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Communicating with Your Legislators

Outreach from constituents is the most effective advocacy. Members of Congress are there to represent their constituents’ in Congress, and they rely on their voters for reelection. Pressure from within their district or state is what can determine the way a Member of Congress votes.

There are a few key elements to effective dialogue with your Member’s office. When contacting their office, you should:

  • Convey you are their constituent (a member of the Senator’s state or Representative’s district);
  • Note which issue you are contacting them regarding, and state your position;
  • Explain why this is an important for their constituents; and
  • Provide data—economic or otherwise—on why they should take your position.

Although many offices get calls and emails from citizens outside their district, these are not likely to be effective. Members are there to represent their own constituents, and so will often direct those callers to their own legislators.

If you contact your legislator’s office regarding issues related to preventive medicine and healthcare, please let ACPM know, by contacting Kate McFadyen, so that we can track and follow up on your advocacy efforts.

Phone Calls

To call your Member of Congress’ office, find their information on a searchable directory, or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s or Representative’s office. You will always speak to office staff, not the Member of Congress.

During the call, be sure to accomplish the following tasks.

  • Identify yourself as a constituent.
  • Identify the issue to which you would like to voice your opinion. For example: “I would like to express my support for the inclusion of HRSA funding for preventive medicine residency programs in the FY18 budget."
  • Briefly state the reasons for your position, stressing those that matter most to your Member of Congress. For example: “Support for preventive medicine residency programs in California is vital. There are eight residency programs in California alone, and yet only half of the number of approved resident slots are able to be filled.”
  • Thank them for their time and offer to send additional information or supporting data to their office.

Emails

Email is the most popular choice of communication with congressional offices. Physical mail has to go through extensive security before it is delivered, so email is a more immediate way of getting your voice heard.

To write an effective email:

  • Identify yourself and note that you are a constituent of that Member of Congress.
  • State your purpose and position in the first paragraph. If you are writing about a specific piece of legislation, identify the bill number (H.R. ____ or S. ____).
  • Personalize the email with how the issue affects you and other constituents. Use your personal experiences and examples to add weight to your position.
  • Include economic data, health data, specific information on programs within that state or district, and any concrete numbers that bolster your argument. ACPM is always happy to provide that information.

Note: When writing to the Chair or Ranking Member of a Committee, it is proper to address them as Dear Mr. Chairman or Madame Chairwoman. When writing to the Speaker of the House or other leadership, you may use Mr./Madame Speaker, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader.

Letters

To write a physical letter, the same guidelines apply as with writing emails. The correct way to address correspondence is:

To a Senator:

The Honorable [Full Name]
[Room #] [Name of] Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

To a Representative:

The Honorable [Full Name]
[Room #] [Name of] House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

In-Person Meetings

A personal visit with policy makers is an effective way to emphasize your interest in an issue or bill. If you are planning a trip to Washington, DC and would like to set up a meeting with your Members of Congress, contact Kate McFadyen for assistance.

Here are some tips for meeting with a Member of Congress’ office:

  • When making an appointment, state the subject to be discussed and identify persons who will attend, noting whether they are constituents. Realize that meetings with staffers are most common, and even if you get a meeting with a Member of Congress, their schedules can change at the last minute and you may end up meeting with a staffer anyway.
  • Research your legislators. Find out what committees and caucuses they sit on, the makeup of their district or state, and if they’ve taken a position on your issue before.
  • Select a main spokesperson if others are going with you and agree on your presentation in advance of your meeting.
  • Identify your bill or issue clearly. Unless stated otherwise, don’t assume the staff member you’re talking to is familiar with your issue. Give background on the bill or subject matter. Know your “ask” ahead of time: what do you want out of this meeting? Do you want the Member to sign onto a bill, oppose a spending cut, or vote a certain way? Make sure to emphasize your ask in the meeting. Know the facts, or offer to follow up in an email if there’s something you don’t know.
  • Be concise. Your message should be short and direct. It is fine to express your personal opinion. Present the facts in an orderly, positive manner. Stay on topic.
  • Personalize your appeal. Tell how you are concerned about an issue and how it affects you, your family, and your community. Most importantly, though, communicate how this issue affects the Member’s constituents. If possible, have numbers on how many constituents the issue affects and what the economic impacts to their district are.
  • Leave fact sheets if possible.
  • Encourage questions. Be prepared to discuss.
  • Reiterate your ask, thank the legislator or staffer for his/her time and courtesy, and leave promptly.
  • Be sure to get the name and email of the staff member covering your issue and follow up with a thank you note.
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