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Communicating Priorities with Lawmakers During COVID-19

by Content Team, FiscalNote

The challenges of forwarding your agenda to lawmakers right now are considerable. Luckily, there are multiple tactics and tools you can use to make sure your voice is heard.

Lawmakers are listening to constituents, so make sure your message is getting across

While the advocacy community has been affected by COVID-19 like everyone else, Congress, state legislatures, Governors, and local municipalities remain very active in wide-ranging policy enactments, massive appropriations, and fast-moving legislation and regulations.

That means advocacy professionals are faced with new challenges to push forward their respective agendas, despite losing the ability to use traditional mechanisms such as live events, fly-ins, and face-to-face meetings.

The end result is professionals in the area must find creative ways to communicate with policymakers to advance their campaigns and causes.

Fortunately, digital tools have become and remain a staple of successful advocacy campaigns. Organizations can use advocacy software, social media, virtual events, and innovative tactics to remain visible to policymakers during this crisis and continue to address their organization’s needs. If you are one of the many organizations that are lobbying and advocating amid COVID-19, these materials are further curated with specialized tools offered by FiscalNote.

Stay Ahead of Fast-Moving Legislation

Beyond legislation and regulations on COVID-19, using your legislative tracking tools will allow you to process what’s being introduced quickly, and develop a rapid response campaign that reaches from mayoral offices to State Capitols to Congress.

With governmental change taking shape very quickly right now, it’s essential to have a monitoring tool to address threats to your organization and to seek opportunities that have the potential for appropriations and relief measures that could benefit your company, membership, advocates, or organization. You also don’t want the non-COVID issues you were focused on before this to slip through the cracks.

Over the past four weeks trillions of dollars have been spent at the federal level, and billions at state level. Industries and non-essential businesses have been shuttered. Your organization should leverage a legislative tracking tool to identify funding opportunities, seek accommodations to restrictive policies, and work to improve legislative text with haste.

Organizations that were able to identify improvements to programs such as the Payment Protection Program (PPP) and call for increased funding were able to serve their members and clients with much needed resources. If you were not tracking the various stimulus bills carefully, and informing your membership, your organization may not have gotten the necessary aid needed.

Not having a tracking tool puts organizations at a disadvantage where they don’t have enough time to respond to legislative or regulatory challenges or find critical opportunities. Legislative tracking also allows your organization to quickly inform its membership or audience of potential developments.

That way you can successfully position your organization as a thought leader in this area of advocacy and an organization that is critical in the COVID-19 response.

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Grassroots/Grasstops Campaigns - COVID and Non-COVID Campaigns

Whether you’re focused on Covid-19 issues or still trying to work on the ones you were focused on beforehand, Congress and their staff are still listening to constituents.

In the absence of live events your digital advocacy and directory tools become essential. With most people working from home and without the full range of normal activities available to them it’s a perfect time to launch a petition or grassroots/grasstops advocacy campaign.

With less distraction from in-person meetings and more people focused on this means of advocacy than every before, targeting the state legislatures that are still in session, Congress, or federal agencies that continue to move regulations can lead to higher response rates than usual.

Segments that are most effected by the economic effects of the Coronavirus including healthcare, travel, retail, restaurants, gaming, and other hospitality areas have energized core constituencies that are worried about their livelihood, and policymakers need to hear their personal stories to make necessary arrangements to get them through the crisis.

Launching a campaign either as a solo organization or a coordinated coalition can go a long way in getting essential government aid. The moving legislative and regulatory vehicles are massive right now and organizations have the opportunity to insert provisions on non-COVID related items, and campaign for their organization’s interests simultaneously.

The same goes for making accommodations to help the response efforts, all of which require a policy change and result in significant spending and tax impact such as liquor companies making hand sanitizers, medical students providing healthcare services, or even restaurants providing carryout adult beverages.

Advocacy Communication to Policymakers - Think Outside the Box

Your organization needs to provide a set of priorities to policymakers as these far-reaching changes are considered and negotiated. What are the essential needs of your organization? What are your non-negotiables? Sending a priorities list, a COVID-19 Industry Impact Statement, or sending recommendations on legislative and regulatory proposals is a resource to legislators and staff alike.

Developing a communication plan on behalf of your organization to policymakers will keep your organization top of mind and also work to advance your initiatives in the midst of the crisis.

You may have been working on a campaign with a closing window of opportunity and need to communicate your non COVID-19 legislative and regulatory fixes to the appropriate body. If you fit this description, proceed with caution. It’s important not to appear tone deaf to the situation, but you can still have an impact on your core issues during this time by sending an update or asking for an update.

In many cases it’s likely COVID-19 may have exacerbated the challenges facing your organization or industry, and there may be an angle to approach both collectively. Using your software to connect with key contacts during this time is important. Schedule virtual meetings, briefings, and roundtable discussions as discussed below.

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Continue Meetings and Momentum with Virtual Events

If your lobby day was cancelled, your fundraising series, or your calendar appointments of going from Hill office to Hill office, you can still host virtual events. These forums can bring together one or 100,000 people and can be customized to fit the needs of your organization. Here are a few common types of virtual events that have been recently deployed by corporations, trade associations, and nonprofits.

  • Policy Briefings
  • Instructional Webcasts
  • Congressional Q&As
  • Virtual Happy Hour/Networking Events
  • Virtual Lobby Days
  • Industry Panels
  • COVID-19 Response or Industry Improvement Videos
  • Staff Expert Showcases
  • Digital Site Visits
  • Telephone Townhalls
  • Outside Voice Session (accountants, lawyers, SBA staff etc.)

For more on planning your virtual event, see this whitepaper.

Social Media

Tactically, social media is a given in any advocacy best practice. It can glue the other recommendations together by amplifying reach, creating a sense of community, and bridging the gap formed due to social isolation. All of the aforementioned information in the other recommendations to communicate to policymakers during COVID-19 are shareable and can be leveraged on social.

Conclusion

The big takeaway from the current advocacy environment is that COVID-19 is still the dominant topic on most legislative and regulatory issues for now. But it is also an opportunity for other outside issues that can be attached to the moving legislation and regulations. The best chance of an organization actually getting something done from their priorities list is to make a connection to COVID-19 or the economic fallout. That is a political reality, but caution is needed because the approach can show an advocacy organization as effective – or insensitive.

Almost all advocacy groups are trying to get their issues advanced during current crisis by playing different angles. For instance, some banking groups are trying to have their asset caps removed, which were in effect pre-COVID, and something that they were actively lobbying on. With the current crisis they are still lobbying that issue, but their talking points have changed so that the cap is removed for them to make PPP loans to help more small businesses and be a part of the economic relief plan. The reality is no advocacy strategy right now can be entirely removed from the existence of COVID-19.

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