EXT MarCom: Engaging with Elected Officials
From Judy Bingman
Keep elected officials informed on Extension's impact in their districts.
Why it matters: While providing educational information on the positive impact of Extension is vital to continued support, staff must understand the difference between advocating (which is allowed) and lobbying (which is not).
- Advocacy: The act of arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy. There is no limit to the amount of non-lobbying advocacy we can do.
- Lobbying: Any attempt to influence specific legislation, including communication with a policy maker that takes a position on specific, pending legislation.
- Contacting or urging the public to contact policymakers for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation
- By advocating the adoption or rejection of legislation.
The guidelines are in place to ensure that engagements are effective, coordinated, and consistent with legal and ethical requirements.
- Lobbying: University employees who wish to lobby local, state, or federal officials must first contact the Office of External Relations and Communications (ERC).
- Advocacy: In other cases, involving university-related interactions with government officials or entities, it is strongly encouraged that employees notify ERC and/or their liaison on the Council on Governmental and External Relations (COGER).
- 30-Day Rule: University employees acting on behalf of the university should avoid organizing or taking part in public engagements with federal, state, or local candidates for elected office during the 30 days that precede a contested election, including primary elections.
- What to do when contacted by elected officials: Contact your county director immediately. You must also notify ERC and/or your COGER liaison if you are contacted by a member or staff of the Illinois General Assembly, the U.S. Congress, or a senior official at a local, state, or federal agency, regarding university-related matters (including requests for information, invitations to testify or sharing professional expertise regarding university matters).
- Personal actions: University employees are free to contact local, state, or federal government officials/staff directly when acting in their personal capacity (private resident, own time and expense). University employees are free to engage in personal advocacy as a member of a professional society, academic or trade association on federal, state, and local issues. Let ERC and your COGER liaison know if you plan to take part in advocacy efforts.
- If faculty or staff also serve in an elected capacity or in a policymaking position in federal, state, or local government, ERC will not ask them to champion or cosponsor legislation or to initiate new policy proposals.
What's the best way to contact an elected official after receiving permission?
- Share information, such as a quarterly or annual report, by email or mail is best. If you want to try to get to know the staffers, dropping off copies at your local offices might be the way to go.
- Timing is very important: If your issue is imminent, contacting your legislator quickly by phone or e-mail can be most effective.
- Invite them to Extension events, but be strategic, such as including them on events connected to their committee role. Invite them 6 to 8 weeks out or longer is best.
Meeting with legislators
You are one of the most important people with whom the legislator or staff will meet that day because you are a constituent, and you represent the concerns of constituents. Share stories of lives changes. Follow up with a thank you note.
- The Office of External Relations and Communications builds, broadens and protects the University of Illinois System’s brand and reputation and advances its priorities, fostering broad-based understanding, engagement, support, advocacy, and investment to enable the transformative power of the system to grow and positively impact lives at scale.
- Sign up as a member of the UI System Illinois Connection advocacy group. You can tag yourself as staff (and alum if appropriate) and also affiliate of Extension right on the form. You will be invited to participate in engagement opportunities throughout the year.
- Here's the order you should introduce elected officials when several are attending the same meeting. In summary: Senator, Governor, US Rep, Mayors, State Sen, State Rep. Among similar rank, introduce in order of length of service or if equal, alphabetically by last name.