Lobbying 101: Getting Ready to Lobby

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 | Who to Lobby | Where to Lobby | Before Contacting Your Legislators |

Lobbying 101
| Introduction | Getting Ready to Lobby | Lobbying Techniques | Resources and Glossary

Who to Lobby

There is no restriction on how many members of Congress you may lobby. You will find, however, that your own state congressional delegation—those who are there to represent your interests—will be the most responsive. (Resource: Communicating with Elected Officials)

  • Support or opposition can have the greatest influence at the committee level. Members of Congress who are not members of the committee handling your legislation have far less influence on how it is shaped. If your congressional member sits on a committee that is considering a preservation measure, your lobbying will be crucial. 
  • If your state is not represented on the committee, ask your congressman to speak with the chairman or members of the committee and endorse your position.
  • Remember, a bill must be passed by both the House and the Senate. If your representative is not sympathetic to an issue, lobby your senator and vice versa

Where to Lobby

Washington, D.C., Office: Your first communication to the office of a member of Congress is likely to be directed to the legislative assistant who handles preservation issues. The receptionist may not immediately know who that is, unless your member has consistently been involved with preservation issues.

Legislative assistants are generally scrambling to assemble briefings on short deadlines and not inclined to engage in extensive discussions or policy debates with constituents.

  • They want concise, well-organized presentations, including material on how this issue plays out in their member’s district.
  • They do not want long position papers that will take huge amounts of time to read and then summarize.
  • They are busy and focused on short-term demands, so if your issue is way off in the future, they will be less interested in speaking with you.
  • Keep your communications short and to the point, letting them extend the discussion if they become interested.

District Office: Senators may have six or so offices around their state. A congressman in a small district would only have one, in a larger district, two or three.

Staff members who work in the district office are not directly involved in the legislative process, however, they are a valuable lobbying resource. The district office is readily accessible and the staff is familiar with local issues. Usually the district director or another senior advisor is the member’s eyes and ears in the district and provides important feedback on the priority of local issues. The member’s schedule in his home district is usually arranged by these offices as well. Use them often!

  Before Contacting Your Legislators:

  • Look up the pertinent members of the House and Senate to find out what types of historic resources are in their districts, what type of interests they have, what committees they sit on, and where they stand on preservation-related legislation.
  • The National Trust, Preservation Action, andyour state/tribal historic preservation office and statewide or local organizations may have lots of useful data and case studies that you can learn from and cite in your lobbying efforts.

The most effective and successful lobbyists (both professional and citizen) are those who:

Make a Specific Request: First, why are you contacting the member in the first place? What, very specifically, do you want him or her to do? Introduce a bill? Become a cosponsor? Vote in committee or on the floor in favor of a bill or amendment? Contact another key member? Any contact with your members should include a clear statement of the action you would like them to take.

Have Accurate Information: It is important to know as much as possible about the bills which you are lobbying. Your case will be improved if you use accurate, factual material to substantiate your position, and this will be reflected when your representative or senator makes an informed decision on an issue. You may also want to provide rebuttals to arguments your opponents are making on the issue.

Aside from contacting various preservation organizations you can get information directly from Capitol Hill this way:

  • Contact the Washington, D.C., or district office of your Member of Congress. You can request copies of the press releases or information sheets the office has prepared about specific legislation or issues, or ask staffers questions directly. Representatives and senators also maintain their own web pages (and twitter accounts), and may post the information you seek.
  • Log onto Thomas, the Library of Congress’s on-line legislative resource: thomas.loc.gov. It offers searchable databases on legislation (including bill summaries, full texts, and status reports) and on congressional committees (including their homepages, schedules, and hearings). Thomas also provides text of the Congressional Record (described below) in searchable form, and numerous helpful links to the congressional offices, to government agencies, and to other information sources.
  • Search the Congressional Record, a daily report of action taken by both the House and Senate which can be accessed on-line through Thomas. You can search for all references to historic preservation and to any specific legislation you are following. Floor statements—exact transcripts of the floor debates—are particularly enlightening. When you write to or meet with your Member of Congress, you can commend them for any statements in support of preservation, or set them straight if they’vespoken against it.

Use Real-Life, Local Examples: Your letter to Congress will be stronger if you can connect the legislative issue you are discussing with examples of how it will benefit historic resources in your community.  For example, name the historic districts and types of buildings that would benefit from a historic tax credit. Mention specific restoration projects that were funded using Historic Preservation Fund grants-in-aid.  Explain how cuts in funding would delay preservation projects or endanger historic resources.  Only you can make it real and relevant for your legislators.  They and their staffs want to know what a piece of legislation will do for their districts, how it will solve a problem such as vacant housing, create jobs, or serve as a catalyst for redevelopment.  They want to know that their vote and their support will have tangible consequences and will be acknowledged back home.

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The text in this section is adapted and updated by the Preservation Leadership Forum team from the 2002 edition of A Blueprint for Lobbying which was first published in 1984 by Preservation Action. The first edition was written by Mona B. Ferrugia, edited by Nellie L. Longsworth with Julia Churchhman, Kathryn Nichols, Elle Wynn, and Chas A. Miller III contributing. The 2002 edition was substantially expanded and updated by Susan West Montgomery.