Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin Speech to the Wisconsin Credit Union League
Hike the Hill – Lessons in Political Lobbying
Welcome to Washington; I hope you had a pleasant trip out. It’s a journey I take every week and, trust me, the flight back to Wisconsin is always much more pleasant.
For those of you I do not represent in Congress, a few quick facts about me. I was elected in 98, re-elected twice since. My district includes all of Columbia, Dane and Green Counties and parts of Jefferson, Rock, Sauk and Walworth Counties. And I have been a very good friend to credit unions, both in the State Legislature and in Congress.
Washington is a fascinating place – beautiful, intriguing, difficult and often disappointing. It’s a tough town – because politics is a tough business. But I’m an optimist – someone who believes in the power of people to take back their democracy and have government be more responsive to those we serve back home.
Today I want to talk about the political process. Instead of giving you the boring textbook of how Congress functions, I want to give you some insider tips on how you can be more effective ways in lobbying your member of Congress.
First, I want to start out with some simple facts that I think are fundamentals for me:
Fact #1 – Neither you nor your Member of Congress has much time. Understanding this is important.
Fact #2 – If you spend minimal time lobbying – writing an email for example – you get minimal results.
Fact #3 – While all associations and business have DC based lobbyists – I will only meet with them if they have a constituent with them. These DC professionals are valuable, but most members want to hear from those they represent.
Fact #4 – Personal relationships are invaluable. They trump any lobbying effort with a letter-writing campaign, phone calls or barrage of emails.
How do you create these personal relationships? There are many ways.
1) You are doing it right now – coming to DC and meeting with members and their key staff on your issues. It is very effective and most member’s top priorities. Many people watch C-Span and are angry when a committee hearing is half empty. They don’t know those Members are at other meetings – most often with constituents from their home districts.
2) NEVER underestimate the value of having a relationship with the key staff member on your issue. NEVER. If you can’t meet with a member, the point person in the office on banking/finance issues is your entrée into that Member’s office. I rely heavily on my staff to cover for meetings when there are last minute floor votes or other conflicts. Treat them with the respect they deserve and develop that relationship.
3) Visit your member in his or her district office. Like me, many members go home every weekend. Visits to their district office are very underutilized – it costs you less and the impact is just the same. Plus, you may get more than 5-10 minutes a scheduler can squeeze into a Member’s busy DC schedule.
4) Invite your member to your site. A tour of your facilities or your site is a great opportunity for you to showcase your issue and for your Member to meet your employees. Announce their visit in your newsletter – put a photo after the fact on your web site. All of this helps build relationships.
5) Think of inviting your member to your site when there is a special event – a major announcement, anniversary, celebration, etc…Make them a part of your extended family. It really helps build relationships.
6) Play a role in their campaign
Yes – contributions are the mother’s milk of American politics. But I am not talking about campaign donations. Volunteer. I will tell you why it can really help build relationships.
I have staff in four offices – Washington, Madison, Beloit and a campaign finance office. Yet, I probably spend more time with one campaign volunteer than I do with any single one of them.
This volunteer drives me in parades throughout the 2nd Congressional district. If you are in Columbus on the Fourth of July, at the Sun Prairie Flags of Freedom Parade, the Monona Memorial Day parade or any one of a dozen or so more parades, I am there with some volunteers. One drives the car, while others toss candy or give out Badger/Packer schedules.
If you need to build a relationship you don’t currently have and agree with a Member’s positions, volunteering on their campaign is a great way to get to spend one-on-one time with them.
I don’t think I have any magic formula on connecting with your Member. I think the Credit Unions do a very good job of lobbying – your team has a great relationship with my staff and with me.
But when you need to break through to a Member who is less supportive of your issues, building personal relationships is key. It is awfully hard for someone to vote against after being at your site, having their photo on your website or having a personal friendship with you.
This is just the tip of the iceberg – I’d love to engage you in a dialogue about the political process in Congress and how it affects you.