How to Communicate with Public Officials
- Be brief. A legislator’s time is limited. So is yours.
- Be appreciative. Acknowledge previous support and current action.
- Be specific. Don’t be general.
- Be informative and factual. Give reasons and provide the supporting materials.
- Be courteous. Always be polite. Treat them as you would want to be treated. Ask for a specific action without being demanding or threatening.
- Be reasonable. Remember it’s alright to have a difference of opinion.
- Be realistic. Issues may need to be resolved through compromise.
- Be understanding. Put yourself in the legislator’s position to try and understand his/her concerns and goals.
- Learn to evaluate issues. The introduction of a legislative bill doesn’t mean that it will become law. Whether you are for it or against it, don’t get excited about it until you’ve learned the who, what and why of it.
- Don’t be a busybody or extremist. Don’t pester, and never imply that politicians are dishonest.
Ways to Communicate
If you are communicating with legislators through their staff, get to know the staff. Public officials at the state and federal levels rely heavily on their staff to set up appointments, research and more, so getting to know them is key.
As a business owner, it’s of particular interest to develop a relationship with your state legislators. Find out when the elected officials will be in their office. Call in advance to set up an appointment and explain the nature of your visit.
Prior to your visit, do your homework and make sure you understand the official’s position on a particular issue. You may consider inviting other individuals from like companies with similar concerns, and don’t be bashful about inviting the official to your place of business. You might offer to form an advisory group to discuss important business issues that you can report back to the public official.
Make sure you have developed a relationship or an acquaintance before attempting to phone your public officials. Always be concise, and discuss only one issue per telephone call. If the issue is in regard to a particular bill, provide the bill number and state your position. Explain how the bill impacts your business and why you support or oppose it. Remember the basic rule of “don’t be a busybody.” Make phone calls sparingly. Always be friendly.
Email is a great way to communicate with your elected officials when issues are time sensitive and the need for action is critical. Keep your message short and to one screen, so the official doesn’t have to scroll his/her way through the text. Always provide complete contact information in your email, including address, phone number and email address.
Letters can be informal or formal, typewritten or handwritten. Due to security issues, letters to federal officials, in particular, may take a longer period of time to reach the officials.
Tips for Letter Writing to Public Officials
Address the official as: The Honorable…
Use your business letterhead.
Keep the letter to a single page.
Get to the point quickly, and focus on one topic.
Be factual and provide information as needed to get your point across.
Make sure the official knows that the letter is from a constituent who lives or does business in the official’s district.
Make clear for whom you’re speaking or representing.
Be clear on what action you want the official to take.
Keep the tone of the letter friendly and respectful.
Proofread your letter. Typos leave a bad impression.
If you know the official, write a note at the bottom of the letter to draw attention sooner to the information.
In many committees, staff members file correspondence according to the date of the bill’s next hearing. If you know the date, be sure to include it to help ensure the letter is read prior to the hearing.
A letter may have more impact if signed by a business owner or a person in management.
Address lobbying correspondence to the bill’s author and mail copies of the letter to members of the committee hearing the bill and to your local legislator.
If the official takes the action desired, remember to send the official a thank you note.