Adapted from Congress at Your Fingertips from CQ Roll Call
To find your representative's telephone number, use the Contacting Your Representative feature of CongressLink. You may also call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Representative or Senator's office.
A staff member, not the Representative or Senator, usually takes calls to the office. Try to identify the staffer who has responsibility for your issue in advance, if it's a piece of legislation or a public policy matter. Constituent casework is typically handled in the member's district or state office.
Once you identify yourself, tell the aide what your message is and why you hold that position. Ask for your Representative or Senator's position on the matter. You may also ask for a written response to your phone call.
Even with the emergence of e-mail, most people still write letters in order to communicate with their Representative or Senator. Here are some suggestions for writing an effective letter:
1. State the purpose of your letter in the first few sentences. If your letter deals with a specific piece of legislation, identify it by bill number, e.g., House bill: H.R. 1234, Senate bill: S. 1234. If you don't know the number, state the subject briefly.
2. Be polite, concise, include key information, and use examples to support your position.
3. Keep the letter short - one page is best. Address only one issue per letter.
To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
xx (room number) xx (either Dirksen, Russell, or Hart) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator (last name):
To a Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
xx (room number) xx (either Cannon, Rayburn, or Longworth ) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative (last name):
If you don't know the office number or building, just leave that information out - the letter will reach the member anyway.
When writing to the Chair of a committee or to the Speaker of the House, it is proper to address them as
Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairman:
or Dear Mr. Speaker:
The same guidelines that apply to letters also apply to e-mail messages. Be aware that some members do not respond to e-mail or respond only in writing, so you will need to supply your mailing address. It has been reported, too, that the e-mail server used by the House automatically reroutes e-mail messages to the Representative who serves the district in which the message originates. In other words, you may not be able to send an e-mail to someone who does not represent you in the House.
Meeting with a member of Congress or congressional staff is a very effective way to convey a message about a specific legislative issue. Below are some suggestions to consider when planning a visit to a congressional office.
Plan Your Visit Carefully. Be clear about what it is you want to achieve; determine in advance which member or committee staff you need to meet with to achieve your purpose.
Make an Appointment. When attempting to meet with a member, contact the Appointment Secretary/Scheduler. Explain your purpose and who you represent. It is easier for congressional staff to arrange a meeting if they know what you wish to discuss and your relationship to the area or interests represented by the member.
Be Prompt and Patient. When it is time to meet with a member, be punctual and be patient. It is not uncommon for a member to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, due to the member's crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. When the opportunity presents itself, continue your meeting with a member's staff.
Be Prepared. Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your position. Members are required to take positions on many different issues. In some instances, a member may lack important details about the pros and cons of a particular matter. It is therefore helpful to share with the member information and examples that demonstrate clearly the impact or benefits associated with a particular issue or piece of legislation.
Be Political (which doesn't mean partisan). Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of the member's constituency. If possible, describe for the member how you or your group can be of assistance to him/her. Where it is appropriate, remember to ask for a commitment. Remember that the member does not have to be in your political party to help.
Be Responsive. Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information, in the event the member expresses interest or asks questions. Follow up the meeting with a thank you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting, and send along any additional information and materials requested.
For even more detailed expert advice about contacting a member of Congress, visit CongressLink's selection from AdVanced Consulting's Advocacy Classroom. This selection provides expert tips for reaching your Congress member. Learn what a congressional office can and cannot (or should not) do for you, what staff members do, and how best to deal with them. Click here.