An important task you need to perform before lobbying an elected official is to learn "where they're coming from." This will help you determine your most effective lobbying method and make you more comfortable working with the official. It will also improve your success in influencing the legislator to vote favorably on your issues.
A good place to start is to look over the profile of the officials with whom you will be working. This will provide you with basic information such as marital status, children, religious affiliation and educational background. You also need to specifically look at the political profile. Some examples are:
- What is the party affiliation?
- When was the legislator first elected?
- How did they fare in the latest election?
- Have they served as an elected official on another level or in a different capacity?
- Do they participate in any organizations or associations at the governing level?
All of these questions are important to help you build a "character analysis," identify similarities and make you aware of danger zones.
Most information about publicly elected officials is available, you just have to know where to look. KASB maintains information on the Kansas Legislature that provides many details you will find helpful. You can also work with your local library, the state library or the secretary of state. State and federal election commissioners can also supply you with public information.
To improve your success, you also need to understand why elected officials vote the way they do and have conversations with them about why they voted a certain way. Sometimes, understanding why an official voted the way they did is easy and explainable. Other times, it's complex and perplexing. You need to understand what, or who, has the greatest influence over the legislators and understand no legislator will probably vote with you 100 percent of the time .
Some elected officials vote based on one factor-the wishes of their constituency. This wish is usually expressed in letters and phone calls, but there may be times when the desires of the constituents are not clear, or they are divided. What determines their vote then? This is when a strong relationship with your legislators proves valuable. If they know they can count on your opinions and your suggestions, they will give more credibility to your position. This is not to imply that all constituents don't have an equal voice, but on certain issues, your voice will be heard above the others.
Elected officials must also weigh how votes will be interpreted. Some examples are:
- Will votes be viewed as protective for the district or as an attempt to do what is best for the entire legislative body's jurisdiction?
- Do votes seem to reflect the individual's concerns and agenda above that of the district?
Most elected officials strive to please their constituency in all ways possible. If not, they will not be successful in re-election bids and will no longer have constituents to represent.
Knowing more about elected officials, what motivates them and how they perceive their own decision-making can make you a more effective lobbyist. And, the more effective you are, the stronger advocate you become for public education.