In the news, we hear about professional lobbyists who attempt to influence legislation and policy through various means. Grassroots lobbying is when everyday citizens contact their own legislators to try to influence legislation and policy. Advocacy groups of all kinds engage in grassroots lobbying, asking their members to call and write their legislators about a piece of legislation. Most people will never contact their legislators, but anyone can pick up the phone and ask their senator or representative to support or oppose a pending bill.
It’s important to let your legislators know where you stand, because the number of emails, letters, or phone calls on each side of an issue will be an important indication of where people stand and frequently influence how a legislator will vote on a bill. Grassroots lobbying is very effective because the legislators are hearing directly from their constituency, who will be voting the next time they are up for re-election.
We’re addressing a state-level issue so you only need to contact your state senator and state representative. If you’re not sure who your state senator and state representative are, visit the Iowa Legislature website to find out. We’ll occasionally ask you to contact other office holders, such as the Governor or the Secretary of Agriculture, and we’ll be sure to provide you with their contact information when we do.
This depends on what time of year it is. If the legislature is in session (typically mid January – May) you can contact your legislator at the State Capitol in Des Moines. Any other time of year you’ll need to try to contact your legislators at home. You can find contact information for most of the state senators and representatives on the Iowa Legislature website. However, some legislators choose to not publish their contact information. We find this troubling. The people elect these lawmakers to represent them in the Capitol. They ought to be easy to get a hold of. But some are not. If your legislator does not publish their contact information on the Iowa Legislature website, once you do get in touch with them please ask them to correct that. If you’re unable to find contact information for your legislator, call the Capitol general phone and ask for advice: 515-281-3566.
It used to be that a hand-written letter was the best way to communicate with legislators, because it showed that the person cared enough to sit down and write a letter. However, it is now better to make a phone call or send a fax or an email.
If you are planning to visit the Capitol in Des Moines, you can contact your legislator’s office and ask for an appointment. They will ask which issue you would like to discuss, and chances are, they will meet with you. Even if you just find yourself walking past the Capitol Building, you should feel free to drop in and speak with your legislator or their staff person. They are there to serve you, the constituent.
When you send a fax or an email, be sure to provide your contact information, including your street address, so that they can respond to you and they will know that you are constituent. State your position clearly and politely – do you want the legislator to support the bill, or oppose it? Try to keep the message short. Briefly state in a paragraph or two why you support or oppose the bill. Write a separate message for each bill, so that your message will get forwarded to the correct aide who handles that issue.
If you call their offices, an aide or receptionist may take a short message and may ask for your contact information. The receptionists need to answer many phone calls every day, and just want to know whether you support or oppose the bill. They usually will not need or want to hear an explanation. If you’d like to submit more information, it’s better to send a fax, an email, or a hard copy.
Petitions do not carry much weight. Legislators know that it’s much easier to collect 1,000 petition signatures than it is to get 1,000 people to make a phone call. They also know that many people who sign a petition outside of the supermarket will forget all about the issue at election time. Electronic petitions are even less valuable, because it is difficult to verify signatures. When we send out a email notices with sample language for your letter to legislators, be to use the letter as a sample letter and to re-write the letter in their own words.
However, if you get an impressive number of signatures on a petition, or if the petition concerns a hot issue in the news, you may be able to interest the media. Send out a press release announcing a date, time and place where the petitions will be delivered to the legislator. If you get media coverage, this will help spread your message and may inspire more people to contact their legislators.