When communicating with your Representative or Senator, your ability to influence depends on the points you make and the clarity with which you make them. Keep it simple and be brief.
- State your purpose in the first sentence. If your communication pertains to a specific piece of legislation, don't assume your legislator will have memorized it. Refer to it by its bill number, e. g. House bill: H.R. (bill number) Senate bill: S. (bill number) or its title. If you don't know this information, summarize it the best you can.
- Tell them exactly why you consider legislation on an issue good or bad, and how you feel it would affect you and the other voters in your area. Include key information and use examples to support your position.
- Show familiarity with their voting record: "I was glad to see your support for Medicare last year, and now I urge you to vote against the proposed cuts."
- Focus on one issue in each letter. If possible, keep the letter to one page.
- Steer away from emotional outrage and threats.
- Thank members for voting the right way.
- Make sure your written communication is neatly typed or legibly written. Have your spouse or a friend check it for readability and typos before you send it.
- Be sure to include your name and your full address.
Letters to Congress remain one of primary means of access to decision makers by their constituents.
Americans send millions of letters and postcards each year asking for support of their positions on issues before the House and Senate. No Senator or Representative has time to read all the mail-generally key staff personnel who specialize in constituent service perform this task. They act as the Representatives' and Senators' eyes and ears, keeping them appraised of their mail as well as keeping records of how their state or district feels about each issue. Letters are a "vote" with important consequences.
Form letters or post cards distributed by organized interest groups and mailed in by citizens are effective, but not to the same degree as truly personal letters. Identical letters and post cards indicate that the writer has been supplied with the message. Other letters generated by groups may be recognizable by repeated phrases and arguments. Most members of Congress give this mail less weight than carefully written letters that reflect individual thought. Mass mailings do, however, indicate some measure of importance of an issue, and constituent opinion will usually be tabulated - especially if larger than usual amounts appear.
Well thought out, clearly written personal letters signed, dated, and bearing the sender's address will often be forwarded to the Representative or Senator as examples of constituent interest or response to an issue.
The Honorable _______ The Honorable _________
U.S. House of Representatives United States Senate
Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Representative _______: Dear Senator ________:
If you have access to the Internet, you can use email to correspond with many Representatives and Senators. When corresponding with your Member of Congress by email it is critical that you include your name and address in your email message, preferably at the top of the message. Most congressional offices have adequate staff resources to respond to their constituents, and your inclusion of your full name and mailing address will ensure that your Member can identify your residence within his or her Congressional district or state.If you use The Senior Citizens League Contact Congress Form, we will share your messages on Capitol Hill.
You may use our searchable online congressional directory to find your Representative's phone number. Submit your information on the Contact Congress Form, to retrieve the phone numbers for your representatives.
Alternatively call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senator's and/or Representative's office.
Remember that telephone calls are taken by a staff member, not the member of Congress. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue to which you wish to comment.
Often the person you wish to speak to will not be available and you will be asked if you want to leave a voice message. Always say yes and treat your message exactly as if you were talking to a person.
After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.8___)."
You will also want to state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill. Ask for your Senator's or Representative's position on the bill. You may also request a written response to your telephone call.
Preparing for a Town Hall Meeting
Meeting with your representatives can be an effective way to communicate your message. Prepare in advance.
Read TSCL's Questions to Ask Your Member of Congress at Your Next Town Hall.