How to visit Members of Congress

Meeting with a Member of Congress, or congressional staff, is a very effective way to convey a message about a specific legislative issue. Below are some suggestions to consider when planning a visit to a congressional office.

Visits in the home district are more productive than visits to the Member's Washington office
Members of Congress have hectic schedules when Congress is in session and you have a better chance of meeting with the Members themselves in the district office and with fewer distractions.

Plan your visit carefully
Be clear about what it is you want to achieve; determine in advance which Member or committee staff you need to meet with to achieve your purpose.

Make an appointment
Contact the Appointment Secretary/Scheduler, if possible three to four weeks in advance. Be prepared to offer alternative dates. Explain who will be coming and be clear about your purpose. It is easier for congressional staff to arrange a meeting if they know what you wish to discuss and your relationship to the area or interests represented by the Member.

If coming as a group
Select a spokesperson and a common strategy.

Be on time and be prepared to wait
It is not uncommon for Members to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted, because of their crowded schedule. If interruptions do occur, be flexible. When the opportunity presents itself, continue your meeting with a Member's staff. Staff assistants are often the most knowledgeable about legislation and can be very helpful. Plan on a 15-20 minute appointment

Be prepared and be succinct
Whenever possible, bring to the meeting information and materials supporting your position. Members are required to take positions on many different issues. In some instances a Member may lack important details about the pros and cons of a particular matter. It is therefore helpful to share with the Member information and examples that demonstrate clearly the impact or benefits associated with a particular issue or piece of legislation. Resist the temptation to bring too much material. A one-page "leave-behind" sheet outlining your concerns is appropriate. Contact the AMS Washington Office for mathematics-related hand-out material.

Be political
Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Explain how what you are talking about affects the Member's state or district with a short anecdote or facts about the district (e.g., how many people work for your university, and their economic impact). If possible, describe for the Member how you or your group can be of assistance to him/her. Where it is appropriate, remember to ask for a commitment.

Be responsive
Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information, in the event the member expresses interest or asks questions. If you do not know the answer, be honest! Always commit to finding out the answer and follow up.

Don't be negative
Never be negative about politicians; do not whine or lecture to Members or staffers; do not imply that funding for science is or should be an entitlement.

Follow up after the meeting
Send a thank you letter offering to be a source of information in the future.

American Mathematical Society