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Tips on
How to Lobby Effectively

AFCC members are able to have a voice in and directly influence legislation affecting the alternative fuels & chemicals industries


15 Tips on How to Lobby Effectively

1.   Join all industry groups that work on behalf of your interests. The more members they have, and the more member dues and contributions they receive, the more effective they can be. But do not let your involvement in political activities begin and end with your dues payment. Pay attention to legislative alerts. Do everything you can to follow the industry group’s lead in keeping your priorities on the minds of local, state, and federal policymakers. Participate in annual lobbying days at your state capitol and the U.S. Congress.


2.   Recognize the difference between lobbying at the local, state, and federal levels.

  • At the city, county, and state levels, meet with and speak directly to policymakers.

  • State legislators have other jobs and serve in their state legislatures only a few months a year. To be effective, reach out to them, and spend time at their receptions and fundraisers before the legislative session begins. Once the session begins, legislation often moves at lightning speed, and opportunities to spend more than a few minutes with a legislator to make your case are limited. Be prepared with quick, walk-with-me-down-the-hall and ride-with-me-in-the-elevator pitches, backed up with a one-page, bulleted handout.

  • At the federal level, knowing and talking with members of Congress is less important than knowing and talking with the staff members responsible for the legislative areas in which you are interested, and the professional staff of the committees and subcommittees devoted to those legislative areas.

  • Members of the House and Senate set the priorities, make the decisions on how they wish to influence upcoming and pending legislation, direct staff activities, and make the votes that count.

  • ​All the work in the U.S. Congress is conducted by staff. They are charged with understanding the details of legislative actions, crafting the language and making the arguments in subcommittee and committee meetings to support their member’s position, and working with other staff to move initiatives forward. They work long hours and can get swamped with demands pulling them in many directions.

  • ​Whatever you want done in Congress, there is a group of staff members who will make it happen or prevent it from happening. You can meet with a member of Congress and he or she will direct his or her staff to work out the details with you. That is the top-down approach to getting things done.

  • ​The other approach, which often is much more successful, is the bottom-up approach. Staff members, despite the demands they face, have more time to spend listening to arguments pro and con, new ideas and approaches, and requests. If you make a compelling argument, they will take it to their bosses. If they like what you have said, and see its benefits, they will become strong advocates, not only with their bosses but with other offices as well. Once they get a green light from their bosses, they’ll sit down to work out the details with you, while providing critical guidance on strategy.

3.   Keep in mind that each office and each member of Congress is different. There are no hard and fast rules, only generally applicable ones. Which leads to a key point: be sure you’ve studied everything you can about a member of Congress – his or her background, priorities, committee assignments, and accomplishments – before setting foot in the office. What you say and do in one office can backfire in another office. The trick is to recognize that every issue has multiple facets; your success hangs on being able to select and emphasize the facets of the issue, and to adjust your emphasis and strategy, in ways that will fit with and appeal to each office.


4.   Waiting for a crisis before reaching out to House and Senate offices is a mistake. There is a months-long (sometimes years-long) legislative process that begins with the requests and priorities each member of Congress sets. This leads to subcommittee debate, priority setting, and drafting of the initial language that is introduced in a bill. Next come the subcommittee, committee, and floor votes that move bills forward, which are then conferenced to resolve differences between bills from the two chambers.


5.   Starting early is particularly important for appropriations. The annual appropriations process begins in February each year. It’s wise to have your planning, strategy, and key talking points ready by January. Same with your staff contacts in each office. Having the figures from the previous year’s appropriation and the administration’s budget request is useful. (See AFCC's FY2021 funding requests.)


6.   To be effective, you need to voice your support for the programs that affect you early in the process and throughout the process. This advice extends from suggesting program priorities (as well as improvements and fixes) and commenting on bill language each step of the way right through conferencing. Legislation tends to be worked out well in advance of floor consideration and, often, is considered in large packages. The key step in the process is getting your item in the package. That starts weeks and months in advance.


7.   Have your key information ready in a concise form: what you’re asking for, why it’s important, any relevant congressional district and state impacts, how much it costs, who else is on board, who opposes it. If someone opposes, be upfront: tell the staffer why someone opposes it and why you think your side is more persuasive.

8.   Recognize that some issues pop up suddenly. When that happens, it isn’t possible to do early outreach. But if you already have established a good relationship with offices that can make a difference, and are keeping track of what is occurring with legislation affecting issues important to you, you can immediately reach out to those offices.


9.  If Congressional offices don't hear from supporters until a vote is scheduled, there may be little that can be done. The trade-offs that allow one program to go forward often are balanced by take-aways from other programs.


10. Programs receive priority because one or more constituencies have banded together and gained the support of their representatives to advocate for those programs. Preference will go to the programs that appeal most to members, do the most for their districts or states, generate the most positive publicity, and for which there is a clear constituency and consistent support. Be sure your request – and the program for which you wish to secure support – checks off as many of these positives as possible. Be sure you know how it competes – and/or fits in – with other programs that the office supports. If there are competing interests that oppose or wish to  take resources away from the programs you support, be prepared to address the points being raised.


11. Use each member’s webform to request a meeting or submit a request. You also may use the webform to request a meeting with staff. Or you may reach out to a staff member directly. If you do not know which staff member handles the issue in which you are interested, call the office to find out.


12. Schedule a brief, introductory visit before making a request.


13. Bring in constituents to explain why an issue is important to a member’s district or state. The most compelling arguments you can make are those solidly based on constituent interests, and how the request you are making impacts jobs, wages, and well-being, and the economic interests of the communities in which they live.


14. Don’t overdo a good thing. Having repeat meetings or prodding several members of a coalition to contact staff, only to make the same point repeatedly, makes a staffer less likely to act favorably. Reach out to staff if you have something new to add, if you find another compelling constituent angle, or if you have a valuable tidbit to share. Don’t forget to thank staffers when a bill is introduced that reflects your input and when a vote goes your way. For hammering home a point on an upcoming subcommittee, committee or floor vote, encourage others to call, write, or email their members of Congress. Keep these calls brief: 25 words or less to name the issue, the action occurring in Congress, and how you wish to have your member vote. Keep emails and letters brief, too. In terms of effectiveness, calls work best.


15. The seagull style of lobbying does not work. More damage than good is done when an individual swoops in, flaps his or her arms, squawks about what has or hasn't been done, craps all over everything (other companies and interests, the legislative process, specific offices and parties, etc.), then flies away to not be heard from again (until there’s another problem).

11 Fatal No-Nos

  • Overstaying your welcome (meetings should be no more than 15 minutes)

  • Talking without listening (in the first 6-7 minutes, state your case and cite details that support your case; in the second 6-7 minutes listen to the staff member's or policymaker’s response. Devote the closing minutes to discussing possible next steps

  • Not having key points written out in a one-page handout to leave behind

  • Not offering solutions or work-arounds

  • Emailing or handing out too much information (anything over one or two pages is too much) until you receive a request for more information

  • Showing up with a large crowd of people (two to three people per meeting is best)

  • Becoming belligerent or argumentative

  • Not showing respect and consideration

  • Not wanting to meet with or looking down on staff, not recognizing that staff carry out requests of the member for whom they work, and are important advocates in taking things up with the member

  • Not understanding the legislative process

  • Making a request for a meeting or a legislative action without knowing anything about the office, a member's interests and priorities, and the member's recent activities and legislation

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