Rather than decrying these breaks from Washington, constituent interest groups should embrace these opportunities to build relationships with lawmakers. Previous CMF research concluded that meaningful interactions between citizens and members of Congress on policy issues enhanced the citizens’ understanding of the issue, increased the constituents’ trust in their legislators — even increased the likelihood the citizen would vote! In a survey of congressional staff, 97 percent noted that “attending events in the district/state” was important or very important for “understanding views and opinions of constituents” — the top-rated item. And in another CMF survey of House chiefs of staff, 71 percent said they had “no preference” whether their boss met with a constituent group in the district/state or in Washington, suggesting that many groups are missing an opportunity to easily connect with legislators when they’re back home.
Members of Congress engage in valuable legislative activity when in Washington — but this is not the totality of their job description. Interacting with constituents in the state is not just a way for constituents to better understand their lawmakers and their work, it is a valuable ingredient to our democratic dialogue and essential for members of Congress to understand the effects their decisions have on the constituents they serve.
Bradford Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.