SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Members of Congress listen to their constituents back home, particularly those who take the time to speak with them and are knowledgeable about the topic. Concise, well-written letters are one of the most effective ways Americans have of influencing their legislators in Washington, D.C. but phone calls and in-district visits work well, too.
Contact information, including telephone numbers, fax numbers, e-mail and postal mail addresses for U. S. Senators is here.
Here are some general tips for contacting elected leaders:
Letters Speak Louder: Taking the time to write or type a letter shows representatives that you are serious—otherwise you wouldn’t have taken time out of your busy schedule to write a letter. Here are a few guidelines for writing effective letters:
- If you hand-write the letter, make sure it is legible. Consider typing the letter to make sure it can be read.
- Place your return address on the envelope and the letter itself. Envelopes often get thrown away before a staff member has a chance to respond to your letter.
- Keep it simple. Don’t address more than one issue in your letter. Try to keep your letter to one page if possible.
- Make sure to state your reason for writing in the first paragraph of the letter. If you’re writing about a particular piece of legislation, include the bill’s name or number if possible.
- Be constructive. Don’t just criticize. Offer what you consider to be the best course of action if you disagree with your legislator’s approach to an issue. Showing your passion is appropriate, but don’t be apprehensive or rude. Remember, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
- Be sure to make a specific request like “Please support…” or “Please oppose…”.
- Share your story. Members of Congress hear facts and figures all the time, but they also need to hear your personal story. They need to know why you are concerned. Including a short anecdote from your personal life can help legislators to understand what is going on back home.
- Provide reliable information. Sharing your opinion with legislators is important. But when they are debating issues with their colleagues, legislators need to have reliable information to share. Make sure you necessary facts, news articles, new reports or other information with them to help make your case.
- Give praise. Legislators are used to feeling the heat when constituents think they’ve done something wrong. A few words of encouragement and appreciation can remind a legislator that they’ve made the right decision.
- The proper way to address correspondence is:
The Honorable (full name)
Room #, Name of Senate/House Office Building
United States Senate/United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510/20515
Dear Senator/Representative XXX:
- Make Sure Your Letter is Received: In order to make sure your letter is received, follow these guidelines:
- All mail sent to representatives’ DC offices go through security, which can delay arrival. Sending to a district office or faxing to DC will help it arrive more quickly.
- Representatives in DC receive high volumes of emails. Although email is a quick way to share your thoughts with your legislators, it could be overlooked. Consider taking a little extra time to write or type a letter to mail.
Connect through a call: If you don’t have time to write a letter, making a telephone call is also a productive way to share your thoughts with your federal representatives. Here are some tips for contacting your federal representatives by phone:
- Contact the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to reach any federal representative or look up their number on their websites.
- Don’t be too nervous or too intimidated to call. Members of Congress receive dozens of calls every day from people in their state/district.
- Telephone calls are usually answered by a staff member—not by the Member of Congress. Ask to speak with the legislative aide who handles the energy/environmental issues. If no one is available, ask if you can leave a message.
- Before you pick up the phone, spend a minute or two thinking about what you want to say.
- Identify yourself as a constituent and state the reasons that you support or oppose an issue or specific piece of legislation. (Use bill numbers and popular bill names if calling about legislation since Congressional offices deal with hundreds bills each year.)
- Ask your representative to take a specific action by telling him/her what you want. Example: “I would like Senator Graham to support America’s Climate Security Act, S.2191, because it is a first-step toward reducing carbon emissions and establishing a clean energy future for South Carolinians and all Americans.”
- Explain how the issue you are calling about affects you and why you support or oppose the elected official’s position or action on the issue.
- Ask for the Senator’s/Representative’s position on the issue. If the official’s position is the same as yours, express agreement and thank them for their leadership.
- If your position differs from the legislator’s, politely express disappointment and offer some factual information supporting your view.
- Discuss only one issue per telephone call.
- Thank the congressional aide for his/her time and for considering your views.
- Encourage others to make a call as well. It only takes a couple of minutes to express your opinion and participate in the legislative process