Effective advocacy isn’t usually the first topic on everyone’s minds this time of year. But it can be a great time to do some research on your legislators and prepare to hit the ground running in 2014. Learning a little about your legislators’ interests can help you frame your message in a way that’s bound to get their full attention.
Here are some questions to ask about your legislators (and where to find the answers). A great way to web surf in between stuffing the Turkey and eating sweet potatoes, right?
You can use our legislator research form to keep track of this information.
1. Whose District or State Am I In?
One of the most common questions asked in congressional offices is "Are they from the district?" Representatives and senators represent distinct groups of people and devote their energy to the requests and needs of those individuals. Members of the House represent all the people (usually around 550,000) who reside in a separate and distinct geographic area called a congressional district. Senators represent an entire state. Hence, every American in the 50 states has one representative and two senators who are responsible for representing their views in Congress.
In general, you should stick to contacting your own representative and senators, unless you can demonstrate that you represent the concerns of people who live in another district. If you contact other members of Congress, don't be surprised if your phone calls, letters and/or requests for meetings are referred to the representative or senator who serves the area or state where you live.
Your Association may have an online legislative action center that you can use to find your specific legislators based on your zip code. Alternatively, you can the House of Representative’s “Write Your Rep” function at www.house.gov
2. What is the Member’s legislative record? What does she or he care about?
Most members have a record, reflected through votes, of formal support for legislation that has been introduced by other members (called cosponsoring a bill), and legislation they have introduced themselves on virtually every issue under the sun. It’s always good to know where your legislators stand on your issues, as well as any other issues in which they might be interested. You can see bills legislators have introduced at www.congress.gov . Note: The bills are designated either House of Representatives (H.R.) or Senate (S.) by where in Congress the bill originated. You should also review the “Issues” tabs on their webpages. You can access those at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov
3. What Committee or Committees is my legislator on?
Members are assigned to committees based on their interests, their districts (or states, in the case of the Senate), and for the more competitive major committees, on how long they have served (seniority). Members usually serve on one to three committees. A member’s ability to influence legislation depends largely upon whether she or he is a member of the committee of jurisdiction. Also, knowing committee assignments can give you insights into the issues that interest your member of Congress. This information is also available at www.congress.org.
4. What party does she or he belong to?
Members help all constituents, not just those who are members of their political party (as some people believe). After all, your representative has been elected to represent you and your interests, regardless of your party affiliation. But it is important to know the member’s party affiliation to determine if they are part of the majority or minority party in Congress. While many members are seeking to work collaboratively and across party lines, members of the majority party still have an advantage in efforts to get legislative proposals passed.
In addition to the resources noted above, you can learn a great deal about your legislators at the following sites:
House of Representatives: www.house.gov
U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov
Open Secrets: www.opensecrets.org
***This article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter.