Contact Your Congressman
Use the CongressWeb online advocacy tool, our interactive application that allows you to send an e-mail, fax or letter to your elected officials
Though their use has diminished among most people in recent years, the letter is still quite popular with legislators. Letters can, however, take quite a while to reach the official, in part because of security precautions. If you are acting well in advance of a vote, the letter is an excellent choice for communicating with your elected official. In order to make your letter as effective as it can be, keep these tips in mind:
1. Keep your letter concise and directed: Address only one issue, and state it early, beginning with it if possible, and don’t let the letter get too long. Keep it to just one page if at all possible. Finally, be sure to identify the legislation you are writing about (if applicable) with the correct number (House bill: H.R.____ or Senate Bill S.____).
2. Create a human connection between the representative and your issue: use personal examples to illustrate the significance of the issue in your district and the effects it will have on your community.
3. Be clear that you are a constituent. Your letter may be ignored if you are not from the official’s home district.
4. Use paper with a letterhead if available. If there is no return address present on it, include one in your letter.
5. Be positive: Thank the legislator if he or she has supported your cause in the past.
The Honorable (Full Name)
___(Room #) ____ (Name of) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable (Full Name)
___(Room #) ___ (Name of) House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Please note that if the legislator you are writing to is a committee chair or the Speaker of the House, address them as such:
Dear Mr. Chairman/Madame Chairwoman or Dear Mr. Speaker/Madame Speaker
Like phone calls, email can be a great way of contacting a legislator on short notice, but due to the high volume of emails that representatives and senators receive, it may take days for a staff member to actually read your email. Email can be a great tool for influencing your official’s legislation. All the rules and suggestions for letters also apply to email.
Phone calls, though not as formal as a letter, are another good way of getting in touch with an elected official. The immediacy of a phone call makes it useful for influencing and informing a legislator within the last few days before an important vote. Some advice for calling an official’s office:
1. Keep in mind that staff members will usually take your call, not the legislator. Therefore, you should learn which staff member handles your issue and ask to speak with that person.
2. Identify yourself by name and as a constituent: Anonymous calls may be disregarded and the legislator will be much less concerned (if at all) with the views of someone he or she does not represent.
3. Leave a brief, to-the-point, message for the legislator telling him or her the exact purpose for the call and identifying the bill by the correct number (see letters section).
4. Feel free to ask for the elected official’s position on the issue and to request a written response to the phone call.
Meeting in person with a legislator or staff member is an excellent way of informing an official of your concerns. A face-to-face encounter is more memorable and it allows for a more fluid exchange of information: both sides can ask questions and receive answers immediately. Here are some suggestions to consider before you schedule a meeting with your representative or senator:
1. Stick to one issue: Make the most of your time with the official or staff member by educating them as much as you can about your issue
2. Be flexible and patient: Elected officials are busy and your meeting may be shortened and you may have to wait longer than you expected. You should, however, still arrive promptly for your scheduled time. Also, be willing to speak with a staff member rather than the official him or herself.
3. Confirm your appointment the day of the meeting. Make sure your legislator’s schedule has not changed abruptly.
4. Thank the legislator for supporting your cause if he or she has. If the official has not been supportive in the past, simply thank him or her for taking the time to meet with you.
5. Provide information on paper. Bring info packages and business cards. Not only will this help your representative get in touch with you later, but it may also remind him or her of your concern for the issue.
Prepare for questions. Anticipate what the official may ask you. Be honest if you do not know the answer. Misinformation will weaken your credibility. Instead of providing a half-truth or worse, offer to conduct further research and bring the new information to the official when you have it.