AVMA encourages members to get more engaged in 2012

January 2012

By Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA GRD

Happy New Year! It is hard to believe that the holidays have come and gone, and we are getting ready to start the 2nd session of the 112th Congress. This year will be very interesting as the political parties jockey for first place in the November 2012 election.

January is always a good time to evaluate advocacy strategies and resolve to become more engaged in the political process. Last December, I had the opportunity to attend the Advocacy Leaders Network, where they discussed advocacy strategies, emerging trends and successful advocacy campaigns. One of the speakers presented the results from a Congressional Management Foundation study that looked at advocacy communication strategies aimed at Members of Congress and their staff.i In one study, they asked the following questions:

If your Member/Senator has not already arrived at a firm decision on an issue, how much influence might the following advocacy strategies directed to the Washington office have on his/her decision? The top six strategies were as follows:

  1. In-person visits from constituents
  2. Contact from a constituent who represents other constituents
  3. Individualized postal letters
  4. Individualized email messages
  5. Phone calls
  6. Comments during a telephone town hall

The same study asked what helpful messages should be included in the communication:

  1. Impact the bill will have on the district or state
  2. Constituent's reasons for supporting/opposing the bill or issue
  3. Personal story related to the bill or issue

Why am I sharing this with you? Because the answers received from members of congressional offices emphasize the importance of citizen engagement in the political process. Members of Congress and their staff indicated that a telephone call or a letter that included personalized stories of how you, the constituent, would be affected by a piece of legislation had the most influence on the Member of Congress. Additionally, those surveyed said constituents who make personal visits; whether it is to the Washington office or to the district/state office, have a significant influence on an undecided Member of Congress. The survey results underscore the fact that your communication with your representatives in Congress has a direct impact on their decisions to support or oppose a piece of legislation. They want to hear from you, their constituents!

I am a big sports fan, so I was thinking about a basketball analogy to encompass the above. My original thought was that, because the Governmental Relations Division (GRD) has five lobbyists, AVMA member advocates would be our sixth man -- coming off of the bench to help us move our legislative agenda. But this is not quite correct. Based on the above survey, AVMA member advocates are our star players and must be in the starting lineup!

The AVMA and GRD need your help to advance our legislative agenda on Capitol Hill. Your engagement in the political process will impact the decisions made by Members of Congress on issues related to the veterinary profession, public health, and animal health and welfare. Engagement can be as easy as joining the Congressional Advocacy Network and responding to the CAN's Action Alerts. You could also join AVMAPAC. If you want to get more involved, you could simply visit your Member of Congress when they are home in their district office. Attend a town hall meeting. Invite them to your business so they can see how you practice veterinary medicine and how the decisions they make will impact your business. Many of them are your clients and would appreciate your counsel so that they can make an informed decision.

Using the above analogy, if our star player is not in the lineup, it's much harder to win the game. Be our STAR PLAYER! Resolve to be an effective, involved advocate for the veterinary profession. We need your help!

For more information please contact Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division.

i Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill. Congressional Management Foundation, 2011. http://www.congressfoundation.org/projects/communicating-with-congress/perceptions-of-citizen-advocacy-on-capitol-hill.

The AVMA Advocate - News Bites - January 2012