Lobbying: Laying Down the Law
An essential part of any movement for social
change is the effort to create new legislation. Before most elected officials
will introduce animal-friendly legislation, they must be convinced there is
sufficient public support. The best way to convince legislators that their
constituents are strongly in favor of reform is for the constituents themselves
to communicate with their public officials.
Public officials do listen! When Virginia was
considering implementing a bounty on coyotes, the governor received so much mail
against the bounty that he vetoed the bill. And former New York Governor Mario
Cuomo twice vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical technicians to
practice human intubation (inserting tubes through the mouth or nose into the
trachea) on cats; Cuomo's aides said they received more mail on the bill than
any other piece of legislation.
Do Your Homework
- Know the issue: Before contacting
legislators, make sure you know what you're talking about. Find out what the
relevant laws currently state. Get facts and figures straight!
- Know the legislative process: Contact the
city council office for information on enacting legislation. Ask the council
clerk for a schedule of open council meetings, and attend at least one
meeting to see how they are run.
- Know the legislators: Call your local
office of the League of Women Voters or the county clerk's office for
legislators' names and districts. Attend town meetings where legislators
meet with voters, or write to thank them for taking a certain position.
- Know the support staff: By staying in
touch about issues and proposed legislation, you'll get to know aides,
staff, and secretaries; they are more accessible than the legislators and
can provide you with helpful information. Establish a rapport early rather
than waiting until your group wants to introduce a bill, but remember to
keep your contact brief and not take up too much of their time.
Set Your Goal
- Decide specifically what you will campaign
for, e.g., a spaying and neutering ordinance or a bill against pound
seizure. (If the legislature rules out a total ban, then consider
- Tragic events can be catalysts for change.
For example, if an animal gets loose or attacks someone when the circus
comes to town, that is the time to campaign hard to ban animal acts.
Laying the Groundwork
- Legislators will be most responsive to
their own constituents-find supporters in each district to contact them.
- Short, polite letters to legislators show
that constituents support the proposed legislation. Use your own words,
rather than postcards and form letters; the more personal a letter appears,
the more seriously it will be taken.
- Prepare information packets that include a
factsheet on the issue and the proposed ordinance.
- Attend city council meetings. Contact the
council office to learn how to get your issue on the agenda. If you are
speaking, make it factual and short and sweet. Follow the same procedures
you would in a personal meeting with a legislator (see below). You can also
use the opportunity to meet legislators and be a presence at meetings, even
if you are not on the agenda.
- Personal contact is an important lobbying
tool. Make an appointment ahead of time, and if the legislator is
unavailable, speak with an aide or other staff person. It's best to go by
yourself or, at most, with one other person. If you are going with a group,
decide beforehand who will be the spokesperson or what each person will say
to avoid repetition. The following guidelines will make your visit as
effective as possible.
- Dress professionally.
- Be brief and to the point.
- Identify yourself as a constituent, plus
as a concerned citizen, parent, or whatever else applies. You can identify
yourself as a member of an organization, but legislators want to get
feedback from voters, not lobbyists.
- Support your argument with facts, not
- Be specific and state clearly what you
want the legislator to do: Vote yes or no, urge a government agency to
investigate a lab, etc. Don't just ask him or her to support animal rights
bills. Few officials vote in favor of all animal protection bills, because
different issues are at stake with each one.
- Provide background information. The
legislator is busy and probably knows nothing about the issue. If possible,
show a very short video to illustrate the problem.
- Make sure legislators know how the bill
will affect their constituents positively.
- Be direct and upbeat.
- Don't be argumentative or hostile, and
don't hesitate to admit that you do not know everything (but let them know
you will find out). Be sure not to make threats, be overly emotional, or
harass legislators with too much contact.
- Leave an information pack and a brief,
clearly written summary of your position.
- Write a personal thank you after every
visit or supportive action by the legislator, and thank any aides or
secretaries with whom you have contact.
League for Earth & Animal Protection ( LEAP )
Charlotte Laws Ph.D. - Founder & President
21781 Ventura Blvd., Suite 633
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
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