block, now is the time the ramp up your advocacy efforts and make sure your legislators know why these programs should remain in place. While most of your arguments will be narrowly focused, there are a couple of strategic themes which transcend any issue area that you should consider for your messaging.

The first strategic theme is jobs, jobs, jobs. In case you haven’t noticed, Congress is very aware of the high unemployment rate in this country. You may have even heard one or two sound bites of a Member of Congress talking about the importance of job creation (okay, more like one or two thousand sound bites). Unless you’re advocating for the Jobs Are Overrated Association, you can probably find a way to talk about how these federal programs help your industry create jobs. So do it.

The second point you should be making is how this issue affects their constituency. Although you are most likely fighting for federal programs that are implemented nationwide, your legislators need to hear exactly how these programs affect the people in their districts. It’s okay to include the ways in which these programs better the country as a whole, but the focus should be on statistics that tell a local story—What percentage of their constituents benefit from this program? How many jobs will this program create in their district?

Keep these ideas in mind as you develop your advocacy game plan and you’ll increase your chances of getting positive feedback.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Resources for Tracking Legislation

Many advocates I have spoken with are always impressed with how up-to-date on legislation we are at Advocacy Associates. Well, it is our job to know these things, but there is no reason any interested citizen cannot stay up to date on the latest congressional actions. The following are a few tools that will help you stay informed.
1. Word of Mouth. Unfortunately, this resource is unavailable to many of you simply because you are not in DC. This is not because of special interests or some crazy conspiracy. Much like there is movie gossip in Los Angeles that cannot be found elsewhere, there is unique political gossip in Washington that is not duplicated in blogs, magazines, or newspapers. This is why many people here are extremely careful about what he or she says. Reminds me of that old 1940s motto, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”
2. CQ BillTrack. This is a key tool of every legislative monitor. This service tracks bills as they make their way through the process. You will see which committees the bills have been referred to, hearings about the bill, etc.
3. Thomas. A free service provided by the library of congress, this site allows you to plug in a bill number and find out critical information such as legislation text, cosponsors, summaries, actions taken on the bill, etc. It is not as quick to update as CQ, but it is very helpful if you want to lookup past or current bills.
4. Another site that provides similar information to the above mentioned sites. It was founded by the sunlight foundation in order to encourage civic engagement. The site is very intuitive and provides unique bill searches such as most viewed, most in the news, and rushed bills. This free resource site also provides information on Representatives and Senators such as contact info, voting history, campaign contributions, and much more.
As a final thought, I would STRONGLY caution against depending solely on main stream media outlets to keep you informed on legislation. News stations do not cover legislation until the last minute in order to create a sense of urgency and therefore a more exciting story. They also carry political bias. Do your own research so you can form your own opinion and advocate in all stages of the legislative process.

Friday, October 07, 2011

I couldn't have said it better myself...

In what may seem a "dog bites man" story (i.e., not really earth-shattering news), the Washington Post recently reported that "Few Americans Think Congress is Doing a Good Job." In fact, just 14% do and even they aren't wildly enthusiastic. It's probably more accurate to say that "few Americans think that Congress is not doing an abysmal job."

That said, there is information associated with this article that advocates should know. The truth is that Congress is designed to be completely and totally inefficient. Not much is supposed to get done and, one might argue, legislators are doing an excellent job of that. I was very impressed by a comment in the article from a very wise citizen from Washington state:

“Congress is supposed to be a mess and all screwed up in times of transition, when you have one party in control of one chamber and the other in control of the other. It’s supposed to be a brawl,” said Eric Briggs, 40, a financial adviser from West Richland, Wash., who cheered the GOP’s fighting spirit. “But people just don’t want to hear fighting. They just want everyone to get along and for it to be happy and work out.”

I couldn't have said it better myself. And in an argument for promoting factions in the U.S. Congress, James Madison (one of our founding fathers and a really smart dude) said:

Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire, an ailment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

I had to read that a bunch of times to understand what it said, but the gist is: without factions there would be no liberty, just like without air there would be no life. Even though it makes governing more difficult, we need to live with it if we're going to go with this whole "government by the people" thing.

So if you're frustrated with Congress, rest assured that you should be. The only solution is persistence!