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Report Outlines Constituent Meeting Do's and Don'ts

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., talks with a constituent in between events in Baltimore. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Constituent participation is the key to scheduling meetings on Capitol Hill, according to a new report from the Congressional Management Foundation.  

"Our number one factor in scheduling a meeting is if a constituent is in the group," one House scheduler wrote in an anonymous survey by the CMF. "Constituents from our district take top priority over any other type of request."  

The CMF's 15-page report, released on Nov. 20 and titled, "Face to Face with Congress: Before, During, and After Meetings With Legislators," is based on nearly 450 responses from legislative staff surveys conducted between 2010 and 2013. It details advice for scheduling, conducting, and following up after meetings with congressional staff. When it comes to planning and scheduling a meeting, surveys found that including constituents can be very helpful in scoring a sit-down with a lawmaker or a member of the staff. Understanding the ever-changing congressional schedule and being flexible about timing and locations also are helpful for scheduling a meeting.  

Having constituents request a meeting themselves is another effective strategy for catching a staffer's attention.  

Of those staffers surveyed, 64 percent said they would prefer to receive a meeting request from a constituent. Nearly 30 percent had no preference, while 7 percent said they would like to receive requests from a Washington representative of a group that represents constituents. Schedulers also said they preferred meeting requests were made two weeks to four weeks in advance.  

During the meeting, constituents should also be prepared to meet with a staffer instead of the member. "Meeting with a staffer does not mean the legislator does not care about the meeting or the issue," wrote the report's authors. "It simply means that he or she is not available and the office wants to accommodate the group."  

When in the meeting, visitors are advised to stay on topic and keep politics out of the discussion.  

"Mentioning campaign contributions or other political support should be avoided," said one House chief of staff. "It is against the rules and it intimates that they and the Member of Congress are for sale."  

The report also detailed tactics for ensuring that constituent concerns are heard, including leaving a one- to-two page summary of the issue, so the staffer can easily refer back to the major points. Meeting participants are also encouraged to attend events in the district and update the office about major issue developments.  

The CMF issued the report as a guide for constituents hoping to influence their lawmakers. "Even with the many and diverse communications venues now available," wrote the report's authors, "meetings still trump any other interaction between legislators and their constituents."  

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Topics: staffers