A CONGRESSIONAL INSIDER'S GUIDE
TO INFLUENCING DISABILITY POLICY
DEVELOPING ORGANIZED COALITIONS AND STRATEGIC PLANS
Robert Silverstein, J.D., Director
Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy
1730 K Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20006
This guide was supported by a generous grant from the Joseph
P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and additional support from: the Public
Welfare Foundation; the Peter L. Buttenwieser Fund of the Tides
Foundation; Mr. and Mrs. Justin Dart; Fenmore R. Seton; the
American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.; the Bernard
L. Schwartz Foundation, Inc.; Glaxo Wellcome, Inc.; Josiah Macy
Jr. Foundation; Kaleidoscope; American Speech-Language-Hearing
Association; the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation; the Philanthropic
Collaborative, Inc. and the Ada G. Halbreich Revocable Trust.
Table of Contents
About the Author
Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION
Chapter 2: ORGANIZED COALITIONS: CHARACTERISTICS,
ROLES AND FUNCTIONS
Chapter 3: ARTICULATING WHAT YOU STAND FOR:
VALUES AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES
Chapter 4: REALITY CHECK
Chapter 5: WHERE THE COALITION WANTS TO GO
Chapter 6: STEPS NECESSARY TO ACHIEVE GOALS
Chapter 7: ASSESSMENT OF PROGRESS
APPENDIX A: AN IMPORTANT NOTE ON LOBBYING AND INDEPENDENT
APPENDIX B: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT
LOBBYING AND CILS
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert “Bobby” Silverstein, J.D., is the Director of
the Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy (CSADP).
Mr. Silverstein has over 25 years of experience providing policy
analysis, research and technical assistance to policy-makers and
negotiating and drafting public policy at the federal, state and
local levels. At CSADP, Mr. Silverstein gives keynote speeches;
conducts advocacy training; assists disability groups, federal,
state and local officials in drafting disability policy and conducts
action-oriented research. His areas of focus include civil rights,
education, work incentives, workforce investment and welfare reform
from a disability perspective.
From 1987 to 1997, Mr. Silverstein was the principal advisor to
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who served as chair of the Senate Subcommittee
on Disability Policy (1987-1995), ranking member of the subcommittee
(1995-1997) and lead member on disability policy issues on the Committee
on Labor and Human Resources (1997). In this capacity, Silverstein
played a central role in all important disability policy legislation
produced between 1987 and 1997, including the landmark Americans
with Disabilities Act, 15 other pieces of legislation and numerous
disability-related amendments to other bills concerning, health,
civil rights, education and job training.
From 1985 to 1987, Silverstein served as counsel to the Subcommittee
on Select Education, Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S.
House of Representatives. The subcommittee was chaired by Congressman
Pat Williams (D- Montana). Silverstein’s responsibilities
were similar to those undertaken during his Senate tenure. Among
the bills Silverstein was responsible for was P.L. 99-457, which
added early intervention programs for infants and toddlers with
disabilities to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
This program is landmark because of its family-centered focus and
its interagency orientation.
Silverstein has won respect from Republicans as well as Democrats,
leaders of the disability community and representatives from state
and local governments and the business community for his commitment
to developing bipartisan consensus legislation that is based on
Between 1978 and 1985, Silverstein was a principal in the law firm
of Long and Silverstein, P.C. The firm’s focus included conducting
public policy research and analysis and providing technical assistance
and training to policy-makers. Projects included directing and serving
as the principal investigator of a congressionally mandated policy
study and researching and drafting policies, regulations, manuals
and handbooks for states and local agencies concerning implementation
of various pieces of federal legislation.
In 1978, Silverstein worked for the Office of Civil Rights, Department
of Health, Education and Welfare, where he drafted policy interpretations
concerning three civil rights statutes: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 (disability), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(race and national origin) and Title IX of the Education Amendments
of 1972 (gender).
Between 1975-1978, Silverstein worked at the National Lawyers Committee
for Civil Rights under Law as director and principal investigator
of a congressionally mandated study of Title I of the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act. This multi-billion dollar program provides
compensatory education for educationally disadvantaged children
residing in low-income areas. In this capacity, he conducted policy
research and prepared six comprehensive policy analyses of the Title
I legal framework. At the request of the chairs and ranking members
of the House and Senate education subcommittees, Silverstein drafted
bills and report language used for reauthorizing Title I. In addition,
he was invited as an expert witness to testify at subcommittee hearings
regarding the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the research
Mr. Silverstein received a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School
of Finance and Commerce, University of Pennsylvania, and his J.D.
from Georgetown University Law Center.
As a congressional committee staffer for 13 years (1985-1997),
I witnessed the enactment of over 20 bills related to disability
policy. The bills included:
the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), omnibus civil rights
legislation protecting people with disabilities from discrimination;
several reauthorizations of the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA), including the bill creating the program
for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families
and the 1997 reauthorization focusing on quality and outcomes
in addition to access for children with disabilities;
several reauthorizations of the Rehabilitation Act, including
the reauthorization in 1992 increasing consumer choice and involvement
in the vocational rehabilitation program; and
several reauthorizations of the Developmental Disabilities
Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, promoting the independence,
productivity and integration and inclusion into the community
of persons with developmental disabilities.
These historic pieces of legislation were the result of effective
interaction with policy-makers (elected and appointed officials
and their staff) by persons with disabilities, family members, advocates
and national, state and local disability organizations. (See A Congressional
Insider's Guide to Influencing Disability Policy: Effective Strategies
for Interacting with Policy-Makers" by Robert Silverstein,
Effective interaction did not occur by happenstance. Each piece
of legislation described above resulted from the efforts of a broad-based
organized coalition working in conjunction with policy-makers. The
efforts of the coalition were guided by a strategic plan.
The purpose of this guide is to describe the critical characteristics,
roles and functions of organized coalitions and the strategic steps
necessary to bring about change in public policy.
The approaches suggested in this Guide reflect the best practices
used in enacting the ADA, IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act and other
disability-related legislation. The principles outlined in this
guide are generally consistent with much of the research conducted
by John W. Kingdon in Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies
(Harper Collins College Publishers, 1995); the experience of the
Advocacy Institute (Building a Coalition Washington, D.C., 1995);
and the descriptions of the policy-making process by Walter J. Oleszek
in Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process (CQ Press, 1996).
I hope this Guide serves as a resource for those interested in
affecting public policy that fosters the independence, inclusion
and empowerment of persons with disabilities and their families.
Major progressive change in public policy doesn’t occur by
chance. In fact, change is the exception rather than the rule for
many reasons. Extreme competition for time to consider the merits
of any given issue makes change unlikely. The conflicts and changing
balance of power among organized groups seeking change make it much
easier to block a new initiative than to pass it. Policy-makers
are often reluctant to devote time to an initiative that may not
When change does occur, two related conditions are usually present.
First, there is a broad-based organized coalition working in conjunction
with policy-makers (elected officials and staff) who support change.
Second, the actions of the coalition are guided by a strategic plan
consisting of a brutally honest and realistic appraisal of the political
“lay of the land.”
A strategic plan includes, at a minimum:
what you stand for (describing the coalition's values or guiding
a reality check (assessing the coalition's strengths, weaknesses
what you want to achieve (stating goals and objectives),
steps necessary to achieve goals and objectives, and
assessment of progress.
Organized Coalitions: Characteristics, Roles and Functions
NEED FOR AN ORGANIZED COALITION
A movement is necessary but not sufficient. A campaign
to change public policy (a movement) begins with passion, anger,
energy and frustration. There must be people who make demands on
policy-makers, e.g., demands to expand civil rights protections,
eliminate worker disincentives or expand community-based, consumer-directed
personal assistance services. But a movement alone is not enough
to effect change. To be effective in changing public policy, there
must an organized coalition rather than a haphazard response to
issues or events.
Why an organized coalition is critical. There are at
least three reasons why an organized coalition is a critical component
of any campaign to change public policy.
First, policy-makers expect/demand organized coalitions. Policy-makers
do not function in isolation; they depend on other stakeholders
who share a common vision to bring about change. In general, elected
officials do not undertake policy initiatives without broad-based
support from other elected officials and members of the public affected
by the policy. Staff working for policy-makers do not recommend
supporting policy initiatives without substantive backing and day-to-day
assistance in building the political base. The organized coalition
is the vehicle for providing the support needed and/or expected
by elected officials and staff.
Second, a policy campaign depends on power. There is power in numbers,
especially when the coalition is cohesive and speaks with a unified
voice. Cohesiveness is especially important for the disability community
because other sources of power such as wealth and status are rarely
available to this community. Thus, keeping the disability community
together is essential to avoid the adage by Pogo the comic strip
character, “We have found the enemy and they is us.”
Coalitions have more power when they include groups representing
diverse needs as well as groups that traditionally do not join forces.
Policy-makers (particularly elected officials) respond most favorably
to broad-based coalitions consisting of “strange bedfellows.”
The message to policy-makers from such coalitions is that if divergent
groups can come together to support a policy proposal, the issue
must be compelling and the policy proposal must be viable.
Third, there is synergy—combined or cooperative action or
force—when separate organizations join together. A policy
campaign depends on rapid, effective, dependable, competent responses
to the various exigencies of the political process. For example,
staff may need help in preparing “talking points” in
response to assertions made by the opposition, garnering grassroots
support or vetting proposed solutions. An organized coalition brings
together persons with a broad base of knowledge, skills and expertise
who are likely to be able to deliver the necessary support in a
timely fashion. Diverse members of an organized coalition also are
effective in gathering “intelligence” about what opponents
are saying and doing. They report back to key persons who can use
the information to further coalition objectives.
CHARACTERISTICS OF EFFECTIVE COALITIONS
Structure. Given the dynamic nature of politics, many
coalitions do not have a formal structure; rather, the structure
is ad hoc and fluid. A coalition’s structure is far less important
than the mechanisms used to ensure that the key roles and necessary
functions are performed in an effective and efficient fashion.
Leadership. Whether the policy campaign is major or minor,
there must be an overall leader who is responsible for keeping the
coalition together and functioning. The individual must enjoy the
trust and respect of the coalition and be able to assume various
roles including visionary, political strategist, facilitator, organizer,
bully (taskmaster), powerbroker, scapegoat and psychologist.
Author John Kingdon's Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies
(Harper Collins College Publishers, 1995) uses the term “policy
entrepreneurs” to describe persons who are key in moving ahead
public policy. Qualities of policy entrepreneurs include:
the ability to speak for others,
being known for political connections or negotiation skills,
persistence and tenacity (i.e., willing to invest large and
sometimes remarkable quantities of one’s resources),
ability to anticipate political constraints as proposals are
excellent antennae to read the “windows of opportunity,”
to move ahead at the right moment.
Saul Alinsky, community organizer, described the major characteristics
of an organizer in Rules for Radicals. The characteristics include:
sense of humor,
attention to detail,
an organized personality, and
a split personality (recognizing the need to polarize an issue
to get policy-makers’ attention and then change gears
once negotiations begin).
Understand each organization’s constraints. The
coalition must be built on trust and respect for the internal rules
of the organizations comprising the coalition. In particular, the
coalition must respect the process required for securing formal
support of coalition actions by member organizations. Although it
is important to understand and respect these constraints, it is
also critical that member organizations are capable of responding
to the realities of the political process. It is not unusual for
a crisis to suddenly develop, necessitating immediate action or
reaction by the coalition. As a result, the coalition as a whole
must not be hampered by the constraints of some of its members—it
must be able to respond rapidly to the exigencies of a situation;
otherwise, the coalition’s effectiveness and dependability
is undermined in the view of policy-makers, particularly staff.
The coalition must also respect the tactics which member organizations
are willing to use. It is a mistake to assume that all coalition
members abide by the same set of ethical standards or strategies
when it comes to the “means” an organization is willing
to use to accomplish a particular “end.” Some organizations
may be willing to or even insist on using direct action techniques
such as demonstrations and sit-ins, whereas other organizations
believe that dialogue and discussion are more appropriate tactics.
Some groups may be confrontational when they meet with elected officials;
others may take a more respectful approach.
Effective communication. Given the dynamic nature of the
policy process, it is essential that there is effective and timely
communication among coalition members. Coalition members cannot
be working at cross-purposes or be “in the dark” about
what others are doing and saying. Further, the failure to communicate
may result in coalition members or the grassroots bolting from an
effort. Differences among coalition members will always surface;
the key is to resolve the differences behind closed doors. Opponents
will wait to pounce on any appearance of disagreement and use it
to show that the coalition's proposals lack consensus and therefore
are not viable.
Delegation of tasks. Groups work best when individual
members are accountable for implementing specific roles and functions.
The challenges are to match roles and functions with skills and
commitment and to coordinate efforts.
Decision-making. Coalitions must agree to a decision-making
process. The coalition must make key decisions together in order
to ensure that all member organizations have a stake in carrying
out a strategy. It is also important, however, for a small group
of key players who understand the nuances of an issue to meet prior
to any large group meeting (pre-meeting) to discuss issues, propose
courses of action and identify “pluses and minuses”
of particular strategies. These planning meetings are not anti-democratic;
they are smart politics. The planning is essential because it provides
a forum for airing/clarifying controversial options in a “secure”
setting. Remember, the larger group can always reject the advice
of the planning group.
Keeping everyone informed. Keeping everyone informed
is also key to ensuring that coalition members stay committed and
have a stake in each strategy. It is also necessary to keep the
coalition's message simple, clear and precise. However, it is critical
to balance the need to keep people informed with the reality that
information provided to your supporters will also be known by your
opponents. You may inadvertently “tip off” the key elements
of your strategy to your opponents or unintentionally precipitate
a major reaction by your opponents. Thus, the content of the message,
what information is shared, when it is shared and with whom it is
shared are all key.
KEY ROLES AND FUNCTIONS
There is no one organizational structure for coalitions that works
in all situations. A major policy campaign might require the establishment
of committees or subcommittees with chairs. Several needs may be
combined under a given committee. A minor policy campaign may be
less formal and may be accomplished by various persons assigned
responsibility for responding to a number of identified needs. However,
in all campaigns, a structure that accounts for key roles and functions
Developing, implementing and evaluating the political strategy.
The coalition must assign members the responsibility to develop,
implement and evaluate an overall political strategy in collaboration
with allies in the executive and legislative branches of government.
This includes conducting the political components of a “reality
check” (e.g., capacities of the coalition and the nature and
extent of the opposition), identifying the goals and objectives
of the campaign and agreeing on the necessary steps to achieve the
goals and objectives. It also includes implementing a strategic
plan by carrying out agreed-upon strategies and tactics, responding
to the day-to day needs of elected officials and staff, as well
as responding to the crises that are certain to develop. Ongoing
evaluations allow coalitions to fine-tune their efforts.
Policy analysis. The coalition should include persons
with working knowledge of and expertise in the current legal framework
(i.e., statutes, regulations and guidelines), problems that need
to be addressed and viable policy options, including acceptable
compromises that may be offered if the legislation is on a fast
track. It is also critical that the coalition includes persons who
have the capacity to draft legislative language.
Rapid response. The coalition must include persons responsible
for developing materials on a moment’s notice to help staff
respond to needs that surface as the bill makes its way through
the legislative process. Materials may include such things as summaries
of major studies, reports, surveys (pro and con), talking points,
briefing memos and position papers responding to criticism.
Grassroots. The coalition must include persons responsible
for keeping the grassroots informed, marshaling support and, when
necessary, ensuring that grassroots activity is consistent with
and furthers the goals and objectives of the coalition.
Media. The coalition must include persons responsible
for ensuring effective and timely media coverage in order to frame
the issues and control the dynamics of the debate.
Contacts with policy-makers. The coalition must carefully
select and then assign responsibility to individuals for contacting
elected officials and staff from the majority and minority parties.
Contacts with other groups not part of coalition. The
coalition must assign responsibility to individuals for interacting
with “outsider” organizations with whom they agree in
principle but who have chosen not to join the coalition. In addition,
contacts are needed with organizations that oppose the efforts of
Recognition of strengths and limitations. Members of
the coalition must recognize their strengths and limitations, the
need to have the requisite competencies to perform a task, as well
as understand the time commitment and pressures that will be placed
on them, depending on the role they assume. In other words, a chair
may be on 24-hour call seven days a week when a bill is moving through
the legislative process. Being unavailable because, “I have
an out-of-town commitment to my organization” is not acceptable.
The pressures are sometimes intense—ranging from responding
to staff demands for talking points in two hours to orchestrating
a grassroots letter-writing campaign by the next morning. At times
it also includes ensuring the ongoing effectiveness of the coalition
by mediating conflicts among coalition members.
Articulating What You Stand For: Values and Guiding Principles
In the course of any policy campaign, hundreds of decisions are
made. Decisions range from when to use a given tactic, when to compromise
one’s public position and the nature of the compromise. Members
come to the coalition with a different set of experiences and expectations.
Thus, one of the first tasks of the coalition is to formalize the
decision-making rules and decide on a common set of principles that
will guide the myriad decisions that will be made in the course
of a policy campaign.
Too often, this step is skipped, leading to misunderstandings and
perceptions of arbitrariness. Discussing principles has another
positive result: it provides an important, first opportunity for
members of a coalition to recognize each member organization’s
priorities, motivations, orientations and, based on these understandings,
establish effective working relationships.
Change is the process of getting from where you are to where you
want to be. Thus, it is critical to start with a knowledge and understanding
of current law and policy, not just where you believe the policy
ought to be. Problems must be identified in the context of current
law and policy.
HONESTY IN ASSESSMENT
In developing a strategic plan, it is essential that one or more
people in the coalition play the role of “devil’s advocate”
or “nay sayer.” Too often, in a group of like-minded
people a “holier than thou” or “group-think”
mentality takes over. The “devil’s advocate” can
help ensure that the strategy adopted is specific, immediate, realizable
and actionable. As Saul Alinsky, community organizer, stated, “Remember,
you can miss the target by aiming too high as well as too low.”
COMPONENTS OF A REALITY CHECK
Identify and have a clear understanding of macro issues (major
trends) that influence current thinking. Some issues include
the national mood, social movements (devolution, market-based solutions),
cost-benefit analyses and unfunded mandates.
Describe current status of the policy and its implementation.
Explain why current problems have not been remedied and why
remedies are now possible. The explanation makes it possible
for policy-makers to believe that positive change is now possible
List past efforts to change policy. List both the successes
and failures. It is important to understand why an initiative failed
and to learn from past mistakes.
Identify constraints on achieving success, including:
costs of new initiatives (assumptions by accountants and financial
analysts of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office
of Management and Budget (OMB)),
complexity of the issue and the solutions, and
List capacities of the coalition, including such things as:
organizational maturity of the coalition in working together;
degree of consensus on alternatives among coalition members;
degree of communication among interest groups who share the
nature and extent of resources, expertise, commitment and the
ability to secure additional support; and
ability to use “smoke and mirrors” to exaggerate
power and capabilities and build your perceived power base.
Describe the nature and extent of opposition to your goal,
including those who:
vehemently oppose your goal (those who will not consider other
ideas and will do everything possible to block your efforts),
strongly oppose your goal (those who will talk only if forced
to after blocking efforts do not work),
oppose your goal (are not supportive, but willing to walk
away from the fight), and
are willing to work toward consensus.
Recognize the possibilities of political posturing and turf
fights over jurisdiction among elected officials. One bite at the
apple. It is important to recognize the “been there,
done that” syndrome in public policy. Often if policy-makers
enact legislation that “addresses” a problem in any
way, they are likely to move on to other issues believing that the
problems have been solved. In other words, limited success may foreclose
additional near-term action that addresses the issue in a more appropriate/comprehensive
Where the Coalition Wants to Go
IDENTIFY THE PRIZE
It is essential that the coalition identify and reach consensus
on “the prize” it is trying to win. At the end of the
campaign, what does the coalition hope to accomplish?
Is the “prize” a bill or a public law?
Is the “prize” an incremental step, laying the
foundation for subsequent action?
Is the purpose of a bill/amendment to make a point, lay the
foundation for future action (legislative or regulatory), or
is the purpose to have the bill/amendment become law?
Does the coalition want to get the issue on the policy radar
screen, develop viable policy options, secure enactment or ensure
Other goals may include making a political statement for organizing
purposes or laying a foundation for future action by getting politicians
or academics to talk about the issue.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
It is also critical that you be able to “keep your eye on
the prize.” This requires distinguishing between two things:
the policy you are trying to achieve (which guides future
the positions you may take (which may change along the way
and are the subject of compromise).
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
It is also critical that a coalition articulate long-term goals
and short-term objectives. Long-term goals may include “substantive
goals” (e.g., secure a policy change) or “process goals”
(e.g., introduce a bill for purposes of organizing grassroots support
and solidifying the cohesiveness of a newly-formed coalition).
These goals and objectives allow the campaign to commence, unify
the current members of the coalition, form the basis for expanding
the coalition, help guide the coalition on the appropriateness of
a given strategy or tactic and serve as the basis for judging success.
Steps Necessary to Achieve Goals and Objectives
IDENTIFY THE AUDIENCE
The first step is to identify the policy-makers (elected officials
and staff) who play an essential role in bringing about the proposed
policy changes. They may include members of the Executive branch
and members of the Legislative branch holding key positions such
as committee chair, ranking member of the committee, leadership
or key power-brokers who have the respect of other members.
In addition, it is necessary to identify key stakeholders who
have influence on policy-makers. These may be constituents having
personal relationships with the key policy-makers who may support
or oppose your position.
Further, it is necessary to identify other key players who influence
policy-makers such as influential members of the media and public
CONTROL THE DYNAMICS AND THE MESSAGE
Define the problem/issue. Controlling the language
of the debate has significant ramifications regarding perceptions
of and treatment by policy-makers.
Create a snowball effect, bandwagon, aura of inevitability.
The ultimate goal in any policy campaign is to convince
the various stakeholders (for and against) that a bill has such
a broad base of support among elected officials that its passage
is inevitable. Various techniques include: bipartisanship, support
by key policy-makers and opinion leaders, endorsement by the
Administration and a broad-based coalition that includes atypical
Recognize the culture of the legislative subject area
and the culture of the committee that has responsibility for
a given bill. Not all committees operate in the same fashion,
nor are all bills treated by committees in the same fashion.
The coalition needs to take into consideration the culture of
a committee and how it handles a given issue. Disability policy
has a history of bipartisanship and consensus. Expected approaches
used when considering disability legislation include positive
working relationships among elected officials and staff and
consensus. In contrast, issues involving workers’ rights
and protections are often highly partisan and divisive and therefore
require the use of different strategies and tactics.
Cultivate the political playing field. It is important
to make judgments about the best approaches for moving a bill
through the legislative maze. For example, if complex legislation
is being considered that requires referral to a number of committees
in the House of Representatives but only one committee in the
Senate, it may make sense to work on the legislation in the
Senate first. Additional considerations include garnering support
from the leadership, ensuring referral to friendly committees
or subcommittees by judiciously worded legislation and the creation
of unique entities to consider proposals (e.g., a bicameral
working group, a summit).
Keep it simple.
Refer to basic American values such as fairness, personal
responsibility, choice and accountability.
Personalize the issue (use personal profiles).
Where possible, stress that the policy initiative is incremental
(not radical), viable, implementable, balanced and based on
precedent – it simply extends current policy.
Modify the message to be most persuasive to the target audience,
while staying true to the core principles.
Elected officials are in the business of developing policy solutions
to problems that affect the public. Staff are in the business of
trying to help elected officials identify problems that are real
and pressing as well as issues that are better addressed through
means other than legislation (e.g., modifying a regulation, leaving
its solution to state policy-makers or leaving its solution to the
As a general proposition, there are several steps that should
be completed before a “legislative fix” is proposed.
First, current law must be reviewed, including the regulations,
guidelines and interpretations. Second, current implementation of
the law must be assessed. Third, a review of studies, reports and
surveys must be completed. Fourth, experts in the field must be
identified and consulted. After these steps are completed, it is
appropriate to agree on a statement of the problem and the major
issues that need to be addressed. Of course, the complexity of the
issue will determine the nature and extent of the review required.
DETERMINE POLICY OPTIONS
Once there is agreement on the statement of the problem and the
major issues that need to be addressed, it is important to seriously
consider the most appropriate course of action to pursue, which
may or may not include a legislative fix.
“Go” versus “no go.” Identifying
a problem does not automatically mean that a legislative fix should
be pursued. There are times when the outcome from a new law may
be worse than the current problem. Thus, the current political “lay
of the land” must be considered before making a decision to
proceed. Special care is required in the area of civil rights because
the stakes are so high.
Vehicle for change. It is also important to decide on
the appropriate vehicle for changing current policy. Can the desired
outcome be achieved through:
regulation or administrative action rather than through legislation?
(It is often a lot easier to take the administrative route.)
the reauthorization of an existing grant program?
the appropriations process (including report language)?
regulatory or civil rights legislation?
the establishment of a new or expansion of an existing entitlement
(open-ended or capped)?
the reconciliation process?
Staking out your position. The content of a legislative
proposal depends on the purpose you are trying to achieve. If it
is possible to obtain broad bipartisan support for a bill that accomplishes
the coalition’s goals and it is possible to obtain the commitment
of key policy-makers that the bill will be considered during the
upcoming session, it may be appropriate to include reasonable provisions
(with some room for negotiations) to ensure the viability of the
proposal. On the other hand, if the coalition anticipates a long,
partisan debate with strong opposition, or if the bill is not likely
to move any time soon, it may be appropriate to include more extreme
positions that can be modified if and when the bill starts to move
and negotiations begin in earnest.
Viability of proposal. When the goal is to enact a public
law rather than identify an issue for next year’s election
campaign, it is necessary to ensure that the proposal is viable.
Characteristics of viable proposals include:
technical feasibility (i.e., the policy can work in the real
likeliness to accomplish stated objectives,
ability to be administered,
unintended consequences are known or at least analyzed,
anticipation and identification of constraints (e.g., costs,
indications of a broad base of support.
GET POLICY-MAKERS’ ATTENTION AND INVOLVEMENT
Gain the Attention of Policy-Makers
There are many strategies and tactics that may be used to gain
the attention of policy-makers. Some effective strategies include:
bringing home the importance of immediate action by identifying
a current crisis, disaster, powerful symbol or personal experience
relevant to the policy-maker;
identifying objective indicators such as studies, reports
(including monitoring and evaluations) and surveys describing
the problem and possible solutions;
enlisting the support of interest groups that have a stake
in the issue and enjoy the respect of key policy-makers;
enlisting constituents to ask for the help of an elected official's
staff to work on cases or complaints related to the subject
matter of the pending legislation;
securing the media’s attention on the issue.
Get Policy-Makers Involved
Policy-makers are inundated with constituents and interest groups
that identify problems and proposed solutions. Getting a policy-maker
involved does not occur by chance. It takes a concerted effort to
cultivate champions or avid supporters – both elected officials
and staff. Examples of factors that help policy-makers get involved
describing how the proposal addresses a keen personal interest
of the elected official or staff;
convincing an elected official that sponsorship or involvement
will result in positive publicity and will transform them into
a heavyweight—a “player”;
getting other members who are sponsors to call in “chits”;
getting the interest groups closely aligned with an elected
official to endorse the proposal;
getting an endorsement of the proposal from the experts and
opinion leaders respected by an elected official;
getting constituents with power, personal relationships and/or
campaign contributors to make calls to the policy-maker; and/or
getting constituents to send handwritten faxes, letters and
to attend and speak at open forums in home districts.
ORGANIZING AND INTERACTING WITH THE GRASSROOTS
Elected officials want to be responsive to the needs and concerns
of their constituents and, as a result, often listen to lobbyists
about these concerns. However, to know more directly about their
constituents’ concerns, these officials often ask their staff,
“What are we hearing from back home about this issue?”
Like everything else in the public policy process, responses from
back home just don’t occur by chance; responses from constituents
back home are usually the result of efforts by members of a coalition
to “mobilize the grassroots.”
One of the most difficult and sensitive challenges faced by a coalition
is understanding the breadth and depth of constituents’ interests
and expectations and balancing this understanding with the realities
under which elected officials function in the real world of politics
and public policy. This is especially true when individual organizations
join forces to form a coalition. Lobbyists working for organizations
are expected to represent and advance the interests and expectations
of their members and at the same time recognize that these interests
and expectations may not necessarily conform to the interests and
expectations of other coalition members.
Coalition members face myriad questions in their effort to
ensure that grassroots play an effective and positive role in
the overall strategic plan to bring about positive change in
What role should the grassroots play in a campaign to enact
or block public policy initiatives?
What steps should be undertaken to ensure continuous feedback
of information to grassroots about the progress of a coalition’s
When should the grassroots be mobilized to take action?
What should be included in their message?
What strategies should be used to lay the foundation for compromises
that are an inevitable part of the process?
What steps should be taken to ensure that the grassroots do
not react against the decisions made by their representatives?
Conversely, what steps should be taken to ensure that the
representatives do not compromise heartfelt principles of the
The role of the grassroots. The primary role of the grassroots
is to send a message to policy-makers that an issue is critical
to them. The message may be delivered through various channels (e.g.,
making a phone call, sending a handwritten letter, attending a town
hall meeting or participating in a demonstration or march). A significant
grassroots effort can effect the dynamics of a public policy campaign
by creating the impression that there is a ground swell of support/opposition,
thereby helping establish an “aura of inevitability”
that the concerns must be addressed.
Keeping the grassroots informed. It is critical that the
grassroots be kept informed about the major events occurring in
Washington, D.C., or in a state capitol. Various strategies such
as newsletters, faxes and electronic media are appropriate. It is
not possible, nor is it advisable, to communicate every problem
or setback to the grassroots; people will lose interest, or worse,
will react inappropriately to incomplete information or information
without a proper context. Furthermore, it is critical to recognize
that information provided to fellow supporters will instantaneously
be in the hands of those who oppose your position. Thus, the information
shared must not only send a message to your grassroots but also
to your opponents.
Mobilizing the grassroots. One of the most difficult strategic
planning issues is to determine if and when to mobilize the grassroots
to take an action. It is difficult because timing is always crucial.
Questions to consider include:
is the issue one in which grassroots support will make a difference?
how often can the grassroots be asked to take action before
they get fatigued and lose hope/interest?
will your mobilization of grassroots produce an equal or greater
mobilization by your opponents?
can sufficient responses be generated to make it clear that
people back home really care about the issue?
Framing the message. The message sent to the grassroots
must be simple and yet compelling. The message back from the grassroots
to the policy-makers must be clear and personal.
Explaining compromises. Compromising positions without compromising
principles is an acceptable and expected outcome of any policy campaign.
Deciding when and how to communicate the compromises to the grassroots
is important. Your communications should:
restate the basic principles guiding your actions and explain
how these principles have not been compromised, and
keep the opinion leaders, who enjoy the trust and respect of
a given subset of the grassroots, well informed. Ensure that
the grassroots opinion leaders understand and approve of the
decisions and deliver the message directly to their constituencies.
The media plays an important role in any public policy campaign,
although the impact of the media is sometimes exaggerated. The impact
is strongest when the media hooks on to an issue for a period of
time, e.g., President Clinton’s health care reform initiatives
when he first took office. However, in most cases, the media runs
a story for only a short period of time before they leave it for
the next issue.
Media coverage is important for several reasons. First, the media
can help establish a positive dynamic in which a favorable outcome
is considered inevitable. Editorial writers may indicate that the
bill is going to pass and that it is only a question of when. Second,
the media can help garner the attention of policy-makers. If elected
officials read an article in the newspaper or see an issue on television,
they are more apt to pay attention to it. Third, the media affects
Gaining access to the general public through the media is always
a key component of any policy campaign. There are a number of sources
for guidance on how to use the media to advance your issue such
as Using the Media to Advance Your Issue by The Advocacy Institute
Assessment of Progress
Throughout the course of any policy campaign, it is necessary to
continually review the effectiveness of the coalition’s strategies
and tactics in relationship to the coalition’s overall principles,
goals and objectives. Though ongoing assessments are critical, members
of the coalition must not panic or overreact to setbacks. Nor should
“victory” be declared prematurely. Once a strategy is
put in place, coalition members should be open and flexible to change
and at the same time resist overreaction. The major question should
be whether the coalition's goals and objectives are still appropriate
AN IMPORTANT NOTE ON LOBBYING AND INDEPENDENT LIVING ORGANIZATIONS
.... by Richard E. Petty, IL Net Director
This guide describes highly effective techniques for influencing
public policy, many of which constitute lobbying. Centers for independent
living may engage in lobbying. They are, however, required to follow
federal and state laws and regulations governing nonprofit lobbying
activities. There are also certain prohibitions and specific requirements
related to the use of federal funds in lobbying. Statewide independent
living councils (SILCs) that have established themselves as nonprofit
organizations are also covered under these same laws and regulations.
There may be additional state prohibitions and requirements related
to lobbying which apply to statewide independent living councils.
Centers and SILCs are encouraged to secure the advice of a competent
legal professional. Appendix B of this book contains Frequently
Asked Questions on Lobbying. Below is a listing of several excellent
publications on the topic.
PUBLICATIONS ON NONPROFIT LOBBYING
Being a Player: A Guide to the IRS Lobbying Regulations
for Advocacy Charities. Alliance
for Justice, 2000 P Street, NW, No. 712, Washington, DC
20036, (202) 822-6070, www.afj.org. A comprehensive guide to
the IRS rules on lobbying by 501(c)(3) organizations. Price:
The Nonprofit Lobbying Guide-Advocating Your Cause and
Getting Results. Second Edition. Independent
Sector Publications Center, P. O. Box 343, Waldorf, MD,
20604-0343, (888) 860-8118, www.indepsec.org. A comprehensive,
practical guide on how to lobby and lobbying laws. Price: $24.95.
Living with A-122: A Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations.
OMB Watch, 1742 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20009,
(202) 234-8494. This handbook, published after major changes
to lobbying rules in OMB Circular A-122, is available in three
parts: Part I is a technical analysis of the lobbying rules;
Part II describes how to cope with the rules; and Part III is
a comparison to other lobbying rules. Price: $20/complete set.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT LOBBYING AND CILS
... by Bob Michaels, Laurel Richards, Cynthia Dresden and Dawn
"It's easy to tell if a center's doing strong advocacy.
the state is telling them they're not allowed to lobby."
This FAQ addresses lobbying questions which have been raised during
our training programs, technical assistance calls, and consultant
work. It was originally developed in May 1997. We have just revised
it in response to amendments made to OMB Circular A-122.
In developing this FAQ, a study was conducted of pertinent regulations
of the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education,
and then the answers were reviewed with an attorney specializing
in lobbying issues and with John Nelson, chief of Independent Living
Branch of Rehabilitation Services Administration and other officials
of the Department of Education. We hope you find this FAQ useful,
and we welcome any recommendations for improving it that you care
1. Are centers for independent living allowed to lobby?
Yes, CILs may lobby; however, the types of lobbying activities
that are permissible vary, depending on whether they are supported
with federal or non-federal funds. In addition, a CIL's lobbying
activities may be further limited by Internal Revenue Service regulations
applicable to nonprofit organizations.
2. What statutes or regulations do centers need to
follow with regard to lobbying?
The federal government requires granting and contracting agencies,
such as the Department of Education, to follow guidelines set
out in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-122
(as amended in August 1997) when awarding federal funds. Additional
restrictions may be found in Department of Education regulations
34 CFR Part 82.
Centers may elect to follow guidelines set out in regulations
developed under the Internal Revenue Code, Sections 501(h) and
Centers which employ lobbyists or direct considerable funds
activities must meet reporting requirements set out in the Lobbying
Disclosure Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-65).
While requirements contained in these three documents will be
covered in the remainder of this FAQ, there may be other federal,
state, or local laws or regulations which affect the lobbying activities
of a center. Center staff should contact agencies in their states
which regulate activities of nonprofits and request provisions related
to lobbying activities.
It is imperative that center staff have a thorough understanding
of these laws and regulations whenever issues of compliance are
raised--andalways get a second opinion.
3. I have been told that centers which receive Title
VII funds are restricted from lobbying. Is this true?
Except as described in #5 below, CILs that receive Title VII funds
are restricted from using Title VII as well as other federal funds
to engage in lobbying activities. However, as stated above, centers
may use nonfederal funds to engage in lobbying activities.
4. What lobbying activities may not be supported with
Briefly, lobbying activities which cannot be supported with federal
Attempts to influence the outcome of any federal, state, or
local election, referendum, initiative, or similar procedure;
Supporting in any way a political party, campaign, political
action committee, or other organization established for the
purpose of influencing the outcome of elections;
Any attempt to influence the introduction, enactment, or modification
of federal or state legislation, including efforts to utilize
state or local officials to engage in similar activities;
Any attempt to influence the introduction, enactment, or modification
of federal or state legislation by trying to gain the support
of part or all of the general public;
Legislative liaison activities in support of unallowable lobbying
Any attempt to influence an executive or legislative branch
official with respect to any grant, contract, loan, or cooperative
It is important to note that activities that may not be supported
by a center's federal funds may be supported by its nonfederal funds.
5. What lobbying activities may be supported with
Non-restricted lobbying activities (that is, those lobbying activities
which can be supported with federal funds) include:
Providing a presentation through hearing testimony, statements,
or letters in
response to a documented request, if the information needed
for the presentation is readily available. Costs for travel,
lodging, and meals are not
allowed unless testimony is given in response a written request
from the chairman or ranking minority member of a Congressional
Lobbying to influence state legislation, in order to reduce
directly the cost of
performing the grant or contract or to avoid impairing the organization's
ability to do so;
Any activity specifically authorized by statute to be undertaken
with funds from the grant, contract, or other agreement.
6. Will we jeopardize our center's 501(c)(3) status
if we lobby?
There are really two questions which must be answered: Is the activity
under consideration really lobbying and does lobbying constitute
a substantial portion of what the center does, under IRS rules.
Question One: Are the center's activities lobbying
or something else?
Direct lobbying is defined in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and
regulations as "Any attempt to influence any legislation through
communication with any member or employee of a legislative body
or with any government official or employee who may participate
in the formulation of the legislation."
This includes such obvious activities as contact with a legislator
about a specific piece of legislation, advocating for increases
in funding in the budget, opposing a candidate for appointive office,
and encouraging the general public to support or reject an initiative,
referendum, or board measure.
Direct lobbying does not include activities such aseducating decision
makers about issues of importance to people with disabilities, administrative
lobbying, surveying candidates for office, attending public hearings,
or even testifying if requested by a legislative committee in writing.
Nonpartisan analysis and self-defense lobbying also qualify as exceptions
under IRS rules.
A communication (with the general public or any segment thereof)
will be treated as grass roots lobbying if, and only if, the communication
(1) refers to specific legislation, (2) reflects a view on such
legislation, and (3) encourages the recipient to take action with
respect to such legislation (for instance, through a "call
Question Two: Is lobbying a substantial part of what
the center does?
Centers can either elect to comply with IRC Section 501(h), which
requires filing papers with the IRS and reporting annually on lobbying
activities, or elect not to file under the law. Compliance with
the law allows 501(c)(3) corporations to expend as much as 20 percent
of their funds for lobbying activities depending on the size of
the organization. Those choosing not to file may only spend an amount
which is not "substantial." One court ruled that devoting
more than five percent of an organization's resources to lobbying
activities was substantial.
So, why doesn't everyone file under IRC 501(h)? Because most organizations
haven't learned about it yet. The guidelines are far more generous,
yet record-keeping demands for day-to-day lobbying activities are
virtually the same.
7. How does lobbying differ from advocacy?
In the regulations for Title VII of the Rehab Act, advocacy is
defined as "pleading an individual's cause or speaking or writing
in support of an individual. . . . Advocacy may be on behalf of
a single individual . . . a group or class of individuals . . .
or oneself." Note that in this context, "pleading"
is a legal term meaning "a formal statement setting forth the
defense of a case" (Random House Dictionary). Advocacy, then,
is action taken to convince others of the rightness of your cause
and of their need to join you in supporting this cause. Lobbying
is a subset of advocacy in that it is a set of activities that plead
a cause and set forth the defense of a case in order to influence
the voting of legislators. In
other words, lobbying is advocacy with a very narrow and specific
focus--to convince legislators to vote as you wish them to on specific
legislative proposals. Thus, the use of the word "advocacy"
does not change the nature of what is or is not permitted as a lobbying
8. Where can our center get more information about
compliance with the Internal Revenue Code?
You can always try the IRS itself, but most of its information
is not written for people other than certified public accountants.
One excellent source of information we've found has been written
by Greg Colvin, an attorney who specializes in this area. You can
contact Greg at Silk, Adler, and Colvin 415.421.7555 to inquire
about resource materials he has developed regarding lobbying and
the tax code. Other sources include Independent Sector (1828 L,
N.W., 1200, Washington, D.C., 20036, 202.223.8100); Alliance for
Justice (2000 P St., N.W., Suite 712, Washington, D.C. 20036, 202.822.6070);
and Chronicle of Philanthropy (1255 23rd Street, N.W., Suite 700,
Washington, D.C., 20037, 202.466.1200).
9. How does the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 affect
In most cases, it doesn't. Centers which attempt to influence Congress
or top federal executive branch officials may be required to register,
to report their areas of interest, and to specify the amount of
money spent on lobbying activities. A center is required to register
under the Act only if: 1) an individual employed or retained by
the center makes more than one contact and spends 20 percent or
more of his or her time providing lobbying activities for the center
during a six month period; and 2) the center's total expenses in
connection with lobbying activities exceed $20,000 in a six month
10. How may I obtain copies of the documents identified
in this FAQ?
The documents referred to in this FAQ are available through the
Government Printing Office or from your auditor or congressman.
In addition, many codes, regulations, and legislation can be downloaded
electronically from the Internet.
As you know, advocacy is one of the core services of a center,
essential to achieving the mission of promoting independent living
opportunities for persons with disabilities. This said, among questions
most often heard by IL NET trainers and technical assistants are
what constitutes advocacy and what distinguishes it from lobbying?
This FAQ is intended to provide the basics. If you need more information,
be sure to contact an attorney or your grantor agency.
This fact sheet was prepared by Bob Michaels with assistance from
Laurel Richards, Cynthia Dresden, and Dawn Heinsohn. We extend our
appreciation to Greg Colvin, John Nelson of the Independent Living
Branch, RSA, Sergio Kapfer, Department of Education General Attorney,
Division of Educational Equity and Research, and Susan Winchell,
Department of Education Ethics Counsel Staff for agreeing to review
Substantial support for development of this publication was provided
by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, U.S. Department of
Education. No official endorsement of the Department of Education
should be inferred.
The IL NET is a collaborative project of Independent Living Research
Utilization (ILRU) and the National Council on Independent Living
(NCIL), with funding from the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
ILRU is a program of The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research
(TIRR), a nationally recognized, freestanding medical rehabilitation
facility for persons with physical and cognitive disabilities. TIRR
is part of TIRR Systems, which is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated
to providing a continuum of services to individuals with disabilities.