A Former Capitol Hill Staffer Replies To Paul Nachman On Constituent Mail
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Re Paul Nachman's post Sick Of Congress? Nevertheless, Keep Those Letters And Cards Coming! (Plus: A Bleg To Patriotic Staffers)

From: Former Capitol Hill Staffer [Email her]

I'm writing in response to Paul Nachman's post on the effectiveness of letters to congressional offices. This is my first time writing to VDARE.com. I worked for a U.S. Representative on Capitol Hill from 2000-2005.

As a congressional staffer answering constituent mail, I sometimes felt like Newman on Seinfeld describing why postal workers “go postal”:

“Because the mail never stops.  It just keeps coming and coming and coming.  And you’ve got to get it out, but the more you get it out, the more it keeps coming in, and then the bar code reader breaks and then....arrrgh!”

Which is to say the mail is important.  A main objective of any congressional office is to respond to nearly 100% of the constituent mail.  Most Members of Congress spend part of their annual office budget on an electronic system to track all the mail received, by whom, when, and on which topic.  The staff keep the Member informed about how many constituents are writing on which issues, and the ratio of pro to con.

In response letters on some issues, a Member will state his firm position regardless of the constituent’s opinion.  Often, though, the response letter is non-committal and includes some variation of “I’ll keep your thoughts in mind.” 

Either way, the more original and particular the letter received, the more it forces staff to write new response language.  For repeat writers on the same issue, we didn’t engage in a back-and-forth exchange, but would respond again if it had been a number of months since our previous response.

Neatly hand-written or typed letters that are original, sincere, in plain-language, relatively brief, and with particular details on how immigration affects current American workers, for example, are most effective.  The form letters and postcards prepared by advocacy organizations for their members to send will get the numbers up in the congressman’s tracking system, but are less likely to “break through” the mind of a staffer or Member of Congress whose mind is already made up otherwise. 

My experience is that, even for conservative Members, staff are politically to the left of their bosses.  Appeal to their bleeding hearts, not the economy.  

Regarding Paul’s questions, my perspective is:

  • Snail-mail has most impact, followed by faxes, then emails.
  • All snail-mail to the Capitol Hill offices is irradiated [VDARE.com note: For protection from anthrax and such.] and therefore delayed.  Letters to any of the district offices will be recorded in the tracking system, too, but since the Hill staff influence policy making while district offices handle constituent services (like helping folks navigate Social Security benefits), the letters might have more impact if read by Hill staff.  On the other hand, sometimes district staff have closer personal relationships with, and therefore influence on, the Member of Congress.
  • Written communication requires consideration in the form of a response letter, whereas phone calls may not be returned.  
  • Voicemails left on the main line will be heard by the receptionist and logged as a pro or con for that issue.  When you call the main line, ask to speak to the legislative assistant for immigration issues.  You may be sent to his/her voicemail; you can leave a few facts about the effects of immigration on low-income American workers and communities (perhaps in the congressman’s district).  If a staffer speaks with you directly, protracted conversations with real back-and-forth are difficult since staff are very cautious, but any conversation will have some impact if you sound reasonable and knowledgable, with specific facts and statistics.  If he won’t engage much at all, state a couple bullet points and urge him to share with his boss.
  • Calls to Capitol Hill might be better than to the district office, since Hill staff are more the policy advisors, although district staff can influence the Member as well.  
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