Policy: Write a Letter to Your Legislature


Photo © Michael Furtman

Many people hear the word "politics" and get disgusted immediately. But politics makes the world go 'round, or something like that! The fact is, politicians listen to people, because people vote, and just as important, people give money to support politicians.

As a biologist that has made the transition to public policy, I have come to a better understanding of the importance, and power, of the individual in political decision-making. One voice and one vote really do matter. With the potential farm bill renewal and other important legislative issues upon us, here are some tips on how you can get involved quickly, easily and effectively.

Getting in touch with your legislators is an important component of lobbying for any cause. According to the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest (CLPI) more than 200 million pieces of mail are sent to Congress each year, and state legislatures are bombarded as well. As a result of the nation's ever-growing love affair with the Internet, e-mail has become a much more widely used means of contacting legislators—CLPI indicates that by May 2001, 20 percent of the mail received by Congress is postal, 20 percent faxes and 60 percent e-mail, with nearly a million e-mails reaching Congress each day.

Considering these statistics, if you are looking to contact you congressman or congresswoman, sending a fax may be your best option—congressional offices check the fax machine regularly throughout the day and faxes are passed on to the legislative correspondent, who will draft a response. E-mail is checked only several times a week, so in matters of timeliness, a fax may be your best bet.

Whatever method you choose to contact a legislator, there are some relatively basic rules that will bring your letter, fax or e-mail to the top of the stack, as well as some things to stay away from to avoid being ignored:

  1. The basics: Limit yourself to one page and cover only one legislative issue per missive, identified clearly with the bill number (if you know it). Make sure you have the correct address and spelling of the legislator's name and include your return address on the envelope and letter, in case the two are separated. If possible, sign the letter by hand above your typed name.
  2. The language: Be clear in your writing. Use acronyms the legislator will be familiar with and use your own words, avoiding jargon that may have originated from a well-known or recognizable campaign—this type of correspondence may be given less consideration.
  3. Be active: CLPI advises using your first sentence to state your position on the issue you're addressing. Within the first paragraph, indicate what action you would like the legislator to take and how this potential change in legislation will affect you and/or the organization you're representing. Use accurate, up-to-date facts and information. Ask for a reply from the legislator and whether he/she will support your position.
  4. Get personal: Obviously, this doesn't mean insulting the legislator's mother. But it does mean highlighting the human side of the legislative issue. This may come through a personal story or sending a legible, handwritten letter. If you are writing on behalf of Ducks Unlimited, using plain stationery or personal letterhead may have more pull than that of the nonprofit, but do mention the group if you think it will strengthen the impact of your letter. Include any relevant editorials and news stories from local papers in the legislator's district. Demonstrate your knowledge of the issue and your strong feelings about it, without being wishy-washy or overemotional. And make sure to end the letter with a "thank you" for reading your letter and considering your viewpoint.

To find contact information for your legislators, please visit www.house.gov or www.senate.gov. For legislator phone numbers, please visit DU's How You Can Help page. And for more letter-writing tips and information about contacting Congress, please see the CLPI Web site.

  • What will you write about? Check out our catalogs of NationalState and Watershed issues important to Ducks Unlimited.
  • More detailed information and related documents are available in the Public Policy section of the GLARO Resource Library.

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