Keeping Your Lobbying Cozy: How to Approach Congress

Contact with constituents has always been a central function of any legislator’s office. The issue since the late 1990s though has been the level of communication arriving at a legislator’s door. With the advent of email, constituent letters multiplied exponentially with every passing year. While email made it easy for constituents to reach out to their elected representatives, unfortunately it also made it incredibly simple for non-constituents to flood the inbox of any legislator’s office. As more and more legislators began to block incoming email, the simple web form became the preferred method of communication.

Demanding an address, something they couldn’t do over email, the transition to web forms was aimed at reducing the level of noise generated from non-constituent communications as well as streamlining the analysis of incoming messages. As more and more offices transitioned to the web form specific workflows could be implemented on the legislator’s side, filing each submission quickly and ensuring that constituent’s communications were responded to promptly.

Unfortunately, the switch to web forms also distanced legislators even further from their constituency. What was once a personal hand-written letter is more often than not now simply a standardized web form submission. It’s with that in mind that CQ Roll Call has continued to push forward developing a new era of advocacy and engagement.

CQ Roll Call’s Capwiz was one of the first in the market to address the need to contact legislators online. From the early days of email, Capwiz was there to assist organizations in allowing their stakeholders to quickly and easily contact legislators on the issues. As legislators moved away from email, so did CQ Roll Call, tailoring a backend system that delivered messages either directly to Hill offices through specific channels or through the web forms that have since become a standard.

Our system and the team of professionals that support it, ensure that any messages sent through our tool are delivered. The numbers only serve to support our methods, our system delivered more than 25.5 million messages to Capitol Hill last year alone at roughly a 95% first time success rate. This rate of successful delivery is more than 15% higher than our competition. In short, our close relationship with the Hill ensures that our client’s messages get through.

So What’s Changed or Pushing Forward

As web-forms became ubiquitous and messaging turned to a more standardized format, the personalized feel was lost. While that suited some legislators, others depended on that constituent connection not only as part of their day to day business but also as part of a larger reelection strategy.

On the Congressional side, as messaging began to inundate offices, a larger picture of the impact of any legislation had to be told. While offices now have a better handle on direct mail and email/forms coming in to the office, the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media has created a new glut of messaging to the Hill. Effective messaging and advocacy now means combining these efforts into a cohesive strategy and ensuring that a clear goal is in mind. Yes, each of these tools is powerful on their own, but their utility comes when used in conjunction with one another. As organizations layer in video, hashtags, Facebook shares, issue breakdowns and more alongside raw numbers, they can begin to create a that dynamic full picture of the issue, one which a legislator and their staff can quickly grasp and act upon.

To create this new class of legislative interaction, the Virtual Lobbyist, we need to create an environment that breeds education and engagement for an organization’s stakeholders. Battling the glut of (mis)information at their fingertips, organizations have had to look at new and compelling ways to build trust and thought leadership with their audience. As tools like Twitter add to the continual news cycle, users are finding content online through any number of outlets. Fractured communities are forming with opinions being made.

The cycle has to stop. The question is, why can’t your organization be that central location for information? By integrating fully licensed news content from over 4500 sources that’s been filtered on your organization’s issues, we create a backbone for your organization’s advocacy effort.

Build trust and thought leadership through education and engagement. Place a New York Times story on Energy alongside talking points, whitepapers and a take action button. No longer will your users and stakeholders feel that they only hear from you when you want them to act on an issue. Only through that trust can we gather the user generated content (stories shared, petitions signed, videos made) that is needed to address legislators in language which they’ll understand. It’s with that in mind that we’ve created the full engagement platform.

Leveraging the following components into one cohesive engagement platform, we look to educate, engage and activate users on your issues, addressing each one at their own pace and creating an ecosystem that begins to support itself through constant news updates, social media and user content.

Assimilation and the Necessity for English

Achieving and living the American Dream requires knowing the language we use here. Immigrants who don’t learn English, and even our own citizens who don’t have a good grasp of the language, never reach their full potential. People who know our language are more successful, earn more income, move into better neighborhoods with better schools and make better lives for their families. Their children, in turn, are more successful and the whole country benefits.

In years past, immigrants had to learn English quickly to live and work here. There was almost nothing available to them in their own languages and certainly nothing provided by the government or most businesses. Because of the distance and cost involved in visiting their homeland, most never went “home” again. They were forced to cut all ties with their past and quickly became Americans.

It is very easy for immigrants now to keep ties with their homelands. Telephones, email and airplanes all make it easy to visit often. The Spanish speaking immigrants, especially, have little need to learn English. Businesses have made the decision to serve them in their own language because of their buying power and their sheer numbers.

Chinese is probably the only other language which has enough people here to make it fairly easy for some people to live here and not learn English. People speaking other languages have a harder time and have to learn English quicker, more like immigrants a hundred years ago had to do.

Even with the ease for many immigrants to keep their own languages, the Pew Hispanic Center says that Latino immigrants recognize the importance of learning English. 92% of Latinos believe it is “very important” to teach English to the children of immigrant families. Only 2% believe it is not, compared to 27% of non-Latinos who feel that way. I wonder who the 27% is that thinks it is notimportant to teach English to immigrant children. Many people are very upset to hear Spanish spoken in so many places, how could they not want them to be taught English?

Regardless of what language immigrants speak, as always, immigrant families know their children will lose their native language soon. Many families are working hard to keep their language alive in their homes. Children who grow up knowing more than one language usually do better in school and have better chances for employment too.

We should be proud and happy that more of our people know more than one language. A majority of Europeans know two or more languages, only about 10% of Americans do. This puts us at a distinct disadvantage in the global marketplace. Just because people know another language along with English does not mean they are less American or haven’t assimilated. Retaining one’s native language and being bilingual does not mean they can’t also be good Americans.

English is what unites us in this country. Diverse people and cultures with one language made this nation. Assimilation into our society and culture happens much faster when there is a common language. We need more classes to teach English as a second language to immigrants. There are some available, but not always at convenient times or places, with childcare to allow mothers to take the class. If the businesses that serve the immigrants in their own languages would sponsor English classes instead, many problems would be solved at once.

Assimilation also happens much faster when the people are here legally. If the people here illegally are put on a path to citizenship, they will assimilate much faster. If you knew you were in a community or school or job temporarily, would you put much effort into getting to know all the rules and all the other members or try to become a leader? Probably not if you knew you were leaving, even if you didn’t know exactly when.

If you were in a permanent job, community or school, you would try to fit in and get to know everyone and be a full member. It is the same thing for the immigrants here now. We can’t expect them to try to learn English, learn all the laws and culture if they are leaving at any moment. Especially if they are scared they will be arrested and deported.

Thankfully, a large majority of Americans believe that the immigrants here illegally should be put on a “tough but fair path to citizenship”. They approve of the requirement of stringent background checks, fines, back taxes paid, along with fluency in English, obeying all the laws, staying employed and keeping their children in school. This large majority restores my faith in the humanity and compassion of Americans. The very vocal minority sometimes make me forget that.

Congress keeps ignoring this problem, while more and more of these immigrants are crossing our border, replacing the ones who are deported. Immigration reform and a humane, compassionate, responsible way to allow these people to stay legally are long overdue.

Hopefully, the large majority of Americans who believe this will become a very vocal majority and talk louder than the vocal minority. And it is time Congress listens to the majority.

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American Infighting Creates Opening For Cyberspies

The United States has the most powerful military in the world, with nearly 1.5 million active service members. We are prepared to meet threats delivered by land, air or sea – but not threats delivered by computer code.

Yet a bill that would have asked operators of vital infrastructure systems, such as power grids and water-treatment plants, to comply with voluntary cybersecurity standards recently died in the Senate.

In its original version, the bill, backed by President Barack Obama, would have implemented mandatory standards. The bill’s sponsors, Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, backed down only when it became clear they would not be able to muster enough votes, offering a voluntary program instead. Still, Senate Republicans saw the voluntary program as little more than a stepping stone on a path that would eventually lead back to the sponsors’ initial vision.

The proposed compromise bill would have at least given us a start on efforts to improve cybersecurity. I wish it had passed. But I understand why Senate Republicans were reluctant to help the current president gain more authority to tell businesses what to do. Another president might have spent his time in office building the ties and trust with the business community that would justify taking a leadership role in the face of an emerging threat that should concern practically every business manager. Obama has not.

Now, rather than attempting to assuage critics’ fears, Obama has moved in the opposite direction, suggesting that he may just implement the voluntary standards, as best he can, through executive order. The message is obvious: The president is set on getting his way. “An executive order makes clear the administration’s intent to put a mandatory program into place to regulate businesses,” Matthew Eggers, senior director of national security at the Chamber of Commerce, said in an emailed statement reported by Bloomberg. (1)

The price of this infighting is that we are unlikely to get a substantive legislative response to the threat of cyberterrorism any time soon.

Many people still think of hackers as rogue individuals, bent on wreaking destruction for destruction’s sake or on hijacking passwords for personal gain. Those sorts of hackers do exist and are a threat. Just earlier this year, the anarchist hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility for a second attack on the CIA website. Meanwhile, the Conficker worm, which recruits computers into a botnet, a network potentially capable of being used remotely by hackers, infects around 7 million computers. The botnet could be used to crash particular websites by flooding servers with requests, or it could be used as a supercomputer to break encryption systems and steal financial data. So far, the creators of the network seem more interested in the second purpose. “The people behind [the botnet] apparently want to use it for criminal reasons – to make money,” said Mark Bowden, an expert on Conficker. (2) Last year, officials in Ukraine arrested a group of people using a portion of the Conficker botnet to drain millions from American bank accounts.

Hacking, however, is no longer the sole province of individual rogue programmers. Foreign nations and corporations are increasingly turning to computer-aided espionage as well, C. Frank Figliuzzi, who heads the FBI’s counterintelligence division, recently told Congress.

In one of the most striking examples, the Chinese company Sinovel converted itself from Massachusetts-based turbine manufacturer AMSC’s largest customer to one of that company’s biggest competitors by appropriating its proprietary software, with the aid of a bribed employee. It also recently came to light that one of the Russian spies arrested in the well-publicized bust in 2010 spent some of his time in the U.S. working as an in-house computer expert for a high-profile consulting firm, a position that was likely intended to give him access to proprietary information.

So far, the cyberspies have apparently focused primarily on stealing intellectual property from private companies for the benefit of their own industries, but similar methods could be used for more sinister purposes as well. Four years ago, the public got a glimpse of how cyberwarfare might function when cyberattacks played a minor role in the Russian attack on Georgia, crippling government websites before the military advance. Around the same time, the U.S. was itself secretly advancing the role of cyberwarfare with its coordinated attacks on the Iranian nuclear program.

To prevent a similar attack on American infrastructure, we first need to push CTRL+ALT+DEL on our political conversation on cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare. For that to happen, the president must show more respect for the business community and Republican senators must show renewed willingness to work with Obama and his administration, despite its less-than-business-friendly record. It won’t be easy, but it will be easier than rebooting infrastructure networks if we continue to leave them open to attack.

Sources:

1) Bloomberg, “Obama Considering Executive-Branch Action On Cybersecurity”

2) NPR, “The ‘Worm’ That Could Bring Down The Internet”

How to Benefit from Email Marketing

You have tried buying phone lists, ads in the yellow pages, seeming all your marketing options have been exhausted, but if you have not yet used email marketing, you may have missed out on one of the most cost effective marketing solutions. Researchers have made the estimate that in 2006 alone, US companies spent more than $400 million on email marketing. Obviously, there is something to this method.

One of the advantages of email marketing is its relative inexpensiveness when compared with direct mail or printed newsletters. Also, it has proven to provide a high return on investment when done correctly. It is easy to track, and allows active and aggressive marketing, instead of similar internet marketing that forces the user to sit and wait while people click through. It is also instantaneous, as opposed to its predecessor, direct mail, which can take days or weeks to arrive.

All these benefits can make lucrative email marketing a smart choice, and in order to take advantage of it, there are many services that you can hire to help you market your company via email. However, because “junk” email has become so prevalent, a 2003 act of congress called the CAN-SPAM Act authorized $11,000 US for every violation of spamming, or repeated, unsolicited advertising, to each person. This means that you should make sure whichever email marketing service you hire complies with this act.

Lucrative email marketing can be a beneficial step toward increasing your internet presence and making more money. To take advantage of this, the internet is a good resource for investigating email marketing and companies that provide such services.