A Guide to Communicating
with Members of Congress
Elected officials count on, and in fact need, constituent input to be effective legislators. Ongoing communication is the only way public representatives will know and understand how you, the voter, feel about particular issues.
You can be most effective in conveying a message by relating issues to your own personal experience or professional expertise, or to the likely effects on a member’s constituents.
Most Effective Means to Communicate
with Your Member of Congress
Suggestions for a Personal Visit
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. Whenever 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 tour group can be of assistance to him/her. When 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.
The Roles of the Congressional Staff
To be most effective in communication with Congress, it is helpful to know the titles and primary functions of key staff. The following is a list of commonly used titles and job functions:
Administrative Assistant (AA) or Chief of Staff (CoS)
The AA reports directly to the member of Congress. The AA usually has overall responsibility for evaluating the political outcomes of various legislative proposals and constituent requests. The AA is usually the person in charge of overall office operations, including the assignment of work and the supervision of key staff.
Legislative Director (LD) and Legislative Assistants (LA)
The LD or the LA is usually the staff person who monitors the legislative agenda and makes recommendations regarding the pros and cons of particular issues. Most congressional offices include several LAs and responsibilities are assigned to staff with particular expertise in specific areas. For example, depending on the responsibilities and interests of the member, an office may designate a different LA for health issues, environmental matters, taxes, etc.
Press Secretary or Communications Director
The Press Secretary’s responsibility is to build and maintain open and effective lines of communication between the member and the general public through the media. The Press Secretary is expected to know the benefits, demands, and special requirements of both print and electronic media, and how to most effectively promote the member’s views or position on specific issues.
Appointment Secretary or Scheduler
The Scheduler is usually responsible for allocating a member’s time arise from congressional responsibilities, staff requirements and constituent requests. The Scheduler may also be responsible for making necessary travel arrangements, arranging speaking dates, visits to the district, etc.
The Caseworker is the staff members usually assigned to solve individual constituent problems or projects important to a local community. The Caseworker’s responsibilities may include helping resolve problems constituents present in a relation to federal agencies, e.g. Social Security and Medicare issues, veteran’s benefits, passports, etc. There are often several Caseworkers in a congressional office.
Other Staff Titles
Other titles used in a congressional office may include: Executive Assistant, Legislative Correspondent, Executive Secretary, Office Manager, and Receptionist.
Suggested Action Steps
1) Develop what you want to say and put it in your handout or materials.
1) Your meeting group should be made up of six people or less. (Include people who know the member, who represent each group, and who are familiar with the plan.)
1) Evaluate the meeting after you leave the member.