Hints for communicating with Congress

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One of the many wonderful aspects of living in the United States is that we can have a direct

Be courteous and respectful in all communications. Don’t use threats.


influence on the way we are governed. To do so, you need to become your own advocate with Congress. Members of Congress listen to their constituents and care about constituent opinions. But to be effective, you must communicate properly with your representative and senators. Members of Congress are people, too, and as you would react negatively to someone who sent you an angry or threatening letter, so do they. So to be effective, you need to follow some guidelines that are founded on civility and common
sense:

 

 

Letters, Faxes & E-Mails

 

Unless you have a personal, first-name relationship with a member of Congress or one of their staff members, the way you guarantee that your communication will be effective is to make sure the receiving office instantly can identify you as a constituent. If they can’t, there is an excellent chance your communication will be discarded without being read. Start each communication with your name and address at the very top:

 

Ms. Sally Jones
123 Main Street
Wabash, IN 98765

When writing a member of Congress it’s important to use the proper salutation. For senators it’s “Dear Senator” (and the senator’s last name: Dear Senator Lansing:). For members of the House of Representatives (according to House rules), the way to address female members of the House is “Congresswoman” and male members is “Congressman” (Dear Congresswoman Munster: /  Dear Congressman Calumet:). However, using “Dear Representative” (Dear Representative Hammond:) is acceptable.


If you are sending a letter, fax or e-mail already prepared for you, take a minute to put the message into your own words.

If you are sending a letter, fax or e-mail already prepared for you, take a minute to put the message into your own words. And remember, courteously written communications are more likely to be read and have positive impact than a page or two of ravings and rantings.

Here are some other key points to remember in writing to your legislators:

  • Be courteous and respectful in all communications. Don’t use threats.
  • Know your issue! Request documents from your organization that provide background information on the issue and the elected official you wish to contact. This information can be particularly helpful in drafting letters. If you are doing this on your own, do your homework to be knowledgeable in your communication.
  • Keep your comments brief, pertinent, and factual. Cover only one issue per letter. Explain how the issue would affect you and/or your organization.
  • Limit your comments to one page or two at most. Elected officials hear from hundreds of constituents daily so a brief letter is more effective than a multi-page one.
  • Identify the subject in the first paragraph. If you are writing in reference to a particular bill, refer to the measure’s House or Senate bill number and/or title, if possible.
  • Be reasonable. Don’t ask the impossible.
  • Be constructive, not negative. If a bill deals with a problem, but seems to represent the wrong solution, propose constructive alternatives. Recognize that you might have to compromise.
  • If you support a particular bill, say so. If you are writing in opposition to legislation, include specific examples of how the measure would adversely effect you and suggest an alternative approach if possible.
  • Avoid stereotyped phrases, jargon, and sentences that give the appearance of form letters.
  • Also, don’t forget that elected officials are people too and they like to be told when they’ve done something right. Send them a congratulatory note when they do something that merits approval.

    If you are sending an e-mail to a representative, you won’t receive a response via e-mail but will receive one through the mail (rules of the House — however, you can communicate with House staff members via e-mail). Senators respond to e-mail with e-mail. If you follow these guidelines and establish a working relationship with the elected official or one of their staff, you might be sending and receiving e-mails on a regular basis.

     

    Don’t forget that elected officials are people too and they like to be told when they’ve done something right.


    It is very important to remember that all contacts with elected officials must be constructive even if their opinions contrast with your own or those of your organization. It’s one thing to disagree with someone, it’s another thing to be a jerk about it . . . be respectful, courteous, and professional.