How to Engage with Lawmakers

How to Engage with Lawmakers

An Important Part of Your Daily Routine

By: Allison Coccia, PACB

Lawmaker meeting

A community banker’s To-Do List is an ever-evolving living breathing beast that seems to grow by the minute. Some might bristle at the thought of adding advocacy to their daily tasks, especially when it involves the word, “government.” But, today’s legislative and regulatory landscape requires community bankers to engage in advocacy. It is a crucial for the well-being your customers, your employees and the preservation of the legacy community banking.

For some, the mere thought of navigating the current political landscape is both confusing and daunting.

And some, find the process extremely intimidating. But like anything, success in advocacy is about relationships. You can’t effect change if they don’t exist.

Below are some helpful hints to get started.

Why YOU Need Them

Legislators Vote on Issues that Affect Your Customers & Your Employees’ Lives
Lawmakers can consider thousands of bills in one session, which makes it nearly impossible for them to read each one cover-to-cover. When bills come up for a vote, educated or uneducated on the issue, they must vote on that particular issue. Community bankers need to educate legislators on the importance of issues related to them and their immediate effect on the citizens and small businesses in their communities. A collection of misguided votes can have lasting and life altering affects. Consider Dodd-Frank.

Legislators Can Help You Engage with State & Federal Government, Such as Regulators and Agencies
Although legislators cannot always vote on regulatory matters, they can pressure regulators to act or weigh important matters when issuing regulations. When federal financial regulators were slow to act on the promulgation of S. 2155 the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, US Senator Pat Toomey along with twelve other senators urged regulators to push forward.

Legislators Can Raise Your Community Profile
Legislators have their own press shops that produce daily content and have extensive contacts with the press and social media. Involving an elected official in your event often increases the likelihood of press coverage. It can raise awareness on a particular issue and expand your reach beyond the orbit of your own customers via many different mediums.

Why They Need YOU

You are a Valuable Resource for Community News/Projects
A great number of Pennsylvania members, both state and federal are still in their first terms. Community bankers have the pulse of the local economies in the communities they serve. Community bankers have a deep understanding of their communities and a wealth of contacts within those communities.

You are a Valuable Resource in Issue Information
Legislators serve on committees and become experts on the legislation within whose committees. Most issues affecting community banks are first addressed in a Financial Services or Banking Committee. If lawmakers are not a member of a Financial Services Committee, they may not have the exposure to or in-depth knowledge about an issue affecting community banks and their customers. Community bankers must translate financial services issues into real life application and help lawmakers determine which issues must be a priority in the financial services realm.

They Want to Attend Your Events
Attending your events allows elected officials to have face-to-face contact with large groups of constituents back home. It provides them with a captive audience to convey their ideas and accomplishments.

Where to Start

Initiating a relationship with a lawmaker can be as easy as reaching out to their local office and inviting them to a bank event or attending one of their own community events.

PACB helps to facilitate these connections by hosting community bank roundtables and inviting community bankers to participate. It provides an opportunity for community bankers to share their expertise, advocate for priority issues and get to know their lawmakers in a more intimate setting.

Attend the Capital Summit in Washington DC with PACB
A great way to engage with your member of congress is to attend PACB’s annual trip to Washington DC as part of ICBA’s Capital Summit. Attendees are provided with priority issue cards and PACB sets up all of the meetings with the Pennsylvania delegation on attendees’ behalf. It is a great opportunity for an initial introductory meeting to be followed up with a meeting on your own. This year’s Capital Summit is April 28-May 1, 2020.

Effective Ways to Interact with Elected Officials
Some of the most impactful ways to interact with elected officials include; inviting them to community bank events or events related to small business or economic development, inviting them to lunch or breakfast with C-Suite members, or hosting or attending community bank roundtables. PACB can help facilitate these opportunities.

Hosting elected officials at community banks can be extremely effective because it allows for significant face time with lawmakers, provides an avenue for lawmakers to meet large groups of constituents who might not otherwise attend their events; and it gives legislators a real life understanding of the innerworkings, culture and rich history of each community bank.

How to Make Your Events with Elected Officials Work

Keep the Legislators & Staff Informed
Preparation is the key to a successful event. Provide staff with an agenda and list of attendees at least one week prior to the event. Make sure to get approval from them before making any changes to the original plan or if there is an intent to include press. Stay on schedule, and inform the staff of any topics that might be addresses and provide background material, so they can properly brief the legislator. All of these things help pave a path to a better relationship moving forward.

Thank Them, Make it Worth Their Time & Be Concise
Elected officials have extremely busy schedules and often meet with many different groups in one day. Make the event or meeting memorable by staying “on message, “highlighting priority issues with concise stories and facts & prepping the meeting attendees in advance. And finally, remember to thank them for taking the time to meet with your group.

Showcase the Organization
This is the time to really show lawmakers the great things community banks do day in and day out. Highlight a new customer interactive front office, various community projects, the culture of dedication to volunteerism and countless charitable donations.

Share Community Bank Stories & Keep it Local
Conveying true life examples of how legislation or regulation negatively affects community banks’ service to their customers illustrates the consequences of these regulations to elected officials. It allows them put a human face on these issues and gives them stories from back home to share with their colleagues in DC and Harrisburg.

Provide Accurate Data/Info & Leave Behinds
Providing Lawmakers with real facts and figures gives them something to consider and go back to time and time again. It is an important part of re-enforcing a message through real-life accounts and facts.

Relationships with Lawmakers’ Staff Are Crucial

Get to Know the Staff in the Local Office
State/district or district staffers are tasked with constituent service and outreach to coalition groups in the community. Attending community bank events provides them with a welcome opportunity to be active and build stronger relationships with stakeholders, constituents and economic drivers within the community.

District staffers often help influence or direct elected officials’ district events and can also be extremely helpful when attempting to schedule events in DC or Harrisburg.

Get to Know the Staff in the Legislative (or Capitol) Office
Staffers in the legislative offices or capitol offices dive deep into issues. Legislative staffers are assigned to gain as much knowledge as they can about a couple of specific issue groups. Members of Congress always have staffers assigned to Financial Services issues but they may be also be assigned to other issues like Transportation. If the member of Congress does not serve on a Financial Services Committee, the staffer will need community bankers to help them become issue experts, to understand the real-life application of various pieces of legislation and its effect on the district; and which of those pieces of legislation must take priority over others.

Cementing the Relationship

Follow Up!
Make sure to follow up! Legislators can meet with hundreds of constituents in one week. Several contacts are needed to effectively convey your message. Become a familiar face by attending their events and inviting them to bank events. Send follow up emails to them and their staff and offer to be a resource for them. Establish yourself as a “go-to” for community bank and community issues. Set monthly reminders on your calendar to touch base. The relationship will be a valuable and rewarding one for all parties.