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Ten Tips for Visiting a Congressman


Communicating with a congressman is not the same as it once was. In the famous

1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, young Senator Jefferson Smith, after arriving

on Capitol Hill, goes to his office which consists of two rooms, two filing cabinets, and

one moody secretary. That was all. Today, a small congressional office will hold at least

seven staff members. A senior congressman may have as many as 18 people working for

him. However, there is one thing that has certainly not changed since the first Continental

Congress met.


Even in this day of express delivery, electronic mail, and Internet web sites, a

personal visit to a congressional office is still the most effective way to register your

opinion on a political topic. No matter what the Bill Gates of the world have to say about

it, sitting down at a table, face-to-face conversation, remains the most effective form of

communication. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as FedEx or convenient as e-mail.

When a federal legislative issue which may affect your issue is raised,

volunteers can visit congressmen and senators in the nation’s Capital and alert thousands

of the interested across the nation to call their legislators. This combination has proven

successful time and time again.


Below are a few ground rules for a successful lobbying visit. Many of these tips were

suggested by congressional staffers and based on the Federal Relations Department’s

collective lobbying experience.


1. Plan.

Be sure you have a specific goal in mind before you make an appointment with a

congressman. Be familiar with what you are going to talk about, and, if possible, who

will be coming with you, who you are going to meet with, etc. Also, lobbyists should

keep notes on each meeting in order to record the congressman’s position, what the

meeting accomplished, and what follow-up is necessary.


2. Make appointments.

NEVER just walk into an office and expect to have a meeting—congressmen and

staffers, like you, want to be prepared.


Don’t be surprised if you are unable to schedule a meeting with a congressman. Most

of the time a staff member will meet with you—congressmen are very busy. If you are a

constituent, there is a much better chance that you will be able to meet with a Member of

Congress directly.


When making an appointment, explain that you represent many in their district or state.

Bringing letters from many designating us/you as representing them on Capitol Hill may

make it possible for present those letters for a specific congressman, and you may

be able to use the letter to meet directly with the congressman.


3. Be flexible.

NEVER schedule back-to-back meetings with two different congressmen because

their schedules can be very tight and they may frequently be late. Be patient and expect

delays. Also, consult a congressional directory to determine the location of offices in

order to give yourself sufficient time to walk to the next appointment.


4. Wear appropriate attire.

Wearing appropriate clothing adds to your credibility. Men should always wear a coat

and tie. Ladies should wear modest dresses, skirts, or a pantsuit. Remember, you’re

representing your interests. The impression you leave makes a difference!


5. Have brief material on hand.

Short handouts that explain the issues you are discussing can be very helpful to the

Congressman who can simply give them to an aide when the meeting is over and have

him or her follow up on the issue.


6. Use illustrations.

In order for the Congressman or staffer to remember your visit, you need to use

personal stories and creative illustrations when you explain your position on an issue.


7. Thank you letter.

After your meeting, send a follow-up letter to the congressman or staffer going over

the main points of the meeting and thanking him for his time.


8. Dealing with staffers.

If you meet with a congressional staff member, keep a few things in mind:

a. An average staffer is only 25 years old and is temporarily working in

Washington because it looks good on his resume.The staffer is most likely single.

b. Staffers are generally well educated.

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