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Researching Legislators: What Fanciers Need To Know

Researching Legislators: What Fanciers Need To Know

Kelly Crouch

Successful advocacy is often a two-pronged approach, calling for efforts that focus on both the grassroots and the grasstops. A grassroots campaign mobilizes and prepares supporters to attend hearings, write letters or emails, call their legislators, and help spread the word to the constituents on the street or in the elevator. A grasstops campaign targets the elected officials and the people who influence them. Critical to a successful grasstops effort is creating a message that resonates with lawmakers and the people who influence them. Tailoring a message for a specific person or group of people requires understanding what motivates them. To be effective, an advocate should know whether an elected official has taken a position on the issue of concern, what the politician’s interests are, how accessible the legislator is, and who influences him or her. All this research may seem like a daunting task but in today’s digital landscape, it need not be that way.

An important research goal is to determine which lawmakers could be most helpful to your advocacy effort. There is no sense spending a lot of time trying to convince someone that your position is the correct one if the legislator stands firmly with the opposition. Also, a legislator who may agree with you but for whom your issue is low on the priority list may never be accessible to you. Freshman lawmakers may be enthusiastic for the cause, but may also lack the legislative background to promote your position until they have more experience. Reviewing a politician’s background will help you decide which elected officials might best help you achieve your advocacy goals. But how does one go about doing that?

A good starting point is researching the authors and sponsors of the legislation. Special interest groups seeking authors for legislation seek out legislators with a proven track record of moving the group’s bills whenever possible. Does the bill author regularly author bills for that interest group? If not, it could be helpful to learn the lawmaker’s motivation, voting history on related bills, and any relationships they may have with relevant special interest groups or individuals. Even identifiable lawmakers that regularly author bills for particular groups or sponsors may not understand all the ramifications of the legislation. When this occurs, informing the legislator and offering alternate language to remove the problem may be all that is needed. Often, though, a greater advocacy effort is needed and the search requires expansion.

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December 2017