Influencing Congress: Ten Commandments

Thou Shalt Know Thy Members of Congress: Get to know the Members of Congress from your district on a personal basis. Get close enough so they know your name, who you are, and what organizations, agency or school you represent.

Thou Shalt Know About Thy Members of Congress: Get to know the Member so that you don't commit a faux pas that will damage your basic cause. For example, don't rail against pork-barrel politics when you are trying to bring home a little bacon of your own. It is not likely that the Member will share all of your political views. However, the only voting record that counts, at the time, is the one the Members make on the issue you are pressing.

Thou Shalt Not Limit Visitations to Crisis Situations: Make sure that some of the visits are just attitude-enhancing efforts. Visit often for a "Hi" and a handshake. The influence you have will fall off inversely as some high power of the length of time between visits.

Thou Shalt Know the Members of Congress' Staff people: All Members of Congress need help in dealing with a vast plethora of problems. It is the Member's staff that supply that help. Educating the staff may be as significant as educating the Members, and staffers can usually give you more time than the Members can.

Thou Shalt Have a Focused and Concise Message: The Members have even less disposable time than you do, so don't overburden them with detail and don't protract the session. There may be no points to be gained by finishing on schedule, but there are definitely points to be lost by not finishing in the time you've been allotted.

Thou Shalt Not Commit Effrontery Toward Someone Else's Project: Be positive about your own shtick, and do not attack another program gratuitously. Members will have to make choices, but they don't appreciate academic intellectuals urging them to scuttle programs to which they are committed.

Thou Shalt Visit the Member of Congress in the District: When the Members are not in Washington politicking, they will be in their own district politicking, and there are ways of showing them at home that there are real votes involved. Also consider volunteering a few hours of your time (or a relative's) for envelope-stuffing and making phones calls.

Thou Shalt Get to Know Who the Key Members of Congress Are: Know who they are in terms of major committee assignments and make informed liaisons with other individuals and groups in the district served by these key Members.

Thou Shalt Accept a Turn-Down or Set-Back Graciously: Recognize that when the Member votes contrary to your urging, it won't be because the Member is ignorant or uninformed. Perhaps the Member's philosophical priorities are different from yours, and of course, it may be that political considerations dictate a certain vote.

Thou Shalt Not Do Thy Lobbying Like a Lobbyist: Your competitors for the Member's attention and vote are professionals with beaucoup bucks at their disposal. Therefore you should forget about inviting the Member to lunch or any other blandishments. Just know your facts. Be as straight as you know how to be in making your case, and don't underestimate what the Member may already know about your problem.

Lobbying in a Changing Time - Using the Internet to Effect Change
Presented at the 1998 American College of Nurse Practitioners Summit,
Creating Our Future: Taking Action

Original version written by
Harold Hansen
US House of Representatives
Science, Space and Technology Committee
Adaptation using
"Members of Congress" and
other gender-neutral language by
Nancy J. Sharp, April 1994
Last updated:  Jun 21, 1998
Reviewed June 20, 1998