The Basics for Meeting Your State Legislator
Prior to Your Visit
• Scout out the meeting locations and plan accordingly for getting from meeting to meeting. Allow enough time between meetings.
• Take some time to think through your talking points, both those provided by ACSI and your own talking points. What’s your angle that makes your points different from everyone else?
• Confirm your appointment a day in advance and be prepared for the office to ask if you can reschedule to another time. Hill offices juggle numerous meetings (with constituents and other offices) as well as political responsibilities, and sometimes changes must be made.
• Research the member and their positions. If you are going in to discuss business travel, have they sponsored a bill involving tax credits for business spending or a resolution to encourage travel to their area? Conversely, have they made speeches condemning Congressional travel as a boondoggle?
• Dress for a business meeting. Your attire will be noticed if it is not business dress.
• Know with whom you are meeting. While it is great to meet with a state legislator, sometimes you will end up meeting with a staff person. Here is a list of common terms used in a Washington, D.C. Congressional office. Your state may have variations. States typically have smaller staffs than Congress; many will have just one legislative assistant.
o Chief of Staff/Administrative Assistant: This is the top ranking staff person and the one who is closest to the member. Their word is essentially the member’s word.
o Legislative Director (LD): This is the staff person who manages the legislative staff and is responsible for managing all of the issue areas in the office. They may have their own issue portfolio as well as coordinating those of the legislative assistants.
o Legislative Assistant (LA): An LA is an area specialist who has a list of issues they handle for the office, usually related in some way under headings like “Commerce”, “Tax”, or “Women’s Issues”. They are the mid-level person most in the weeds on the topics and are likely the person with whom you’ll meet.
o Legislative Correspondent (LC): This is an entry-level person in the office who mainly deals with constituent requests and communications. They will sometimes fill in for an LA on a meeting. Many LCs go on to higher positions in an office, so treat them nicely.
o Scheduler: The gatekeeper for the office. They handle the member of Congress’ schedule and, in some cases, the meeting schedule for the office. If you treat them with respect, it will get you far in the office.
During Your Visit
• Show up on time or 5 minutes early. More often than not, your meeting will start late because the person with whom you are meeting is running late, but do not let that affect your presentation. Just accept it and stick to your talking points.
• Your meeting may be in the office or, if you are meeting with a member, in the hallway to another meeting, in the cafeteria, or in a committee room. Just roll with it!
• Your meeting will likely be no more than 15 minutes, so do not get sidetracked with chit-chat. Small talk is fine, but do not let it dominate the meeting.
• Do not, under any circumstances, bring up a campaign contribution or threaten a member or staffer to not vote for them. It destroys your credibility and may even be illegal.
• It is, however, ok for you to thank a member for supporting a position in the past that is related to your meeting (“I am here to discuss H.B. 4 and wanted to thank the Delegate for signing on as a cosponsor”).
• Mix facts with anecdotes. Legislative offices love facts they can use themselves (especially from constituents) but it is often the personal story that sells the importance of an issue.
• Never, ever lie in your meeting. If you do not know something, be honest and say so but promise to send more information in the near future.
• Make your ask. Always end your meeting asking the member or staff whether they will support your position. Often you will get an ambiguous answer, but politely press them on when you can get an answer.
• Leave the ACSI position materials and your business card.
• Thank them for the meeting!
After the meeting
• Send a thank you note to the person with whom you met and provide any information you promised to provide.
• Keep in touch with the office, either on the issue with which you met them or on any new issues. Keep the business relationship alive!