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Lessons from Last Minute Lobbying

October 5, 2009

Last week we had the opportunity to get further insight into two very important aspects of our work: how Congress works (and doesn’t work) and the role of last-minute phone calls in lobbying.

Lora Lumpe, the highly esteemed expert on cluster bombs who used to work at FCNL and now works for Open Society Institute, called on Monday of last week to say that we had the opportunity to finally pass the ban on cluster bombs. She got word that Sen. Feinstein was going to be offering the cluster bomb ban legislation, the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act (S.416), as an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill. We thought the vote on this legislation was going to be in the next couple days.

So the first day I (Stephen) called some key constituents in PA, MI, and NJ–states where one of the senators was crucial to getting the amendment passed. I asked them to call their senator’s office and encourage their networks of friends to do so as well.

The next day Lora sent out a list of senators who had cosponsored S.416 but hadn’t cosponsored the amendment. So we, along with a couple other program assistants, made phone calls to these senators’ offices asking them to cosponsor the amendment. And then on Thursday, Lora sent another list of senators who she thought would vote for the amendment. So we recruited our Thursday volunteer, Merilee Janssen, and we called lots of offices. In total, we called over twenty-five Senate offices.

We would call into a senator’s office and ask to speak with their military legislative assistant (LA) or their foreign affairs LA. Almost every time the person who would initially pick up the phone would be a young woman, or an occasional young male who sounded almost the same age as us interns. The phone conversations I (Lizzie) had with these young staffers made me realize that I am not that different. One or two of the staffers said things like “Oh that LA isn’t here right now, can I give you his phone number….o wait, I can’t do that….I can give you his email address…..o wait I don’t know that…..Can I leave a message for you?” These unsure, youthful voices, made me chuckle. They are similar to my first week experiences, where as the front desk person here at FCNL, I received a couple calls that I did not always know what to do with. The phone conversation was one intern to another, which helped me to realize how much young employees and interns really do make the Capitol Hill world go ‘round. Eventually, we would leave voicemails and send in an email follow-up (always important when doing any kind of lobbying!).

In the end, the amendment isn’t going to come up for a vote. However, we still had some great successes:

Some offices we called and left messages for called or emailed us back to ask about the amendment. Merilee reported excitedly that a member of Sen. Specter’s staff said he would vote for the amendment. A great organizer in MI who has worked to get Sen. Levin to cosponsor the cluster bomb ban bill talked to Levin’s chief of staff about the legislation. Many other members of our network became more engaged in the work to end these deadly weapons. And many senators’ offices heard why they should support the ban.

One lessen we learned from this experience was how you measure success. Sometimes success is the passage of a bill. While other times success is one more senator agreeing to vote for legislation, one more member of our network calling their members of Congress, or one more connection with a senator’s staff.

-Lizzie and Stephen

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 5, 2009 8:38 pm

    Thanks for posting this, I was wondering what had come of our efforts. I was worried that no news meant that it hadn't passed; I'm glad to know that no news just means that it hasn't yet *had a chance to pass*. Here's hoping.

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