Q&A: Former U.S. Senator Wayne Allard
Reaching out to Congress, and having them take notice, can be a mysterious process. Your voice competes with many others, so we asked a former U.S. senator for advice on how best to approach a member.
Former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, who now works for the American Motorcyclist Association as their vice president of government relations, is no stranger to advocacy of all types.
The former veterinarian was a citizen advocate and active member of the business community before he first ran for public office in 1991. He served two terms as a Republican lawmaker in the Colorado state senate, followed by two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
In his role at the American Motorcyclist Association, Allard lobbies government bodies and manages the association’s many grassroots advocacy campaigns.
He shares his thoughts on how associations and nonprofits can improve their advocacy efforts at all levels of government.
As a former state and federal representative yourself, what do you think is the best way for advocacy organizations to catch lawmakers’ attention?
Catching the attention of the lawmaker starts with the election. We encourage our members to get to know their elected officials, and the best time to make those acquaintances is when they are running for re-election.
Once you establish that personal relationship with your representative, it is easier to talk to them because you’ve already developed some familiarity with them and how they feel about the issues.
You know what to stress and what not to stress when you are communicating with them on an issue that’s important to the American Motorcyclist Association or you personally as a motorcyclist.
How can you get a lawmaker to pay attention to your issue when there are so many organizations seeking his or her attention?
We use a grassroots effort. If we have an issue that’s important, we’ll ask our members to contact their representatives – either write them personally through an email or a letter, or call them up.
The association also spends time making sure elected officials understand why we support or oppose something, but we really count on the numbers to make a difference for us. If you’re dealing with a local elected official, one or two calls can make a difference.
If you’re dealing with members of Congress, you may have to make 5,000 or 10,000 calls into their office to make a difference.
That’s reassuring to hear, because I think sometimes people think policy changes happen only with help from high-powered lobbyists. Do individual calls or letters really make that much of a difference?
Yes, they do. That’s one of the biggest things that we tell our members. The more members we have, the more effective we can be in Congress.
Do you have some tips for grassroots organizations trying to improve their advocacy efforts?
When you have a grassroots organization like we have, it’s important that you identify those members who will actually take the time to contact their elected officials. That way you’re not wasting your time talking to people who won’t bother to call in.
The more that you can make people understand that this is a democracy and that your voice does make a difference, the better. If citizens don’t participate, you put that democracy at risk.
Whatever you can do to encourage political action is a worthy thing to do.
What do organizations do that annoys lawmakers that they may not be aware of?
The thing that would drive my staff crazy was when we had a mass call-in. Now, having said that, I think that was a good thing. Citizens ought to be advocates as part of their role as a citizen.
Anything that increases the workload in your office can sometimes be an issue, so the more you can do yourself to help the elected official you’re trying to talk to, the better. It puts less pressure on their office. When I had constituents calling in and expecting the staff to do things they should be doing themselves, it irritated them.
How is working for an association different than being in the Senate? Is it strange being on the other side of the table – being the one doing the advocacy instead of having people advocate to you?
It hasn’t been that big of a change because before I was in elected office, I was a citizen advocate. I was active in the Chamber of Commerce and active in the community and got to know my elected officials.
You do have your constituents, just like you do in the Senate, but you don’t have to stand for r-election. Their support of you is more result oriented. It’s not as political. The pace is a little more relaxed.