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Advocacy FAQ

The following are answers to frequently asked questions about reaching out to policy makers to advocate for the issues you care about. If you don’t see your question in the list below, feel free to email us at info@researchamerica.org.

Health research advocacy means efforts to raise public and policy maker awareness about the importance of health research, both federally funded research and research conducted by private sector companies. It means advocating for policies that promote a robust research enterprise in the United States.

Such policies include, but are not limited to, increased funding for federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, which is the largest public funder of medical research in the world; tax incentives for private sector research and development; and legislative and regulatory changes that remove barriers hindering timely access to safe and effective medicines.

Whether the goal is to save lives, reduce disability or ensure our nation is producing the innovations necessary to compete in the global economy, it is critical to fight for health research.

When you write, call, or meet with your elected representatives, personalize the issue you are communicating about and back up your arguments with facts and figures specific to the district (for members of the House of Representatives) or state (for members of the Senate) in which you live. Nothing is more effective than personal stories and concrete evidence that your position is the right one.

Consult your representative's website for information on the issues upon which he/she is focused. If you don't find what you need on the website, call your representative's office and ask for clarification. It is your right as a constituent to understand your representatives' priorities and positions.

It is always fine to acknowledge that you don't know the answer to a question, but that you will look into it and email or call them with the answer. If Research!America can be helpful in finding answers to questions related to health research, please don't hesitate to email us at info@researchamerica.org.

Politicians pay significant attention to polls, even if they sometimes deny doing so. They often commission their own polls, although those results are held close. It was President Abraham Lincoln who said: "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed."

Research!America has been commissioning polls for more than 20 years. We are highly experienced at polling, well-respected, and followed. Our polls are conducted using the same methodology as polls you see every day in the media.

We use polls for two reasons: to keep a finger on the pulse of public sentiment on research, researchers, research institutions and research-related issues. We share that information with our members so they can be better informed and take appropriate action, like doing a better job of putting a human face on research, since very few Americans can name a living scientist. We also use poll results in advocacy and encourage our members to do the same.

While it is always important to learn the specific rules associated with the position you hold - for example, you may be required to take certain steps to clarify that you are expressing your own views rather than those of the agency for which you work – there is no general prohibition on federal employees engaging in personal advocacy.

Advocacy and lobbying are often confused, used interchangeably, and the distinction is questioned by many new activists. Advocacy is often driven by the need for educating the public and/or lawmakers and raising awareness about a policy issue. Lobbying is when efforts are focused on influencing a specific piece of legislation.

  • Advocacy: "It is critical to make federally funded health research a higher priority in the U.S. to enable the development of life-saving cures and treatments while contributing to economic growth."
  • Lobbying: "Please support H.R. (or S. if Senate) 111 to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality."

You will not have to register if you are advocating, educating and raising awareness. It is unlikely that you will need to register as a lobbyist, even if you continually contact your representatives about a specific piece of legislation. A private citizen acting on their own, or as a volunteer with an organization, does not have to register. Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, you are required to register only if you meet the following three criteria:

  1. You are being compensated for your lobbying time and efforts by a client.
  2. You contact more than one individual, or an individual more than once, regarding a specific topic.
  3. You spend at least 20% of your time lobbying on behalf of your client in any three-month period.

Learn more in the Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance provided by the Office of the Clerk in the House of Representatives.

In both cases, it's best to be as concise and organized as possible. Start by clearly stating why you asked for the meeting or why you are writing. In other words, specify your concern and the action you would like for your representative to take (or refrain from taking). Follow that with personal stories, facts or arguments that clarify and support your position. Ask your representative for his or her views on the topic, and close by thanking him or her and reiterating the action you would like taken.

If you would like assistance framing a letter or the discussion at a meeting regarding health research, please don't hesitate to email us at info@researchamerica.org.

While the answer to this question varies by office, you should not anticipate having more than 15 to 20 minutes to make your case with a staff member, and meetings with representatives are typically even shorter. You need to be prepared to express your views and receive feedback from your representative in 10 minutes or less.

Yes, they do. While we can't guarantee that every letter or phone call will make a difference, many members of the House and Senate are very vigilant about tracking their constituents' views and incorporating those views into their decision-making. If you don't speak out, your representatives in Congress have no way of knowing whether their actions reflect the views of the people they represent. That's not real democracy.

You should always state that you would like a written reply or follow-up phone call. Realistically, however, congressional offices vary on how long it takes to receive replies to constituent correspondence, and some offices may not respond at all – particularly to form letter campaigns.

You may wish to ask to speak with the legislative assistant or "LA" who handles the issue you wish to discuss. In the case of health research, you may wish to ask for the health LA. If your goal is simply to register an opinion or concern, you can provide that information to the individual who answers your initial call; however, to ensure that your voice is heard, you should ask for a written response from your representative.

Typically, legislative correspondents (LCs) will write the first draft of responses to constituent letters. In most congressional offices, these letters are reviewed by a mail supervisor or a senior-level staff member, and in some offices, the elected officials themselves will review each letter before it is sent out.

It is very unlikely that your call will be recorded. However, the staff member who responds to your call may request your name and contact information to confirm that you are a constituent.

The first step is to make sure that all of your federal representatives - your Congressional representative and both of the Senators who represent you - are strong supporters of health research. It is also useful to join advocacy networks for the issues important to you. The more people who join organizations fighting for a cause, the more influence those organizations can have over congressional decisions. You may also wish to reach out to friends and colleagues and urge them to contact their representatives.

There are several websites that provide this information, including congress.gov.

Generally, the most effective form of advocacy is to meet directly with your representative or a member of his/her staff. You can either meet at a state or district office, or in Washington, DC. Some members of Congress hold weekly or monthly open-houses in Washington for any individual from their district or state who may be visiting Washington, DC. Information about these events is typically highlighted on the representative's website.

If it is not possible for you to meet with your representative or a staff member, it is still important to speak out on the issues you care about by writing, emailing or calling. Personal letters and emails are generally more effective than form letters or emails. Note that if you send a letter through regular mail to your representative's Washington, DC, office, it will go through an irradiation process that may significantly delay its final delivery.

To meet with a member of the House or Senate, most offices require that you mail or fax a formal letter of request. To maximize your chances of securing a meeting, it makes sense to call and inquire about scheduling procedures. Keep in mind that it is very difficult to secure a meeting with a member of the House or Senate. The more individuals who join together to request a meeting, the more likely it is that the meeting will occur.

The most effective means of securing a staff-level meeting is to call the state, district or Washington, D.C., office and ask to speak with the person with whom you wish to meet. You don't need to know the name of the person; however, you need to be as specific as possible. For example, if you wish to discuss the future of health research and you would like to meet with an individual in your congressman's district office, call that office and ask to speak with the staff member who handles health-related issues in the state, indicating that you wish to set up a meeting with that person.