- Lobbying is letting your elected officials know what you, the constituent, want from them.
- Lobbying provides members of Congress, statehouses, mayors, and city
councils with the information they need to fully understand the
consequences of their legislative decisions on constituents and
- Lobbying affects a wide variety of issues and problems, which may be
as diverse as gun control and historic preservation or nuclear reactors
and equal rights
All elected officials, from the president of the United States to city council members, hold their positions because they won a majority of the votes cast in an election. As citizens, your role in the political process does not end when you walk out of the voting booth—it just begins. Once you have put these officials in a position of power, it is your duty to make certain they are informed and can make decisions that will benefit your town, city, and country. You are a valuable resource for your mayor, representative, and senator.
- Congress passes hundreds of bills during each legislative session. To do this, the members must depend on their small staffs, both in the district and in Washington, to research issues, recommend positions, and draft legislation. Your expertise—volunteered through lobbying—is essential at this point in the legislative process.
- Federal legislation, such as the yearly appropriation of funds and changes in tax policy, can directly affect the preservation (or sometimes, the demolition) of buildings around you.
- You are the expert on historic preservation in your community. When you lobby with facts, figures, and strong arguments, your representative and senators will be able to assess the legislation and make an informed decision about how to vote. Remember, those on the other side of the issue are lobbying too!
- Every voter should lobby because it produces more responsive legislators and a more responsive government.
Who is Lobbyist?
Every person has the ability to be a grassroots lobbyist, and as citizens we all should be lobbying.
We, as preservationists, are already advocates. Again and again, we
muster logical arguments and employ good communication skills to explain
why preservation is important and to encourage individuals and groups
to take actions that respect the historic fabric of our communities.
Lobbying calls for the same kinds of communication skills, knowledge of
preservation and its benefits, and concern for local communities. Other
than that, no specific training or experience is required.
Professional Lobbyists: The Federal Regulation of
Lobbying Act of 1946 defines a professional lobbyist as one “who shall
engage himself for pay or for any consideration for the purpose of
attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by the
Congress of the United States...” Professional lobbyists working at the
federal level must register with the Clerk of the House and the
Secretary of the Senate and report their activities semiannually.
Citizen Lobbyists: “Citizen Lobbyists” is a non-legal
term that refers to activists with special interests who are exercising
their First Amendment right to inform their legislators of their
position on an issue. Citizen lobbyists can form state or local lobbying
coalitions, can become a part of a nationwide grassroots lobbying
effort, or can lobby as individuals. Lobbying by unpaid individuals at
the grassroots level is not legally classified as “professional
lobbying.” These lobbyists need not register nor must they abide by any
formal regulations. (Resource: Developing a Grassroots Network)
Lobbying by Nonprofit Organizations: Every 501(c)(3)
organization should lobby, whether it “elects” to lobby as a major part
of the organization’s program or whether the staff and board write an
occasional letter to the congressional delegation. An organization
should assess its lobbying activity and if it is insignificant, the
“election to lobby” is not necessary. The laws governing the ability of
charitable organizations to lobby have changed, and proposals for
further change are always before the Congress. (Resource: Lobbying and Political Action: What is Permissible for a 501(c)(3) Organization)
The Best Time to Lobby
Several weeks before a bill is considered at any level, members of
Congress and their staff meet to plan strategies and take positions on
the bill. If your lobbying effort is too late, a decision may have
already been made. If you lobby too early, the impact of the lobbying
effort may have been lost in the intervening time.
- The best time to lobby is when a representative or senator is
considering writing or sponsoring a bill that will benefit preservation.
If you make your position known at this stage, you have a greater
opportunity to influence the legislation.
- Preservationists can participate in many different ways as a
bill progresses through its many stages toward enactment. You should
inform your representative or senators of your position on a bill soon
after it is introduced and suggest any changes you would like to see
made. Encourage them to show their support by becoming a cosponsor of
the bill, or ask them to oppose the legislation.
- Two or three weeks before a proposal is at a decision point in the legislative process, reinforce your position with a letter, phone call, e-mail, or personal visit.
- Follow the bill’s process closely. You will need to reinforce
your position with your member and other members as the bill reaches
each step of the legislative process.
Lobbying During Election Time: Election time and
congressional campaigns offer a perfect opportunity for grassroots
lobbyists. Candidates of both parties will spend time in their
districts, giving you the chance to attend candidate forums, debates, or
other gatherings to ask for their views on preservation. These public
forums will expose preservation issues and the candidate’s stand on them
to a broader audience. This is also the time to submit questions on
preservation to candidates during meetings, public forums, or when they
are canvassing a neighborhood. Try to elicit specific commitments of
support. These become powerful lobbying tools later.
Candidates at all levels of government respond to voting power. Your
vote can be a positive force for preservation. After the election,
congratulate the winning candidate and offer your assistance on
legislation affecting historic preservation. (Resource: Communicating with Elected Officials).