Influencing Lawmakers and Regulators Takes a Personal Touch
Here are some things to do as well as what to avoid doing when discussing the impact of existing or proposed legislation and regulation.
When meeting with a lawmaker or a staff member make your points concisely and try to emphasize the human impact of a policy issue. For example, don't say "Allowing credit unions to make more member business loans will be good for the economy." Instead, say "There are five businesses that I'd like to make loans to and that will create nine jobs, but I can't do it because I'm up against my limit and unemployment is 6% in my community."
Be strong in making your points but don't belabor them. Remember, you are one of many people making your case that day, and everybody else who comes by thinks their issue is the most important one.
"Staff members and lawmakers are pressed for time and will be less responsive if you waste their time. So designate one or two spokespeople to make your points and focus on the big issues. You can leave a two- or three-page paper detailing your positions for them to read after you leave," said John Magill, CUNA's senior vice president for legislative affairs and a former congressional staffer.
Know the member. If he or she is on the committee that oversees credit unions, you can get into a level of detail that you can't get into if it not the member's area of expertise.
If he or she has been supportive in the past, thank them for it. If the lawmaker has not always seen things your way, use gentle, but firm, persuasion techniques.
If you are writing a letter, individualize it as much as possible. Legislative staff members are leery of receiving several thousand letters that all say the same thing.
Don't bad mouth other groups. The lawmaker is likely to have political supporters on all sides of an issue, so focus on what's positive about your position. Lawmakers hate making people mad, so don't frame it as us vs. them, forcing them to choose. Remember, members are always thinking about politics, especially members of the U.S. House and others who have to run again every two years.
Don't mention any campaign contributions or other campaign assistance you've given. For starters, linking votes to campaign contributions is illegal. Secondly, lawmakers generally consider that to be tacky. Astute lawmakers know who their friends and contributors are, and many of them have year-round political operatives to remind them in case they forget.
Humorist Will Rogers once quipped that the country has "the best Congress money can buy," but most elected officials like to think of themselves as quite capable of thinking beyond politics and focusing on what's in the best interest of the country.
Also, don't focus exclusively on Washington. Members will have more time and will feel less stressed when they are in their home state or district.
"The average meeting in Washington is 15 minutes, if that long. You can have 30 minutes or more in the district," Magill said.
He also noted that credit union executives and volunteers should remind lawmakers and staffs about the movement's strength in their district and invite them to visit a credit union.
Contact with regulators is more likely to be in writing, and you are less likely to have a personal connection with the individual. However, the approach is similar to dealing with lawmakers.