Lobbying

Blitzing and storming: is it effective?

Right now the National Space Society and the Space Exploration Alliance are wrapping up their 2009 Legislative Blitz, where groups of activists visit Congressional offices to promote space exploration. Next month the AIAA will be running its Congressional Visits Day, again with people making stops at Congressional offices. And, in a similar vein, there is Prospace’s venerable March Storm (although the organization announced just this weekend that there will be no March Storm this year because of “resource and time limitations”).

All these events are predicated on the belief that it’s effective to speak in person with members of Congress (or, more likely, their staffers) to press their concerns or promote legislation, and proponents of these efforts point to legislation that has been enacted or funding that has been provided based on this lobbying. But is it really that effective? One member of Congress suggests they’re not that useful. Speaking at the AAAS meeting in Chicago earlier this month, Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL), a former Fermilab physicist, said that he’s “inundated” with meetings. “I typically have between 10 and 15 meetings a day; walk-in 15-minute meetings,” he said. “If you don’t come into the job with attention deficit disorder, you rapidly develop it.”

Foster suggested that people meet with their members of Congress in their home districts, rather than go to Washington. “There’s no way they can mistake you for just another special interest,” he said. “You can often get a half an hour discussion with them and actually let them know that you really care about what you’re saying.” That alternative, he said, “is much more effective than this sort of ‘let’s go down and walk on the Mall in Washington a

9 comments to Blitzing and storming: is it effective?

  • I lead AIAA’s Team Maryland. Here in Maryland we are now doing both Congressional Visits Day and August is for Aerospace which is located in the home districts.

    I personally do more than that. After hearing a talk by a professional lobbyist in 2004, I began doing volunteer work for politicians and, in general, getting involved in Maryland Democratic Party politics. People in Maryland now respect me and value my contributions. I recommend this course of action to any and all in the space “movement.” Well, maybe not the people with extremely poor social skills.

  • BD

    Citizen lobbyists are tolerated by staffers, so far as I can tell, but I’ve become dubious about the effectiveness of these activities. It’s an unfortunate fact of life, but “money talks.”

  • pr

    How many of these members of ‘the space “movement”’ have a financial stake in the matter? When the AIAA and all the rest show up in a Congressman’s office, it has to look just like just one more hog trying to get a better spot at the trough, no different than the home builders and the soybean producers. Except that the latter bring money to the table, instead of just begging for handouts.

  • John Malkin

    Is the only difference between a citizen lobbyist and a professional lobbyist, pay and experience? It seems to me that these Blitzes are examples of professional lobbyist using citizens to do their dirty work or at best provide a false front of support for a particular agenda.

  • I do seem to be getting more attention than the average citizen lobbyist. Staffers seem to pay attention — as do the politicians themselves. It helps that they see me more than once a year — and that I do give some money to various political campaigns from time to time. I don’t know how effective I am. I can say that people like Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Senator Ben Cardin, Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot, Congresswoman Donna Edwards and others respond positively to me when I say something.

    AIAA does one thing that the other groups do not. Political activities are organized on a state by state basis. This, at least, means that the politician and/or his staff is actually talking to constituents. You do not get a really positive welcome when you are from another state.

    When I go around Congress, I do see other citizen groups lobbying. These groups are usually considerably larger. AIAA has about 30,000 members. That doesn’t put us in the same league as, for example, ACLU, Sierra Club or NRA. Still, though, what we are asking is generally much less.

  • Eric Dahlstrom

    I am sorry to hear that Prospace will not be doing congressional visits this year. I think this is a big mistake. I have been involved with various space lobby efforts (off and on) since the early 80′s. The only ones I felt were effective were the efforts of Prospace.

    In my years of visiting congressional offices I have seen the attitudes of individual congressional offices improve year by year as we returned on our annual visits. We were most effective when we pushed for specific regulations, or allocations of funding. The best receptions were when our agenda was ‘budget neutral’ and we identified areas that could be cut. If you think the FAA AST office, or NASA COTS program are doing good things, part of the thanks has to go to citizen volunteers who were communicating these concepts to hundreds of congressional staff over the past years. It was very obvious in our conversations with congressional staff over the years that no other group was talking to them about these issues.

    Different groups have very different styles of lobbying. As a contrast, I recall one visit where a couple of us followed a large delegation of AIAA engineers. The staffer launched into a tirade about why ‘you space people’ should not be begging for more $ billions for space.. it was 15 minutes before we could even say our names. It turns out he had listened to an hour of grand plans of how to spend $ billions from the AIAA delegation. We told him – ‘we support space, but we don’t want any more money’. He completely turned around and was very interested to hear what we thought worked, and what did not. And his office helped our priorities get funded that year.

    This year would have been a good time to promote spaceports getting the same tax status as airports, or zero-g/zero-tax, or to direct some funding at COTS-D to help commercial piloted spaceflight deliver crews to ISS, and also help Bigelow start sending large numbers of people to orbit. I’m sorry we are sitting out this season.

    But people should not give up. Individually, people can have a greater effect than they realize. A single letter to your congressional representatives may have the impact of a thousand blog posts.

  • Dennis Wingo

    I have to agree with Eric on this one. As one of the founders of the prospace March Storm we saw the improvements in staffers demeanor and acceptance of us year by year. When we showed that we were there on our own dime it was amazing. We even had a very nice run in with the NASA Administrator in the year 2000 with him and Jim Benson going at it.!

    Building relationships with staffers helps a lot and we sometimes brushed up against history as we were there at Senator Session’s office right after Bill Gates came in and pissed off the Judiciary committee staffers which is what kicked off their antitrust activity against Microsoft.

    I just think that Prospace got away from what made it work, which was a citizen’s lobbying effort.

  • I have been up to DC several times with the Space Exploration Alliance on the Legislative Blitzes and talked with dozens of Congressional offices about space exploration topics.

    On each trip we had people outside the space industry: students, IT professionals, educators, retired people, etc. and made sure we emphasized that we were unpaid citizens that think space exploration is amazing!

    For some staffers, it was a chance to “zone out” and for some we really did connect! We made sure to hit our collective talking points and to tell them about our individual passions that brought us to DC. That seemed to make more of a difference than anything.

    I agree that visiting the home offices is a great idea along with going up to walk the halls in DC. A combination shows broad support and gets the staffers involved (they seem to do a lot of the work!). Plus, its great for us to get see everything up in DC!

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