Washington Insider
Meeting with your lawmaker, part 2

By meeting with your lawmaker you put a human face on an issue. No one can tell your story better than you, and you can make a longer lasting impression on the lawmaker in person than with any other form of communication.

When you have your meeting, tell him the same things as you would in a letter (as described above). State your issue and opinion up front, describe how the issue affects you, and then ask for his or her help. If they look ready to help you and ask for more information from you, do everything you can to assist them.

Meet at the lawmaker's home office.

You do not have to go to Washington, DC, to meet with your lawmakers. Every representative and senator has at least one, and sometimes several, local offices within the state or congressional district they represent. Most senators and representatives reserve time to come home from Congress and meet with their constituents in their local offices. This can be an excellent way to get one-on-one time with your lawmaker.

To set up one of these meetings, simply call their local office and ask when the lawmaker will be in town and whether you may set up an appointment with him or her to discuss important issues that affect you. If you do not know the telephone number of the local office, you can telephone their office in Washington to get it. (The main switchboard of the Capitol building in Washington is 202-244-3121).

Town hall meetings

If your lawmaker is having a town hall meeting in your local area, this may be a way of introducing yourself and talking to him or her. This is not, however, a great opportunity to have a one-on-one dialogue. If you are one of the people in the room who gets to ask the lawmaker a question you may be able to get them to make a public statement on your issue. There is some value to educating your lawmaker at a town meeting, and this effort can really be enhanced by a follow up meeting at their office or by a follow-up letter referencing the town hall meeting.

Again, call your lawmaker's local office to ask when the next town hall meeting will be and how you can participate.

Attend a fundraiser for the lawmaker

It can be cheaper than you think! Let the truth be told, this can be the most effective way of introducing yourself and your issues to a lawmaker. Although you may hear about thousands of dollars in contributions to political campaigns, many campaigns hold fundraisers for as little as $15-25 a person.This year every member of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are up for re-election. You can call the lawmaker's campaign office to ask when and where he or she will be holding low-dollar fundraisers in your area. Although they may be infrequent early on this year, they will occur more often as the election draws closer. (If the local telephone directory does not have the campaign's phone number, the Washington office can give it to you)Even if you don't agree with the lawmaker on every issue, attending a fundraiser is worth considering. Whether the lawmaker is a member of your favorite political party or not, you are doing this to get a few quality minutes to discuss your issues with the person who represents you with the power to make decisions on your issues. Furthermore, at a fundraiser you can establish a personal connection with the lawmaker and his or her staff that can help you when you set up a subsequent meeting in his or her office.

Going to a fundraiser to introduce yourself to your lawmaker and to bend his or her ear on your issues may sound cynical and undemocratic. But as you may have read or seen on television, this is the way that politics works and this column is meant to give you the keys to open that door so that you are on the inside rather than the outside.

Talk to the staff

The staff members of lawmakers are often just as important as the lawmaker to spend time educating - and you have a much better chance of getting a few minutes of their time. Ask to speak with a lawmaker's staff member who works on the issues you want to talk about.

Always be respectful

No matter how mad you are about an issue or at a lawmaker, always try to communicate in a civil tone and use respectable language. If you are mad, by all means tell them, but do not use them as a punching bag for your words. It will only work against you. You want them to be sympathetic to your words, not turned off.