Lobbying 101: Introduction
For many, the word lobbying conjures up images of back rooms and cigar smoke, back slaps and bags of money. Those images are far from the truth. Casting your ballot in the voting booth may be the most fundamental of democratic acts, but talking to your elected official—lobbying--is the indispensable next step.
Preservationists, like every other group of citizens joined in common cause, have the prerogative and the responsibility to let members of Congress know that the legislation they enact has consequences, positive and negative, for our historic preservation goals back home. After all, who knows better than we how rehabilitation tax credits can rebuild our downtown? Who better to explain the full reach of the Historic Preservation Fund into plans and programs that protect our treasured heritage.
Lobbying for Preservation (or Lobbying 101) is designed to acquaint you with the lobbying techniques, and resources available to aid in advocacy. While it focuses on the federal level, its information and recommendations can also be applied to state and local advocacy for historic preservation.
- Lobbying is nothing more than simply being a strong voice for heritage resources in your community, a role preservationists play every day through every action undertaken to preserve historic sites.
- The most fundamental part of lobbying is establishing positive long-term, working relationships with your legislators, laying the groundwork for taking specific action when the need or the opportunity arises.
Lobbying is perceived by many as an activity synonymous with influence peddling, payoffs, and other ethically and legally questionable activities. While there have been abuses of lobbying laws and regulations, lobbying is a legal right that most citizens and professional lobbyists use honestly and effectively.
The right to lobby is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and, as citizens, we must take advantage of the opportunity to have our voices heard by elected officials at all levels of government. It is the elected official’s duty to fairly represent his or her constituency, but it is the constituent’s responsibility to provide the information to make that possible.
- Lobbying is letting your elected officials know what you, the constituent, want from them.
- Lobbying provides members of Congress, statehouses, mayors, and city councils with the information they need to fully understand the consequences of their legislative decisions on constituents and communities.
- Lobbying affects a wide variety of issues and problems, which may be as diverse as gun control and historic preservation or nuclear reactors and equal rights.
All elected officials, from the president of the United States to city council members, hold their positions because they won a majority of the votes cast in an election. As citizens, your role in the political process does not end when you walk out of the voting booth—it just begins. Once you have put these officials in a position of power, it is your duty to make certain they are informed and can make decisions that will benefit your town, city, and country.You are a valuable resource for your mayor, representative, and senator.
- Congress passes hundreds of bills during each legislative session. To do this, the members must depend on their small staffs, both in the district and in Washington, to research issues, recommend positions, and draft legislation. Your expertise—volunteered through lobbying—is essential at this point in the legislative process.
- Federal legislation, such as the yearly appropriation of funds and changes in tax policy, can directly affect the preservation (or sometimes, the demolition) of buildings around you.
- You are the expert on historic preservation in your community. When you lobby with facts, figures, and strong arguments, your representative and senators will be able to assess the legislation and make an informed decision about how to vote. Remember, those on the other side of the issue are lobbying too!
- Every voter should lobby because it produces more responsive legislators and a more responsive government.
Every person has the ability to be a grassroots lobbyist, and as citizens we all should be lobbying.
We, as preservationists, are already advocates. Again and again, we muster logical arguments and employ good communication skills to explain why preservation is important and to encourage individuals and groups to take actions that respect the historic fabric of our communities. Lobbying calls for the same kinds of communication skills, knowledge of preservation and its benefits, and concern for local communities. Other than that, no specific training or experience is required.
Professional Lobbyists: The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 defines a professional lobbyist as one “who shall engage himself for pay or for any consideration for the purpose of attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States...” Professional lobbyists working at the federal level must register with the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate and report their activities semiannually.
Citizen Lobbyists: “Citizen Lobbyists” is a non-legal term that refers to activists with special interests who are exercising their First Amendment right to inform their legislators of their position on an issue. Citizen lobbyists can form state or local lobbying coalitions, can become a part of a nationwide grassroots lobbying effort, or can lobby as individuals. Lobbying by unpaid individuals at the grassroots level is not legally classified as “professional lobbying.” These lobbyists need not register nor must they abide by any formal regulations. (Resource: Developing a Grassroots Network)
Lobbying by Nonprofit Organizations: Every 501(c)(3) organization should lobby, whether it “elects” to lobby as a major part of the organization’s program or whether the staff and board write an occasional letter to the congressional delegation. An organization should assess its lobbying activity and if it is insignificant, the “election to lobby” is not necessary. The laws governing the ability of charitable organizations to lobby have changed, and proposals for further change are always before the Congress. (Resource: Lobbying and Political Action: What is Permissable for a 501(c)(3) Organization)
- Several weeks before a bill is considered at any level, members of Congress and their staff meet to plan strategies and take positions on the bill. If your lobbying effort is too late, a decision may have already been made. If you lobby too early, the impact of the lobbying effort may have been lost in the intervening time.
- The best time to lobby is when a representative or senator is considering writing or sponsoring a bill that will benefit preservation. If you make your position known at this stage, you have a greater opportunity to influence the legislation.
- Preservationists can participate in many different ways as a bill progresses through its many stages toward enactment. You should inform your representative or senators of your position on a bill soon after it is introduced and suggest any changes you would like to see made. Encourage them to show their support by becoming a cosponsor of the bill, or ask them to oppose the legislation.
- Two or three weeks before a proposal is at a decision point in the legislative process, reinforce your position with a letter, phone call, e-mail, or personal visit..
- Follow the bill’s process closely. You will need to reinforce your position with your member and other members as the bill reaches each step of the legislative process.
Lobbying During Election Time: Election time and congressional campaigns offer a perfect opportunity for grassroots lobbyists. Candidates of both parties will spend time in their districts, giving you the chance to attend candidate forums, debates, or other gatherings to ask for their views on preservation. These public forums will expose preservation issues and the candidate’s stand on them to a broader audience. This is also the time to submit questions on preservation to candidates during meetings, public forums, or when they are canvassing a neighborhood. Try to elicit specific commitments of support. These become powerful lobbying tools later.
Candidates at all levels of government respond to voting power. Your vote can be a positive force for preservation. After the election, congratulate the winning candidate and offer your assistance on legislation affecting historic preservation. (Resource: Lobbying and Political Action for rules on lobbying during election time).
Next Page: Getting Ready to Lobby
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.