Tips for Contacting Congress
Under the U.S. form of government, each of us located in one of the fifty states is represented by two Senators, elected statewide to serve all citizens of that state, and one Member of the House of Representatives, elected on a district basis.
As individuals, we have both a right and a duty to let our elected representatives know our opinions on key issues, so that they can weigh the collective opinions of their constituents and vote on issues to represent our best interests.
Elected officials receive a great deal of correspondence on various issues. When writing to one of your representatives, you will generally get a response from their office. This response may be a "canned" response for a given topic, or you may receive an individualized reply. In either case, your opinion will be noted and tabulated. You can make a difference by expressing your opinion.
Some Suggestions for Contacting Congress
- Your Senators and House Members usually have one or more local offices in your state, where you can communicate with local staffers in person or by phone, fax or mail.
- When in Washington, DC, you can visit the office of your representative, but you should make an appointment well in advance. Also realize that you are more likely to be able to talk to a Legislative Assistant than to your elected representative.
- You can find out names, office addresses, phone numbers, email contacts and fax numbers at various websites, including Juan Cabanela's Contacting the Congress or Congress.org.
- In general, you should only contact your own elected representatives. Correspondence to other representatives may be ignored if you are not a constituent of that representative. There are exceptions for key legislation, where you are contacting influential committee members, or when contacting Congressional leaders, but your comments will have the most influence on your own representatives.
- While email is convenient for most of us who use the Internet on a regular basis, Congressional offices are not set up yet to efficiently handle email. You will usually receive a form reply that states your message will be replied to by postal mail if you included your postal address. In the first few months of 2001, email to Congress has grown substantially and Congressional staffers are struggling to process it.
- Postal Mail is usually the best way to contact your representative or his office.
- For urgent matters or for following up with an assistant on a specific issue, a phone call may be the most efficient way to make the contact.
- Whether you use email, postal mail, fax or phone, be sure to include your own postal mailing address. You may include your own email address, fax number, or phone number if you wish.
- Written communications should be kept to one issue per letter.
- Letters should be formal in tone, rather than casual. Be courteous and to the point.
- Concise communication is preferred. Messages should be no longer than one page, and preferably limited to only a few paragraphs.
- In your first paragraph, identify yourself, your affiliation and your major concern. In the second and additional paragraphs, explain why your concern is important. Include key information and use examples to support your position.
- If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it by using House Bill H.R. xxxx or Senate Bill S. xxxx, where xxxx is the number assigned to the legislation.
- If you call the office of your representative, ask for the staff member who handles the area of concern. Identify yourself, and then identify the bill or issue you wish to comment on and concisely state your position. You may want to ask what the senator's or congressman's position is on this issue and you may ask for a written response to your call.