Speak up!

Want to make your voice heard in Washington, D.C., on an issue or proposed legislation? Follow these tips.

Information, please. If you’re concerned about proposed legislation, contact the local office of your senator or representative. (Check the phone book.) Ask a legislative assistant to give you the name and number of the legislation (for example, “HR238”), and the name of the member of Congress who authored it. Ask for a copy of your congressman’s position paper (if any) on the issue, and request the mailing address, fax number, and e-mail address of your senator or congressman. Then send your comments.

If phone numbers of local congressional offices aren’t in your phone book, call directory assistance. You can also contact the Washington, D.C., offices of members of Congress by calling the Capitol operator at (202) 225-3121 or (202) 224-3121 and asking to be connected to your representative’s office.

If you have access to the Internet, find your representatives through the Web sites for the House (www.house.gov/ or http://lcweb.loc.gov/global/legislative/house.html) and Senate (www.senate.gov or http://lcweb.loc.gov/global/legislative/house.html. You can find information on pending legislation at those Web sites or http://thomas.loc.gov. This is a service of the Library of Congress that provides searchable information about Congress and the legislative process, including specific bills by topic, bill number, or title; the complete text of the Congressional Record; and committee reports by topic or committee name.

Say it in writing. If you write or fax your senator or representative, use your business letterhead. If you use e-mail, identify yourself and your business early in the message and again at the end. In addition:

  • Clearly state who you are and whom you represent. (“My name is John Doe. I own a small retail jewelry store that has operated in your district for 40 years. We employ 35 people.”)

  • State the name and number of the bill you support or oppose. (“I am writing to you concerning HR222, the Business Tax Renewal bill” or “I am writing to you concerning S333, the Budget Reconciliation bill.”).

  • Give your reasons for writing-why you support or oppose the bill in question.

  • Be brief and be polite.

  • State what specific action, if any, you want the member of Congress to take. (“Therefore, I strongly urge you to vote for..” or “I strongly urge you to oppose..”)

  • Thank the senator or representative for his or her attention to the matter and help.

  • Ask for a reply to your letter, fax, or e-mail.

The following are the proper addresses to use when writing to senators or representatives.

For members of the House of Representatives:

Honorable John Q. Person

House of Representatives

Washington D.C. 20515

For members of the Senate:

Honorable Jane Q. Person

U.S. Senate

Washington D.C. 20510

Say it on the phone. To telephone your views to a member of Congress, call the Capitol Hill operator at (202) 225-3121. Give the name of your senator or representative and ask to be connected to his or her office. You will probably get a legislative aide. Follow the same procedures for phone comments as for written ones.

Say it in a meeting. If you meet-alone or with colleagues-with a member of Congress or a staff person to express your views, remember the following tips from Timothy M. Haake & Associates, the Washington, D.C., lobbyist for Jewelers of America:

  • Before the meeting, set clear, obtainable goals that you hope to accomplish. Examples include finding out where a member of Congress stands on an issue, asking him or her to support or oppose legislation, or requesting information. Leave prepared materials on particular aspects of the jewelry industry.

  • If attending the meeting as a group, designate someone in advance as the key spokesperson. Clearly state who you are or the group you represent, and where you are from. (See the advice above on letter-writing.)

  • Briefly state your position and what you hope to accomplish. Don’t assume that members of Congress know the technical details of bills that might affect the jewelry industry. Also, be prepared to play devil’s advocate: Briefly state any opposing positions, and your response to them.

  • Ask for his or her support.

  • Before leaving, give and get business cards. Leave behind relevant documents and position papers for the congressman and staff to review. Thank them for their time, and follow up by sending a written (not faxed or e-mailed) thank-you letter.

To ensure the success of any meeting:

  • Be courteous.

  • Be open-minded and willing to meet with staff members if your senator or representative is unavailable.

  • Be well-prepared and know your position on the issue.

  • Be honest. If you don’t have certain information, don’t pretend you do. Promise to obtain and send it as soon as possible.

  • Be brief. Members of Congress and their staffs have busy schedules. At the start of the meeting, ask how much time they can give you and stick to it.

To prevent the meeting from being a disaster:

  • Don’t make threats or refer to campaign contributions you’ve made.

  • Don’t demand to see the member of Congress, no matter what.

  • Don’t pretend you have all the answers.

  • Don’t lie or stretch the truth. That only undermines your credibility as well as that of the industry.

  • Don’t get bogged down in details. Provide a prepared “briefing paper” that includes details and summarizes what you’ll be talking about.