Monday, October 19, 2009


When I served in our Colorado Legislature, legislators measured support or opposition to a measure by how many letters or postcards they received on a particular measure. Smart citizen lobbyists send individual letters of one or two pages in length with well-reasoned arguments addressing that citizen's concern about a measure. If legislators received all-the-same xeroxed copy of one letter, that was considered less effective by legislators. That was like the letters Sister used to write letters for us on the board at the parochial school: "Dear Senator, support funding for school buses for private schools....." The letters were all the same even though they were handwritten, and looked personal enough. But they too were counted as one letter from one source. Using the same stamps on the same size envelopes let the legislators know that everybody got in a room somewhere and wrote their letters. Thank you, Sister.

Smart lobbyists asked citizens to bring their own stationary and their own commemorative stamps, not just those found on large rolls from the post office. They let the legislators know someone cared enough to write an individual letter on a particular issue.

Postcards followed the same rules. Use different stamps and messages, though there are not as many postcard stamps available at the US postal service. But handwritten post cards, in my view, equalled two or three repetitive printed letters. A steady stream of postcards and letters increasing each day of a particular campaign, I considered effective and let me know how folks felt about a measure pending at the assembly. Letters and cards from the district you represented meant the most.

Legislators considered telegrams equal to five or six letters. Remember Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the message." That someone took the time and money to send a telegram conveyed the message that the citizen really meant business. The NRA asked members to allow the organization to use the member's name on telegrams which they sent to the legislators on a measure. I asked a neighbor whose name was on a telegram on a bill, "Why didn't you just come over and talk to me about the bill?" He said he gave the NRA permission to use his name on the telegram which he admitted he did not see, but which he trusted would correspond to his desires and wishes on the gun legislation.

Telephone calls were important, especially if the citizen left his or her feelings for or against a bill. Telephone calls focusing on amendments added to a bill helped get the legislators the feeling of citizens on that amendment.

The same principles apply to digital lobbying. Canned emails all saying the same words mean not much to legislators and council members looking for opinions on particular issues. The more individualized the email message the better as it gives the legislator the impression you are not in a room full of computers sending the same message. So good luck in the new world of digital lobbying. At least now with the computer, sloppy handwriting is not an issue. Sister would not approve of that. Bring on the dreaded rulers.

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