High-priced lobbyists might have a direct line to members of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, but new media strategist Patrick Hynes is trying to make it easier for the super committee to listen to everyone else as well.
Hynes, president of new media and online communications agency Hynes Communications, has gathered the Twitter handles and Facebook pages for the members of the committee and is encouraging people to voice their opinions through various social media platforms.
“My goal is to try to find a way around it and make sure that the people still have a way to petition their Congress during super committee procedures,” he said.
Hynes, who has worked as a new media and communications consultant for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R) Freedom First political action committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, is optimistic that committee members will listen to messages delivered through new media.
“I believe that Members of Congress respond to pressure from their constituents and the public,” he said. But not all issues should be treated the same. He noted some issues, such as taxes, would require a large number of responses, while other issues, such as entitlement programs, would require personal and compelling content.
Hynes suggested using YouTube, in addition to Twitter and Facebook, as a way to tell these personal stories, saying the video component would help drive the message home.
“Nothing would make me happier than if we had a powerful YouTube moment during the super committee process in which someone told their story in a compelling and meaningful way,” he said.
Above all, the messages need to be genuine, Hynes advised. “Make it as personal and as sincere as humanly possible because I think that’s what is going to matter here more than special interest lobbies,” he said. “This thing can’t be AstroTurf.”
This isn’t the first time social media is being used to get a point across to Congress. During the health care debate in 2009, President Barack Obama encouraged voters to “tweet your Senator” through a feature on BarackObama.com.
If people use social media, members of the committee said they will be listening. “We read almost everything,” said Nachama Soloveichik, communications director for super committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). “Occasionally, we may respond.”
Soloveichik has already noticed people responding to tweets from Toomey’s account about the committee. “It’s obviously very relevant,” she said.
Some committee members are ahead of the curve. The office of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has already dedicated part of its website to collecting recommendations regarding what the committee should do to reduce the national deficit. The bipartisan, bicameral committee has been tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by Nov. 23.
“Sen. Portman believes that constituents should be a part of this process,” Press Secretary Christine Mangi said, “so he created a section of his website in which people can give their recommendations.”
Since Portman began promoting this part of his site in late August, his office has received almost 4,000 comments — most of them from constituents, Mangi said.
“That’s something that we’ve been actively monitoring,” she said, explaining that the comments are gathered and then presented to Portman. “He takes all of the comments seriously.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.