Reaching Congressional members and how to go about reaching Congressional members is often a topic of conversation in recent months and years. Specifically, are they even reachable?? That largely depends on the Congressional member, but there are ways to go about reaching them. There are also ways to go about successfully communicating with them or their staff. Here’s some of the tips I have developed through my own experience as well as a substantial amount of training.
Emails, Letters, and Calls
It is still entirely possible to reach your member through emails, letters, and calls. Some do make it a priority to provide personalized responses and some do not. What are some tips for emails, letters, and calls?
- Be respectful. Even if you are passionately opposed or in support of something and the member does not agree. They will not be the one answering the phone, email, or letter most likely anyway. A very nice staffer will be doing it. Please treat them well.
- Use facts. It is okay to be passionate and use that passion, but use facts as well. Have those facts available. It helps to show members how their positions directly impact their constituents by using facts (verifiable facts).
- Be civilized in all communication. Use appropriate language. Use an “inside voice”.
- Provide contact information as well. Send a business card. Ensure your email has a signature with contact information (or include it in the body of text).
Attend Public Events
Attend their public events, even if you are not exactly interested in the purpose of the event. Once you are there, do not expect face time with the members, but search out her/his staff. They are the way to the member. The staff provide members with information, examples, research, and present problems brought up by constituents. If you want to be successful reaching your Congressional member, the staff is the key. Public events with a sitting member of Congress will always include staff members, usually several of them. It may also take attending more than one event to get access and create a relationship with staff (or if you are lucky a member).
Show Up in Washington
One of the best ways to get the attention of a member is to show up in Washington. I realize this is not cheap, and the ability to do so is a privilege that many do not have, but if you can. Go. There is no surer way to show you care than to travel to Washington.
Now, do not expect a face to face meeting with the member. Not even with their staff. If you have developed a relationship with staff in state you can reach out to them and see if you can set up a meeting with a staffer in Washington who handles your specific policy issue. If that is the case, that is an entirely different blog post on how to prepare for such a meeting. In the likely event that that is not possible: how do you reach your Congressional member in Washington?
In Montana we are lucky. They have Montana Coffee. Every Wednesday morning all three of our Congressional members stop by Montana Coffee. They chat in an informal setting, everyone can get a picture, and many, many of their staffers are there. Here is the link to Senator Daines’ website for information on Montana Coffee. Here is the link to Senator Testers’ website on Montana Coffee. As noted in Senator Testers’ site, you can also arrange a tour of the Capitol that leaves right after Montana Coffee.
Any Montanan in Washington is welcome to attend. Even with the access I have and the relationships I have with our offices, some of the most productive conversations have been in the informal setting of Montana Coffee. We can thank former Senator Max Baucus for starting this tradition. Other states have informal coffee meetings that are similar, but we are still the only state that has our entire Congressional delegation present every week.
Join an organization.
One of the best and most efficient ways to reach your members of Congress is to join an organization that focuses on policy. For myself that was the Montana Grain Growers Association and by extension the National Association of Wheat Growers. I am also a member of Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Farmers For Free Trade, Montana Stock Growers Association, and National Cattleman’s Beef Association.
Almost every issue has a corresponding policy advocacy organization. These organizations specialize in advocating on behalf of their members and ensuring policy meets their needs. They also spend years developing relationships with Congressional staffers, offices, members, and many other influential individuals within the government. My involvement certainly has given me large scale access and allowed me to develop relationships with many different offices. Some of these staffers I now consider my personal friends, on both sides of the aisle.
These organizations also usually have national offices in Washington with staff dedicated to curating relationships with members of Congress, their staff, and other government employees (both career and appointed). These offices are invaluable. They are also usually staffed with former Hill staffers (this is why you are nice to staffers and why developing relationships with them is crucial). They allow access to offices outside your own state, with committee staffers, and just in general a far broader reach than you can achieve individually.
One glance at a member of Congress’ social media account and one can understand why they can be difficult to reach there. It is hard to filter through the insane amount of vitriol sent their way. I was once tagged in a tweet from Senator Daines and it took me 2 minutes to mute the thread. It was awful – and absolutely unrelated to the tweet (sorry Senator, thanks for the shout out).
But developing a presence online combined with advocacy in person can be an effective way to communicate. I have been surprised more than once when staffers reach out to me through Twitter or because of something they read on my blog or social media. These are offices that are outside of my own state, but because of my advocacy, they reached out. Through a NAWG fly-in several years ago we met with Rep. Don Bacon from Nebraska. I tweeted about the meeting which prompted him to follow me. We have had several interactions since then.
So social media is not entirely devoid of useful merits for reaching Congressional members, but much like any other interaction, it must be respectful and is usually facilitated by some face to face interactions.
Key Take Away
- Communicating with members is not always easy, but it is possible.
- Remember they as well as their staff are human. Just because you do not agree on policy does not mean you have to be rude or disrespectful.
- Reach out in multiple ways.
- Develop relationships with staffers.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of ways to access a sitting member of Congress, but it is some of the best advice I can give. It is also important to mention that you may not always be successful, they may not always answer your question directly (or at all), but all you can do is try. Try another route, volunteer for an opponents campaign if you are that passionate, but ALWAYS, ALWAYS be respectful. Your chances of success sink to zero if you cannot communicate respectfully with staff and/or a member. Lastly, and most importantly, VOTE.