Written by D.F. Karppi Friday, 14 May 2010 00:00
If you have ever wanted to express your opinion and speak on behalf of a cause to an elected official, Friends of the Bay offered an informative talk at their office recently, with information on how to do that effectively.
President of the League of Voter Service, of the League of Women Voters, Dr. Dorothy Cappadonna said she has been advocating for environmental and women’s causes for years. She offered information to people on how to be an effective advocate for your issues. Her best advice was, “Use the Sunshine laws and to ‘Know thyself and thy enemy’ – the one you are lobbying. Be comfortable and willing to express yourself.”
She showed the LWV directory of public officials that tells you who your elected officials are and how to reach them. Their website, www.lwvofnassaucounty.org, lets you access the 2010 directory of public officials and/or to order copies. There is also a Citizen’s Guide to Environmental Groups in NYS that has contact information.
She had tips for activists. The first was to always vote and be sure to tell elected officials of that.
“Today,” she said, “There are great many ways to learn about what is happening in government and that being knowledgeable is the best way to get results.”
First learn who your representatives are since they are only interested in hearing from people they actually can help. The district areas change every 10 years after the census is taken, so it is important to keep up to date on the boundaries lines for elected officials, for where you live.
Ms. Cappadonna said they get thousands of requests from people, so make it easy for everyone, and only go to your own representatives. The important thing to mention is if you have a big group that you represent, that bodes well for you. “They are frightened then that they will lose their job,” she said.
Give them your address, affiliation and the purpose of your calling on them – the big issue.
There are websites that will make you a better advocate. Look at www.sun
lightny.com. It was started by Andrew Cuomo and has information about bills being passed and state contracts. There is a list of how elected officials spend their member money and that can give you a way to see what their values are – what charities do they support – so you can see what their base concerns are about. That will give you a hint in how you can connect with the person.
You can also see the corporations that give money to causes, and how much.
For example, in the case of the Bigger Better Beverage Bill – if that is your area of interest - you have to see if the official is getting money from the beverage industry. “If they are you may have to change the pitch of your argument to them,” she said.
You can also visit Open Book, New York at www.osc.state.ny.us/openbook. This site was created by Tom DiNapoli, of the Office of the State Comptroller. It contains financial information on state contracts. It identifies 113 state agencies and public authorities and displays more than 60,000 state contracts. You can see who is doing business with the state, she said.
Another great source is See Through NY. The web address is seethroughny.net. See Through NY gives you 260,000 state payrolls and job salaries including the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. It also has a complete list of some government employees, job titles, salaries, teacher union and supervisor’s contracts for nearly every school district in the state. It also shows the pork barrel projects and internal operations expenditures of the Assembly and State.
“One person’s pork is another’s hamburger,” she said, and added, “Speak from knowledge when talking to the elected officials.”
A new way to communicate with elected officials is through Facebook. Go to Facebook.com/independent voters.
Ms. Cappadonna added, “Be careful in that there are “rogue” sites on the Internet which may give unbalanced and skewed information.”
Another good tip was a way to strengthen your case - get a group of people who agree with you.
She said there were other sources of good information on environmental advocacy including the Sierra Club magazine and the Nature Conservancy magazine.
One of the best sources of information is from the League of Women Voters, she said. They have a list of major environmental bills for the year on both the state and national level. It shows how the elected officials vote to give a complete picture of what is happening.
Another good source is RiverKeeper, an environmental group that is looking at what is happening at the Indian River Plant. “They are interested in the amount of water they use per day that they dump back into the river – it is toxic. It has killed fish larvae in the river,” she said. “It is destroying the Hudson River. They have gotten the DEC to realize they have to update the plant. It is a very serious issue.”
Ms. Cappadonna said the Environmental Defense Fund is going to court with the Sierra Earth Justice and similar groups to fight the issue. She said you can go online and click on to add your name to add numbers to their lobbying strengths.
Locally, she said, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment is extremely helpful. There is also the Group for Environmental Education; the Audubon Society; the North Shore Land Alliance; the LI Pine Barrens Association; and the Friends of the Bay.
She said the Environmental Protection Fund is very important in preserving open space. She said if a private owner in the Pine Barrens area wants to sell their property for open space, funding can be gotten from the EPF.
Friends of the Bay Executive Patricia Aitken said, “We all realize there are tough budget problems today and there is a need to share funds, but the EPF is being beaten up. There is a five-year delay to get their funding back from the state, due to their using the funds to balance the NYS budget.”
Ms. Cappadonna said, “The most important thing is education, education, education. Another is not to get nasty when asking for aid. No name calling,” she said.
Ms. Cappadonna said an elected official said to her, “You never ask for yourself, but for the environment! – They do tend to listen,” she commented.
Judie Gorenstein, president of the Huntington League of Women Voters, told a story of successful lobbying. She said, “When lobbying for a better voter machine, the elected official said, ‘Let’s hear what you are saying’ - and he was interested in paper ballots. It was the argument we made that made the difference,” she said.
Some interesting suggestions they included were: it is believed that each letter received represents the view of 100 others; letters sent by U.S. mail to members of Congress are scanned for security, and it can take weeks for a letter to get to your representative; to be quicker, send it by email or fax. Be courteous. You may not be able to meet your legislator, but meeting with a staff member is just as important.