When and how to call elected officials who are not MY elected officials?
January 10, 2017 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I call my own elected officials about issues, but all of them (federal and state) are Democrats, and Republicans have the majority in the federal Senate and House, so I want to reach them too. When, if ever, is it useful to call an official who doesn't serve my district or state, and what can I say to be effective?

  • I have heard that calls from non-constituents are completely ignored
  • I've read Eyebrows McGee's comment about calling NEARBY statehouse reps - especially to thank them when appropriate
  • I've seen specific action emails from organizations urging people to call ALL members on a committee
  • I contacted various Republican Senators in the past election to let them know I was donating to their opponent because they refused to vote on the Supreme Court nominee
So, my questions - FOR BOTH FEDERAL AND STATE officials:
  1. When, if ever, is it useful to call reps who are not MY reps about an issue?
  2. If I don't volunteer the info that I'm not a constituent and the staffer doesn't ask, does my call get logged? (Note: I often have caller ID disabled)
  3. Is it useful to say "I'm not a constituent but I donate to campaigns in other states because their votes affect me?"
  4. What else can you tell me to help me be effective with my calls and make a difference?

P.S. I already know to be polite, even to officials who have done heinous things. I am always polite when I call. I also use my own words, not someone else's script.
posted by kristi to Law & Government (16 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I asked a similar question (caveat: about state legislators only, although someone did provide a useful answer about federal) years ago. Potentially some helpful info?
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:58 AM on January 10, 2017

Some of my get-out-the-vote neighbors in my blue state called Dems in red states near the election date via some political group. Sorry, I don't know the name of the groups(s), but if you can find it out, maybe they have ways of connecting blue blues to red-blues who can make those calls.
posted by Elsie at 10:30 AM on January 10, 2017

Write an old-fashioned letter (on paper) to the lawmaker.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:45 AM on January 10, 2017

If they ask if you're a constituent, you can always just say you are. This may be the advisable response, as when Gozer asks whether you're a god. It's not like they have any way of knowing anymore; too many people use cell phones from wherever they lived in the early 2000s.

Otherwise, don't sweat it. You're not trying to convince anyone, just to get counted as a for or against, and maybe for intensity.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:12 AM on January 10, 2017

My experience is at the federal level. They'll ask you your name and address to verify you are a constituent. If you are not, your letter/call/e-mail gets deleted and the representative him/herself will never know. Please don't waste the time of the underpaid sap who answers the phone and probably has to do a dozen other things too.

Call your own representatives -- yes; others, no. You could probably call and say you donated money *to* someone for *x* reason and get noted somewhere, but saying you gave money to someone else will get you ignored.

1. It's not
2. No
3. No
4. Call your own representatives, get a lot of people with you to call on the same day about the same topic, don't be a jerk.
posted by flimflam at 11:28 AM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

According to the Indivisible Guide, written by former congressional staffers, members of Congress don't really care about the opinions of people they don't represent. That's in chapter two, entitled "How Your Member of Congress Thinks, and How to Use That to Save Democracy."

Meanwhile, the fourth chapter ("Four Local Advocacy Tactics That Actually Work") might shed some light on what you can say when you do make calls to Congress. Scroll down to the "Opportunity 4: Mass Calls" section, which includes some tips and a sample call dialogue.
posted by zebra at 11:29 AM on January 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

One thing a lot of people don't realize - even if you think or know that your representative is going to vote the right way, calling is still useful because there's a lot more to being a member of Congress than just voting yes or no. For instance, if a representative knows an issue is really important to their constituents, that may help them to go from just a yes or no vote to becoming a champion on that issue, i.e., making speeches about it on the floor, sponsoring bills, lobbying their fellow members, etc.
posted by lunasol at 12:27 PM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So can someone confirm that it is NOT useful to call Senate committee members, and let me know your reason for saying so (worked for a legislator, involved in a lobbying group, cite)?

I ask because of things like this:


which says "Please be sure to call every member prior to the January 11 hearing. "

This is just a random example - I've seen many calls-to-action urging people to call every member of a Senate committee. Are all those organizations wrong?

I'm just having a hard time believing that it is NEVER useful to call a legislator who doesn't directly represent you, given the number of times I've been asked to do exactly that.

posted by kristi at 1:07 PM on January 10, 2017

The Indivisible guide I posted about in my last comment was written by a team of former congressional staffers.

I've also been hearing the same information from @leeflower, who worked for Congress for years. See this recent, short thread. In particular, when asked the question "Hey, is there any point in calling committees directly?" her response was "nope. Not unless they're running a poll or similar. Call your own member and ask them to contact the committee."
posted by zebra at 1:24 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I work for an advocacy organization and lead the team at my org that sends out those alerts. We try whenever possible NOT to ask people to contact representatives that are not theirs whenever we can. For the reasons listed above.

That said, there are a few reasons an org might ask people to do this:

- They don't have sophisticated enough digital tools and/or strategy to do better targeting. This is pretty unlikely in this day and age, but it does happen.
- They know for whatever reason that those particular committee members are receptive to non-constituents.
- They want to absolutely flood the representatives' offices with calls and know they can only do it by sending it nationally. I have seen cases where just the experience of being inundated with calls changes an elected official's behavior/attitude around an issue. Even if they know rationally that not all of those calls came from their constituents, if it was a surprising or overwhelming response, it can have an impact. But this is more salient for offices like state rep, etc that generally get less calls.
- They know calls from constituents won't have as much impact, but figure it can't hurt to ask folks to call.
- Some combination of the above.

Anyway, it's going to be hard for you to know in any given instance what the answer is, and it takes all of 60 seconds to make a call, so unless you are facing a serious time crunch, if it's an issue you care about, you might as well make the call.
posted by lunasol at 1:25 PM on January 10, 2017

Oh by the way, my response above was about why organizations might send an email or a text alert nationally to ask people to call reps who may or may not be theirs. In the example you give, it's a blog post so there's no way to have it only be read by people who live in a particular state or district. So they could say "if you live in this state, call these people," but then they are going to get calls and emails from people in other states asking what they can do. They might not have the staff to deal with those calls and emails, and anyway, there isn't an easy answer. So in this case, it's probably a matter of "well, it can't HURT."
posted by lunasol at 1:29 PM on January 10, 2017

So in this case, it's probably a matter of "well, it can't HURT."

Sure -- and I don't think anybody will argue that it hurts to call an elected official that doesn't represent you. (At least, I haven't seen anyone arguing that.) But there's a difference between "is this a strategy that will hurt my cause?" and "is this a strategy that will effect positive change for my cause?"
posted by zebra at 1:42 PM on January 10, 2017

I've called dozens of elected officials who are not my elected officials. I've never been asked for proof that I'm a constituent. Occasionally the staffer who answers the phone asks me for my state or zip code. Google makes it incredibly easy to look up the zip code for any city or town in the district of whoever you're calling.
I feel like keeping racists out of the cabinet, making sure people still have healthcare, etc. is more important than misleading someone about who's calling them.
posted by last_fall at 3:26 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I call out of state reps. I look at a map and pick a city from their district and leave a message saying, "Hi, I'm So and So from Your Local City and I'm calling to say I oppose the appointment of Sessions because of his long history of bigotry which is not in the spirit of American values" or something like that.

I really don't see why people always say not to call out of state reps. How would they even know who you are? Even with caller ID, people have weird area codes now anyway.
posted by latkes at 4:07 PM on January 10, 2017

At a local Democratic party organizing committee meeting this past weekend, the District Representative from my US rep's office said that it is pointless to call elected officials who are not your own elected officials, except for committee chairs when you're calling regarding committee business that is not up for a full House or Senate vote. (I decided this weekend to extend that to ranking members of the Senate committees, too, but he didn't mention them in his advice.) He said that the rule/agreement that officials have to forward constituents' messages to their own elected officials doesn't hold in the case of committee business.
posted by lazuli at 9:08 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

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