Working with Legislators
Animals can’t vote, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a voice in the political process. Animal advocates can give them a voice if the appropriate steps are taken in lobbying for pro-animal legislation.
Whether they’re city council members, state representatives or U.S. Senators, elected officials care (or ought to care) what their constituents think. By sending letters and e-mails supporting pro-animal measures that are already on the legislative agenda, you can help convince these politicians that the voters who put them in office want to see animals protected from cruelty and neglect. And if there are no pro-animal items on the agenda, you can help change that. But first, you’ll need to do some homework.
Lay the Groundwork Before approaching an elected official to advocate for specific legislation:
- Strive to be well informed about the issue so that you come across as credible and knowledgeable. This will require research and possibly contacting others who have worked on similar campaigns in the past.
- Research current relevant laws via the Internet or your local library.
- Find out if there is anyone else in your area working on the same issue — if so, join them, so that efforts will not be duplicated.
- Get a feel for the legislative process. For example, if you are contemplating a county-wide ordinance, contact the county council office for information on enacting legislation. Then attend an open council meeting to become familiar with how they function.
- Click here or contact the local League of Women Voters to find out who the elected officials are in your district. Consider attending functions where legislators meet with constituents. Introduce yourself and thank them for supporting other measures that may be related to your issue.
- Establish rapport with legislators’ support staff early on — they are often more accessible than the legislators and can provide good information. Keep all contact brief and professional, remembering to thank them for their time and assistance.
Once you have laid the groundwork, determine your goals. Don’t choose campaigns that are too broad. For example, a ban on hunting in your state would be inconceivable, but a ban on baiting certain species might be feasible and manageable. And be prepared to consider compromises that may need to be made when working with politicians.
- Refer to ALDF’s Model State Animal Protection Laws or consult with an attorney if you need help composing the language of the proposed legislation.
- Obtain endorsements from influential individuals and organizations in your community.
- Prepare well-researched and well-written informational packets that include a factsheet on the proposed reform and, if possible, a list of endorsements.
- Find advocates in each district and ask them to contact their legislators. Ask constituents to write polite letters to their legislators that demonstrate support for the proposed legislation. Letters that use the constituent’s own words, rather than form letters, postcards or e-mails, will be taken more seriously. Personal letters, preferably sent through the mail, are generally given more weight than e-mails. Advocates can also write letters to the editor of their local newspapers to garner more support for the effort.
Lobbying is nearly impossible without personal contact. Call the legislator’s office and schedule an appointment. While you may feel most comfortable attending the appointment as part of a group, it is advisable to go alone or with just a few others. Appoint one person to be the main spokesperson. The following pointers will help the visit go smoothly:
- Dress professionally.
- Identify yourself as a concerned citizen, constituent, business owner, voter or whatever may apply. Remember that legislators prefer to get feedback from people who vote, rather than organized lobbyists.
- Be positive, brief and to the point, supporting your argument with facts. Provide just enough background information to explain the proposal, as public officials are busy and may know little or nothing about the issue. Explain how the proposed bill will have a positive impact on their constituents. Consider showing a short video if it would help illustrate the issue.
- State clearly what you want the legislator to do — sponsor a bill, vote no on an anti-animal amendment, etc.
- Offer to work to publicize the issue and find additional support.
- Leave a packet of information that contains a clear, concise summary of your proposal.
- Always follow-up with a personal thank you to the legislator and support staff after every visit or positive action taken by the legislator.
- If you are speaking publicly at a council meeting or committee hearing, follow the above procedures, keeping your presentation clear and concise.
- Visit the Animal Law Resource Center to find out more about current laws.
And finally, if following these steps helps you help animals, let us know! You can send an e-mail describing your accomplishments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Ways You Can Help
- Send an email to your state legislators today and ask them to support a “First Strike and You’re Out” law for those who are convicted of animal neglect or cruelty.
- Support ALDF’s Animal Bill of Rights. Through the Animal Bill of Rights, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to show Congress a groundswell of support for legislation that protects animals and recognizes that, like all sentient beings, animals are entitled to basic legal rights in our society.
- Support tougher dogfighting laws! Help put an end to dogfighting and create strong laws for animals so criminals convicted of dogfighting receive meaningful sentences. Email your state representatives now!
- Keep your animals and your families safe. Sign on to demand that your state require animal abusers to register in their communities.