Golden Rules for Those who Work with Public Officials
- Don't underestimate public officials. With very rare exceptions, they will
be honest, intelligent and want to do the right thing. Your job is to inform them
what you think is right.
- Don't look down on government and politics. Having a good attitude toward
the profession will help you state your case.
- Be understanding. Put yourself in the public official's place. Try to understand
his or her problems, outlook and aims. Then you are more likely to persuade them
to do the same in understanding your position.
- Forge relationships. Don't contact public officials only when you want their
help. Invite them to be guests at AACN meetings or other events. Take pains to keep
in touch with them throughout the year - every year.
- Be reasonable. Recognize that there are legitimate differences of opinion.
- Be thoughtful. Commend public officials when they support your position.
That's the way you like to be treated. Any public officials will tell you that they
get dozens of letters asking them to do something, but very few thanking them for
what they have done.
- Don't blame public officials for "failing" to do what you wanted. The failure
may be yours if you have not done a good job in preparing, presenting and following
through on your case.
- Be cooperative. If a public official makes a reasonable request, try to comply
with it. Don't back away for fear that "it's a deal" or that you're "getting into
- Be realistic. Remember that controversial legislation and regulation usually
result in compromise. It has always been so and it will always be so in a democracy.
- Be practical. Recognize that each legislator has commitments and that a certain
amount of vote-trading goes on in any legislature. So, don't chastise a legislator
who normally supports you if he or she happens to vote against one of your bills.
This doesn't necessarily mean they have deserted your whole program. Give them the
benefit of the doubt; they will appreciate it and remember your silence.
- Be a good opponent. Fight issues - not persons. Be ready with alternatives
or solutions as well as with criticisms. This is constructive opposition.
- Be informed. Never meet with legislators to advocate a position without first
studying the facts and arguments - pro and con. The mere fact that you want a legislator
to adopt one position over another won't be enough to convince them. Do your homework.
Remember that while some votes may be firmly committed, there will be many others
that can be swayed on the basis of sound arguments that are properly presented.
Communicating with Elected Officials
Tips On Telephoning Your Representatives
To find your representative's phone number, you may use the AACN online congressional
directory available at www.aacn.org or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202)
224-3121 and ask for your Senator's and/or Representative's office.
Remember that telephone calls are often taken by a staff member, not the member
of Congress. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue to which you wish
After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message,
such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.8___)."
You will also want to state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill.
Ask for your Senator's or Representative's position on the bill. You may also request
a written response to your telephone call.
Tips On Writing Congress
The letter is the most popular choice of communication with a congressional office.
If you decide to write a letter, this list of helpful suggestions will improve the
effectiveness of the letter:
- Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of the letter.
If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly,
e.g., House bill: H. R. ____, Senate bill: S.____.
- Be courteous, to the point, and include key information, using examples to support
- Address only one issue in each letter; and, if possible, keep the letter to one
To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
To a Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Note: When writing to the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House,
it is proper to address them as:
Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman:
or Dear Mr. Speaker:
Tips On E-mailing Congress
Generally, the same guidelines apply as with writing letters to Congress. You may
find and e-mail your representatives directly from the AACN web site.
Meeting with a member of Congress or congressional staff is a very effective way
to convey a message about a specific legislative issue. Below are some suggestions
to consider when planning a visit to a congressional office.
Plan Your Visit Carefully:
Be clear about what it is you want to achieve; determine in advance which member
or committee staff you need to meet with to achieve your purpose.
Make an Appointment:
When attempting to meet with a member, contact the Appointment Secretary/Scheduler.
Explain your purpose and whom you represent. It is easier for congressional staff
to arrange a meeting if they know what you wish to discuss and your relationship
to the area or interests represented by the member.
Be Prompt and Patient:
When it is time to meet with a member, be punctual and be patient. It is not uncommon
for a Congressman or Congresswoman to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted,
due to the member's crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. When
the opportunity presents itself, continue your meeting with a member's staff.
Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your
position. Members are required to take positions on many different issues. In some
instances, a member may lack important details about the pros and cons of a particular
matter. It is therefore helpful to share with the member information and examples
that demonstrate clearly the impact or benefits associated with a particular issue
or piece of legislation.
Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state.
Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and
the interests of the member's constituency. If possible, describe for the member
how you or your group can be of assistance to him/her. Where it is appropriate,
remember to ask for a commitment.
Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information, in the event
the member expresses interest or asks questions. Follow up the meeting with a thank
you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting, and send
along any additional information and materials requested.