How to be Heard on the Hill

Five steps to increase the likelihood of influencing legislators.

April 1, 2012

“The energy level on Capitol Hill is like an emergency room,” Bradford Fitch told general session attendees Monday afternoon. Fitch is president/CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation.

“Members of Congress are very busy,” he said. “Our research shows they attend an average 13 meetings a day and work 60 to 70 hours a week.”

“In the past 10 years, the number of communications coming into Congressional offices has increased up to 1,000%,” he said. “There are currently about 7,000 web sites designed to direct messages to Congressional offices. But the number of employees monitoring that communication has not increased due to legislation passed in 1974 capping the number of Congressional staffers at 18 full-time employees per office. That’s why the activity level of those offices looks like an emergency room.”

Fitch said it’s not easy getting your message heard by these busy, distracted people.

But he did outline five steps for increasing the likelihood of influencing legislators:

  1. Learn about your legislator—know what legislation they’ve introduced and which committees they served on.
  2. Be a ‘normal’ expert. Be the kind of person a staffer would call to discuss the impact of some legislation on your home district.
  3. Communicate frequently.
  4. Have a specific ask—conclude your visit with your petition, and leave an informative handout behind.
  5. Tell a personal story.

Armed with these tips for influencing legislators, CUNA’s Senior Vice President of Legislative Affairs Ryan Donovan gave attendees some talking points about the member business lending legislation.

“When you Hike the Hill on Wednesday, be sure to let your legislators know that credit unions have been making member business loans for 100 years—the first 90 of which have been without a cap,” he said.

“Remind your elected officials that credit unions increased their business lending 45% from the start of the financial crisis through December 2011, while the same banks that took taxpayer bailout money actually decreased business lending 15% during that same period,” Donovan said.

“And before you leave your legislator’s office, ask him or her to enact S. 509 or H.R. 1418 to provide a taxpayer-free infusion of $13 billion in capital to small businesses to create 140,000 jobs by increasing the credit union business lending cap to 27.5%.”