Legislative Advocacy: How to Make Your Voice Heard in Government

NOTE: Names, addresses, and phone numbers of public officials included on this page are not kept current; however the general guidelines provided here are still valid.

Legislative Advocacy: Writing Letters to Elected Representatives

Letters are a primary tool in keeping members of Congress informed of their constituents' views. Yet, less than one in every 10 citizens ever writes a letter to a member of Congress. This is why your one letter can have a great impact.

Members of Congress are naturally unable to be expert on each of the 10,000 to 15,000 pieces of legislation introduced each year. Members of Congress depend on their mail to learn constituents' views.

Even if you representative or senators do not have encouraging voting records on justice concerns, it is important that they know that their constituents care about them.

Here are some letter-writing suggestions:

  1. Put your address on the letter (envelopes get thrown away).
  2. Say something nice. Thank the legislator for favorable action.
  3. Limit each letter to just one subject, and keep the letter brief--usually not more than one page--unless you have special expertise in the subject.
  4. Be polite. Your opinions will carry more weight if you are reasonable. Threats and demands don't work; they antagonize.
  5. Letters that are clearly and neatly written are more likely to be read carefully.
  6. Come to the point quickly, clearly and concisely. Whenever possible, include the bill number or title.
  7. State your reason for writing. What is your opinion, and why do you have it? Tell of personal experience. Tell how you, your family, community, the state, or nation are affected. Give moral or religious reasons for your position.
  8. Use your own words. Don't send a letter that looks like it was mass produced; and never copy a form letter word for word. Show that there is a real person writing the letter.
  9. Offer information. Be a resource person for the legislator. Cite sources.
  10. Ask a question that requires an original answer. Questions that require specific answers may compel staff to do more research.
  11. When they do respond, WRITE BACK! Most people don't, so you'll stand out. Think of your letters as two-way correspondence, even if they don't. If the answers are erroneous, respond with information.
  12. Make your letter timely. Obviously, your letter should come before decisions are made.


Proper Forms of Address, Salutation, and Closing

Note: Except for the President, the following letters are closed with "Sincerely yours." Although these are commonly accepted forms of address, other variations of these addresses are frequently used. (Local addresses of your representatives can be found in the U.S. and Pennsylvania (Vote Smart) government directories).

U.S. Government

Pennsylvania Government

President

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Very respectfully yours,

Vice President

The Vice President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. Vice President:

Members of the Cabinet

The Honorable Federico Pena
The Secretary of Transportation
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Secretary Pena:

U.S. Senators

The Honorable Arlen Specter
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Specter:

U.S. Representatives

The Honorable Paul McHale
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. McHale:

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

The Honorable William H. Rehnquist
Chief Justice
United States Supreme Court
Washington, D.C. 20543

My dear Chief Justice:

Associate Justices of the Supreme Court

The Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor
Associate Justice
United States Supreme Court
Washington, D.C. 20543

My dear Justice O'Connor:

Governor

The Honorable Tom Ridge
225 Capitol Bldg.
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Governor Ridge:

State Senators

The Hororable Roy C. Afflerbach
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
The Senate
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Senator Afflerbach:

State Representatives

The Honorable Karen Ritter
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
House of Representatives
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Representative Ritter:


Legislative Advocacy: Phone Calls to Elected Representatives

  1. Be well informed and prepared.
  2. Call at a strategic time, just before a vote, for instance.
  3. If you have written or visited with that legislator, remind him or her of that contact.
  4. If the member is not available, speak with the legislative assistant.

Phone Numbers for Elected Representatives

In addtion to the phone numbers below, local numbers for individual representatives can be found in the U.S. and Pennsylvania government directories.

U.S. Government

Pennsylvania Government

White House:
202-456-1414 (switchboard) 202-456-1111 (Comment Line)

U.S. Capitol:
202-224-3121 (switchboard)

Supreme Court
202-479-3000 (General Information)

Governor, Tom Ridge
717-787-2500 (Governor's office) 1-800-932-0784 (Governor's Action Center)

Lieutenant Governor, Mark Schweiker
717-787-3300

Secretary of the Senate
and Current BIll Status

717-787-5920

Senate:
Chief Clerk's Office

717-787-7163

House of Representatives:
Chief Clerks's Office

717-787-2372


Communication by Fax or E-mail

Nearly all elected representatives have office Fax facilities and many now have E-mail addresses. Generally, Fax and E-mail communications should follow the guidelines suggested for letters; they have the advantage of faster delivery. Be sure to include your return address for paper mail, since most officials still prefer to reply by paper mail.

Some memebers of Congress don't have a public E-mail address (to avoid receiving large quantities of automatically-generated messages) , but do accept web-based mail. To send web-based mail, there will be a page on your Congressperson's website on which you may type your message which will then be delivered electronically to your member of Congress.

Some advocacy organizations provide a way for their constituents to send web-based mail on specific issues to their members of Congress. See, for example, the United Methodist UMPower web site.

The Telegram

Western Union Public Opinion Messages (800-325-6000) allow you to send 20 words to the President, Vice President, Senators, and Representatives for $9.95 in most states ($3.50 for each additional 20 words). These messages are delivered within 24 hours.

The President and the White House staff are especially interested in immediate public response to Presidential speeches and decisions on policy before an organized campaign may develop. Try to send your telegram to the President within six hours after a major statement is made.


How to Interview Your Member of Congress

Meeting your congressional representatives in person is one of the best ways to present your opinions. Sometimes if you are not able to schedule a convenient appointment directly with your representative, it is still worthwhile to speak with a staffperson in the district office.

All members of Congress operate at least one office in their districts; some have more than one. They deliberately schedule some time with constituents while they are in the home office. Often they are available during the ten-day congressional recesses which are scheduled for: Presidents' Day, Easter, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July.

Consider arranging an interview in the home office when several persons can attend. While this calls for more preparation, it can be persuasive in letting the legislator know that your viewpoint is held by other people.

If you are planning a trip to Washington, D.C., schedule some time to visit your legislator's office. Either contact the office directly (as far ahead as possible) or arrange your visit through the home office.

Saturdays and Sundays are the least likely times for interviews in Washington. The most likely days are Tuesdays through Thursdays. The best hours are in the morning--usually either before 10 a.m.--or in the late afternoon.

Here are some suggestions for conducting the interview:

  1. Be on time.
  2. Be prepared.
  3. Don't be intimidated! Legislators will not know everything you know.
  4. Be polite, even though you disagree or are angry. Concentrate on getting information about who else is lobbying the legislator and on asking for action.
  5. Keep the legislator on the subject.
  6. State your views clearly. Be specific about desired action.
  7. If you disagree on facts, offer to look into it. Then follow-up.
  8. Don't guess or fudge. Misinformation is worse than no information.
  9. Take notes. Write down what the legislator says and promises to do.
  10. Visit legislators even when they oppose your position.
  11. If possible, leave appropriate printed material which summarizes your points.
  12. Don't assume that legislators will disagree with you. They need to hear your position more fully! Also convey your deep concern. Emotion is appropriate and natural.

How to Create a Phone Tree for your Congregation

A phone tree is another name for a telephone network which will inform members of your congregation about pending legislation and urge them to contact congressional lawmakers. It will enable you to notify many people quickly when legislation is about to be voted on or to reinforce an action alert.

A phone tree works like this: One person will be selected to track legislation and urge phone tree members to write a letter, call, or e-mail their congressional leader and President Clinton. Person #1 will call two people, who will each call two people and so on.

  1. Make a list of people in your congregation.
  2. Gather telephone numbers.
  3. Ensure that your phone tree members have the telephone numbers and addresses of their elected officials.
  4. Practice what you are going to say before calling. Make sure you have all of the information about the proposed bill, in case questions arise.
  5. If you reach an answering machine, leave a brief message.
  6. The phone tree should be used every three to eight weeks.
  7. Keep the network fun. Plan a social event every four months, and invite a speaker or show a film.

Additional Resources for Political Advocacy

Much of the information in this guide comes from three sources:
  1. Register Citizen Opinion: A Congressional Directory and Action Guide which is available through the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). (and from offices of other church denominations as well). The Guide, which is updated for each session of Congress, contains more information about advocacy as well as a complete listing of members of Congress and its committees. The cost of the booklet is (1998 prices): 1-9 copies, $.85; 10-99 copies, $.75, 100 or more, $.60. To order call the GBCS Service Department at 1-800-967-0880.
  2. The Pennsylvania Legislative Directory published for each session of the Pennsylvania Legislature by the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania (DASPOP). The Directory lists all members of the Pennsylvania Legislature (with addresses and phone numbers) and standing committees. DASPOP, Phone: 717-657-7084; FAX: 717-657-8155.
  3. The League of Women Voters Government Directory of Federal, State, and Local offices. Published about once a year by local chapters of the Pennsylvania LWV; copies are often available in public facilities such as your local library. LWVPA Hotline: 1-800-692-7281.

    Contact webmaster: webcomm@ppjr.org

    Location: www.ppjr.org/chstate/
    Last partial update: 11/30/02
    Created: 01/04/97