How To Help NICE Influence Your Legislators

Posted on 03/22/2009

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DOs
  • Do know who represents you at all levels of government. You can obtain this information from your local library or board of elections and usually through the Internet. Keep phone numbers and addresses handy. Help others do the same.
  • Do identify yourself by name and organization (if any) when talking with an elected official. (Politicians always act like they remember who you are to avoid offending anyone.)
  • Do state a clear and concise objective. For example, say specifically that you want to ban canned hunts—not just that you want to stop outrageous hunting practices (which is too broad). Explain the meaning of terms that may be unfamiliar, such as “canned,” “pound seizure,” “class B dealers.” Broad statements such as “hunting bears with hounds is inexcusable” may reflect how you feel, but don’t convey a message as to what action needs to be taken by the official.
  • Do explain why the issue is important to you personally. If possible, link the issue to a personal experience or a situation in the elected official’s district.
  • Do be aware of previous actions the official has taken on behalf of animals. You can be sure the opposition is aware of the assistance he or she gave on our behalf.
  • Do get to know your elected officials. Make an effort to appear at town meetings and other events, and be sure they hear you ask at least one question on animal issues at each event.
  • Do mention how important it is for your elected officials to adequately fund animal programs ranging from local animal control to state enforcement of wildlife protection laws to enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and others. Let them know that this is how you want your tax dollars spent.
  • Do join, create, or revitalize state federations or other state-wide groups to give your cause additional clout. Whenever possible, mention how many individuals your group represents.
  • Do get to know and develop a working relationship with key people who have influence over animals. For example, animal control officers, veterinarians, state wildlife board members, prosecuting attorneys, and health department officials have a major impact on animal protection bills. Legislators listen to their views, so work with them whenever possible.
  • Do join forces with other types of groups that may have the same position as you even if for different reasons—groups such as churches, teachers unions, chambers of commerce, local universities, or specific industries. Whenever appropriate, get school children to support your efforts.
  • Do wear many hats—not just your animal advocate hat. When lobbying legislators, identify yourself as a parent, businessperson, campaign contributor, or fellow church/club/team member.
  • Do work with legislative staff. They often have more knowledge of the issues, can give you vital background on the legislation’s outlook, and have extraordinary clout.
  • Do get involved in legislative campaigns—as an individual, not as a nonprofit group. Volunteer to work, place a campaign sign in your yard, hand out leaflets, or otherwise help get someone elected.
  • Do learn how to work with your local press by developing a relationship with friendly reporters and editors.
DON’Ts
  • Don’t threaten or antagonize a legislator even if he or she deserves it. If an elected official opposes your viewpoint, but respects you and bears you no animosity, you may find common ground in the future on another issue. But if you make an enemy, that person may take extra steps to defeat the bill you support. A legislator who doesn’t agree with you on wildlife issues may be great on companion animal issues and vice versa. Don’t make enemies. Today’s city council member can be tomorrow’s governor.
  • Don’t refer to bills by their numbers alone.
  • Don’t fail to listen to elected official’s comments and questions on an issue. If she asks how a bill will impact jobs, or medical care, or the budget, you’ll know where her concern is focused. Find ways to address those issues.
  • Don’t ever lie to or mislead a legislator—especially someone who is on your side and needs to know the truth about an issue. Trust is essential for a working relationship.
  • Don’t overwhelm a legislator with too much information or paperwork. They don’t have time for it. Provide them with whatever is key to their efforts and be ready to supply any other needed information.
  • Don’t be inflexible. Sometimes we have to compromise. As long as such a change won’t harm any animals, consider the situation carefully. Learn legislative strategies that might save a bill otherwise destined to die, such as sunset provisions, grandfathering clauses, and placing provisions into a regulation instead of a statute.
  • Don’t forget to thank someone who was helpful. Whenever possible, let your membership know how helpful the person has been.
  • Don’t use terms or abbreviations that may be unfamiliar to an official without explaining their meaning, such as WLFA, PIJAC, or even The HSUS.