Current best practices for contacting senators and congressfolk?
June 16, 2021 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Call instead of email? Single issue per call? What are the best practices these days, and will they change again as offices re-open?

As I understand it, when contacting representatives, it's better to call than to send email (call is better than fax, fax is better than email, postcard may be best of all but is slower), and it's essential to stick to a single issue per contact.

However, since many congressional staffers are working remotely, it's been harder to get someone on the phone, and a lot of times it seems like the local number just rings through to DC (so I don't reach anyone if I call after 2 pm west coast time).

At least one outgoing voice message urges callers to use the online contact form instead of leaving a message.

So I'm unsure about best practices - for right now, and going forward as staffers start returning to the office.

My questions:

1. Is it still better to call instead of using the contact form?

2. Is it still best to limit your call or contact to a single issue? (The Americans of Conscience newsletter seems to urge multiple issues on a single call...)

3. If I'm mainly writing to thank my fabulous congressfolk for positions or votes I support, is it okay to say thank you for multiple things, or should each one be a separate contact?

4. Are there any other best practices I should know about when contacting my representatives (at any level, including city supervisors and school board), especially practices that have changed during COVID or are about to change as things re-open?

Bonus question: Is there any point to signing online petitions aimed at legislators (like petitions from the ACLU, League of Women Voters, etc.)?

posted by kristi to Law & Government (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been using Resistbot to message my reps and have gotten responses a few times so at least my missives are not ending up in a black hole.
posted by homesickness at 11:20 AM on June 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

To some extent this will depend on your actual reps' practices, but ultimately unless you have some kind of compelling human interest story the rep might want to promote, the goal is just to get staffers to put a tick in the column of whatever it is you want on the tally sheets they're keeping about everything.

I use Resistbot and generally get a canned email response from each of my reps each time, anywhere from 12 hours to days or weeks later, which makes me relatively comfortable I am being tallied each time.

To that end, I think one contact per issue is probably the most streamlined way to do it.

I think any "petition" that's actually a pass-through email form achieves the same thing, it just also puts your name and email on somebody else's mailing list. Just signing a petition or whatever is not particularly persuasive, I don't think.

For local reps below the Resistbot threshhold, I look each of them up to see what their website contact info says. If they have a contact form, I use that. If they only have a mailing address, I send postcards.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:29 AM on June 16, 2021

Petitions don't hurt, but they also don't really help. They're a lead generator for the organization to ask you to do more resource-intensive things later.

Definitely one issue per contact - the way it works is on the back end, an intern or staffer is coding your message with the issue, and support/oppose, and that's what generates the autoresponse if you get one that has anything to do with what you wrote about. If you're not using someone's pre-written letter system, be very concise and clear about your position, and use bill names and numbers if possible. That makes it easier for the staffer to code and tally. Those form letters are fine and generally have the same effect - the software the office uses will automatically batch and tally identical letters and the staffer will spot-check and ensure that a response, if desired, goes out.

Don't send paper mail if it is at all timely. It gets irradiated before being delivered and that added a huuuuuuuge lag time to mailings, even pre-pandemic. Plus, sometimes coatings on the paper melt and everything gets fused together into a sad damaged lump.

A lot of offices have some kind of process for regular reports to the boss on constituent input. Often, this will be a summary of volume of inbound messages, the top 5-10+ topics and positions on those topics, and maybe a few letters that are representative of these hot topics for the Member to actually read. That's often a weekly thing, although senior staff may get more frequent metrics and updates, especially when the legislature is in session or if the amount of inbound traffic spikes due to whatever's happening in the chamber.

If you're looking to REALLY engage, like you have some specific expertise on a given issue, you can always call the office or use the meeting request form on the website to set up a meeting with the legislative staffer who handles the issue, or perhaps a key district staffer depending on how the office handles things. Or if you're working with an advocacy group that works on that issue, they may organize lobby days that you can participate in, and those are a great opportunity to actually get face time with a real live human point of contact in your legislators' offices and some advocacy training to boot. (I'm totally biased; I organize those as part of my job and if you're willing to put in the time to learn about the issue and the relevant legislation and talking points, they can be really effective. If you just show up to be a warm body in the room and don't pay attention in the training or engage with the legislative staff they are a waste of everyone's time.)
posted by bowtiesarecool at 2:10 PM on June 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Seconding Resistbot. Super convenient.
posted by Dansaman at 5:22 PM on June 16, 2021

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