Thursday, February 28, 2013

REM (and Policymakers) Say "It's the End of the World as we Know it."

Or is it?

At this point I will be very surprised if Congress comes up with some last minute deal to stop sequestration from happening.  I've been wrong before many times (and on many subjects).  But with members of Congress leaving this afternoon for their districts I don’t see much hope.  And when the Speaker of the House says "[w]e should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their a** and begins to do something," (as quoted in the Detroit Free Press) that’s never a good sign for either bipartisan or bicameral action.

No matter how frustrated we are with process, however, it’s important to remember that the question of whether these cuts stick – and for how long -- remains up to the American people.  Legislators will be back at home over the weekend, so now’s the time to tell them what you think.  Following are some tips on how to so to:

  • Be clear about your position: At a minimum be clear whether you’re “OK with it” or “not OK with it.”  If you’re not OK with it, why?  Are flight delays really getting you down? (full disclosure, I’m flying on Sunday – hopefully).  Have the cuts impacted your job?  Your family?  Your health?  Your leisure time?  The weather (hopefully not).  Whatever it is that’s bugging you, tell that personal story.

  • Recognize that reasonable people can disagree:  Because of the way district lines are drawn, many legislators represent citizens on just one end or the other of the political spectrum.  For example, there are some real differences between residents of the 12th district of California (Rep. Pelosi) and the 8th district of Ohio (Rep. Boehner) in terms of education level, occupation type, language spoken, commuting patterns – the list goes on and on.  I know this because I did a little research on  In short, day-to-day life is very different for the citizens of these two areas.  Their political views, as well as the views of their representatives, reflect those differences.  So no matter how frustrated you are, remember that members of Congress are trying to reconcile the widely varying views of the American public. 

  • Finally, please, please, please know what you’re talking about:  To paraphrase cartoonist Walt Kelly, “we have seen the enemy, and he (or she) is us.”  Why do I say that?  Well, according to Pew research polls (and as reported in this US News and World Report piece), “. . . two weeks ago, 72 percent of Americans cited reducing the deficit and cutting spending as items that should be the president and Congress's top priority. However, this week, when specifically asked what to cut, Americans polled didn't want to cut much at all! As a matter of fact, many programs they wanted to remain funded as is or to increase, with the exception of a small percentage that wanted less funding to go overseas for foreign aid.”  Sorry everyone, but “foreign aid” is less than .5% of the overall Federal budget.  It’s not going to make a dent.  We find more change in the couch cushions in Washington, D.C. than that.  Please don’t suggest this as a solution.  

Perhaps the best advice I can give is to be nice.  In politics, as in life, the person who disagrees with grace and respect gets the most attention.  They’re much more pleasant to deal with.

***The above article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Three Messages that Work with the 113th Congress.

Did you know that of the 10,445 bills introduced in the 112th Congress (2011-2012), only 284 became law?  If I did my math right, that’s less than 3%.  And a chunk of those were about renaming Post Offices and federal buildings.  Yeah, I know: that’s not very encouraging.  In defense of policymakers, however, those numbers do not include any bill-based amendments members of Congress may have attached to moving legislation.

Still, it’s pretty clear Congress is completely and totally inefficient. And to some degree it’s supposed to be.  Trying to get 271 people (1/2 the House plus ½ the Senate plus the President) to agree to the exact language of legislation before it becomes law is no easy feat – especially when those legislators represent widely varying constituencies.

That said, some might argue that the gridlock has gotten a bit out of hand.  The good news is that some messages still resonate with both sides of the aisle.  For example, it won’t shock you to hear that “saving money” and “cutting budgets” arguments carry a lot of weight these days.  But besides these somewhat obvious tactics, what other approaches have been working recently?  Here are three options to consider:

  • Compromise / Bipartisanship:  Of the 284 bills that passed in the 112th Congress, 105 were from Democrats, 176 were from Republicans and 3 were from Independents.  Frankly, these numbers surprised me. They reflect a higher degree of bipartisanship than I anticipated.  Perhaps more important, of those that passed the mass majority were cosponsored by both Democrats and Republicans.  Advocates who can argue that their perspective is shared by legislators on both sides of the aisle will likely have more success than others.

  • Government Reform:  “Government Operations and Politics” and “Congress” are the top two categories of bills (as defined by the Library Congress) that have been introduced so far this year.  Policymakers really like being associated with legislative initiatives that allow them to appear to be “solving the problems in Washington.”  Does your proposal help achieve this goal?  If so how?

  • “Must Pass”: Of the 1,476 bills introduced so far this year, three have passed.  They were bills to a) raise the debt ceiling before the U.S. government defaulted on its loans, b) provide relief for Hurricane Sandy victims and c) raise limits on the National Flood Insurance program (in the wake of Hurricane Sandy).  Most legislators and citizens saw these as must pass, emergency items.  Now, I’m not saying you should make your issue sound like a crisis.  But you should consider whether your issue connects to and/or can help address a current crisis.  By framing your message in that way, you may get the attention you deserve.

Above all, don’t despair.  You may be up against tough odds, especially if you want to move something through the process.  The way to overcome those odds is through persistence, vigilance and strategic messaging.  Hopefully these ideas will help you on your way!

***The above article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter

Thursday, February 07, 2013

It's Spring: Are you Stressed-Out About Your Lobby Day Yet?

Ah Spring -- when our thoughts turn to lobby days. If you're brave enough to arrange one, please do not commit any of the following seven deadly sins of lobby days.  You might be smote – or at least have an unsuccessful event.

Sin #1 -- Non-Constituency: When requesting a meeting, whether with the member or a staff person, the first question you will be asked is "are you from the district or state?" Elected officials and their staff are there to represent a discreet group of people. You absolutely MUST demonstrate your relevance to that discreet group of people or they won't meet with you. Our meeting request letters always include the city of constituent asking for the meeting - and some offices will ask for a full street address just to be sure!  it doesn't have to be a home address – it can be a facility, a work address or really any connection to that legislator’s district.  Many attendees at your event will have connections to a wide variety of offices.  As long as you can demonstrate relevance, you can get in the door.

Sin #2 - Non-Written Requests: OK, I lied. Actually the first thing you will be asked by the usually incredibly young person who answers the phone is "have you sent your request inwriting?" Don't even bother to call before you have either faxed in the request (go to to look up fax numbers) or e-mailed it throughthe Congressperson's website (accessible through and

Sin #3 - Assumption: As Robert Siegel once askedme when I worked at NPR "do you know the etymology of the word"assume?" My response was "who uses a word like'etymology'?" Anyway, if you don't want to make a donkey's behind of yourself, never assume that your faxed or e-mailed request actually got to the office or that the scheduler will just magically get back to you. With hundreds of requests to go through a day, things get lost. Often. Be sure to follow-up (and be very polite - they don't lose things on purpose, they're just overwhelmed).

Sin #4 - Member-itis: Never, ever insist that you will meet only with the member instead of a staff person. First of all, nine times out of ten you won't get a meeting. Members of Congress have unimaginable demands on their time and, believe it or not, you are not the only constituent in town at a given time. If you are offered a meeting with a staff person, that's a good thing! They often have more time to get to know you and your issues. All you'll probably get with the member is a "grip and grin," and the vague feeling that your issues weren't really covered.

Sin #5 - Inflexibility: This is particularly a problem when it's combined with high expectations. Too many groups offer a very small meeting window and then are irritated when staff or members are notavailable in the 
12:00pm to 2:00pm time slot they've designated for meetings. Try to have an entire day available - and ask participants in your lobby day to bring a good book.

Sin #6 - Overzealousness: If you have multiple people coming from one district or state, do everything you can to coordinate before requesting meetings. In too many cases, each individual will request their own meeting. By the fifth meeting on the same topic, the staff are generally pretty cranky. They will thank you for your consideration of their time if you coordinate well.

Sin #7 - Abandonment: Once you've had a meeting in Washington, DC or your state capitol, your advocacy for the year isn't finished. In fact, it's just started. In most cases you will need to work with the office on an ongoing basis to help them truly understand your issues and the impact of certain policy actions on their constituents. After your meeting, don't abandon your elected officials and their staff - embrace them (although not literally. Some of them aren't huggers).

In eschewing these sins you will lead a better,fuller, happier advocacy-related life. Believe me, as the founder of the cult of effective advocacy I've had plenty of experience in this area. Please feel free to send your worldly possessions my way.

***This article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter.

Congress is back in session, and so are Lobby Days (and probably stress).  Have no fear. Whether it’s 50, 200, or 1,500 advocates coming to town, Advocacy Associated can coordinate congressional meetings for your advocates. We schedule an average of 99% of your participants’ requested meetings. Better yet, our one-of-a-kind online database allows you to watch in real time as your meetings are scheduled -- and our appallows advocates to download their schedules, check for changes and prepare for the most effective advocacy day meetings ever. Intrigued?  Click here for moreinformation