How to Plan an In-District Lobby Visit
adapted from PHNP content
Setting up the meeting
Call or email the District Office. When you call your legislator’s district office, ask to speak with the person who handles the legislator’s schedule. Tell this person (quite possibly the District Director, or an administrative assistant) the date and time you would like to meet with your legislator at the in-district office and the general topics you wish to discuss.
If you choose to email the office (you can typically find the right email on your congressman’s website, or by calling their district office). If you do not hear back or receive confirmation from the schedule within seven days, make a follow-up phone call.
Seek appointments during congressional recess periods when your Member of Congress returns to your district (you can check the calendar at www.house.gov). Legislators are also frequently home in the district Friday through Monday when Congress is in session.
If there is more than one person attending the meeting, let the scheduler know their names and affiliations. (A good delegation is between five to eight people.) If someone in your group knows the legislator personally or professionally, make sure that the scheduler is aware of the relationship.
Meet with somebody. If your Member of Congress can’t meet with your group, don’t feel snubbed. Meet with the staff member who works on the issue that most concerns you. For most issues relating to health care reform, you will want to meet with the domestic policy staffer. Usually that person will be based in Washington, but there will also be an aide in the local office who can meet with you. Try to meet with the highest ranking aide possible in the local office, i.e. the Senior Aide.
Confirm your appointment. After you schedule a meeting, send a confirmation email that includes a list of those who will attend the meeting.
Send materials ahead of time. It’s a very wise idea to send an electronic packet of information to your representative ahead of the meeting about the topic.
Preparing for the Meeting
Just punch in your ZIP Code and the site provides you with contact information and a web page for your Member of Congress.
Determine your agenda and goals for the meeting. Your group’s members should meet beforehand in order to determine the agenda and to delegate who will raise which agenda items. Have different people cover different issues, but have one person act as a facilitator for the discussion and deliver the bulk of your message.
Prepare an information packet to leave with your legislator. The leave-behind packet should include copies of whatever information you also sent in advance, as well as information about DFLA and your contact information.
Conducting the Meeting
When conducting a lobby visit, follow the ABCs. Be accurate, brief, and courteous.
Be accurate. Don’t feel that you have to be an expert. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Nothing is worse than being caught in a lie or inaccuracy. Offer to look into the question and get back to the Member (this is also an excellent opportunity to stay in touch).
Be brief. Make sure that whoever the main facilitator is has a way to gently move the meeting along if one person is rambling or stuck on one point. Always ask for specific actions; always get a specific commitment and then follow up. No matter how supportive or unsupportive your legislator is, there is always a next step. Contact the national office if you need help identifying a good ask.
Ask good questions and maximize your time in the meeting by zeroing in on the basics: How will s/he vote? Do party leaders have positions on the issue? What is their influence likely to be? Is the office hearing from opponents? If so, what are their arguments and what groups are involved? Does the Member know any other key House Members or Senators who should be contacted to get favorable action on the bill? The Member likely won’t give you an answer on the spot. Tell them you will follow up with an aide in two weeks, and be sure to do so. Offer to answer their questions or to provide additional information.
If the Member says no, be sure to find out why. Ask them what, specifically, they oppose in the bill.
Be courteous. Be open to counter-arguments, but don’t get stuck on them. Remember: This meeting shouldn’t be an end in itself. Think of it as the beginning of a relationship with your representative that will allow you to voice your opinion on topics in the future. With this in mind, make sure the relationship you build is a positive one. Agree to disagree, if necessary. They may not share your viewpoint, but your information does have an impact on how they vote. Look for areas of agreement and affirm them. Convey your appreciation for positive steps, no matter how small, and try to end the meeting on a positive note.
Debrief/Follow up. After the meeting, find a place where you can relax with your delegation and compare notes on the meeting. This is important because different people might have different interpretations of what happened. Agree as a group on who will do which follow-up tasks. Send a thank-you note after the meeting to the representative via the person who scheduled the meeting, and, if commitments were made during the meeting, repeat your understanding of them. Don’t forget to give a phone number and address where you can be reached. Finally, let DFLA know how the meeting went.