March 17, 2016
On an average day, a government leader, as well as their staff, might meet with a Fortune 500 CEO, a disabled child, an environmental group, a local mayor, a business group from their district, and others.
They hear a lot of messages on many different issues from various constituents.
As constituents begin each meeting, some make a fairly common, but costly, mistake. It is one of the biggest DON’Ts in terms of getting positive results for a cause. In fact, in some offices, it can completely backfire and get a constituent less help, not more.
What is this taboo?
Mentioning a political campaign contribution, and in some cases, a political association.
An elected official wears two hats – the official hat and the campaign hat. Despite what may be portrayed on political TV shows or in the movies, both sides generally stay in their lanes. When taking a meeting in a legislator’s Capitol office, that is on the official side, which means there should be NO mention of political contributions. NONE.
If a constituent has a relevant or pressing issue, good staff people will listen and see if they can help, regardless of a political contribution or affiliation.
In surveying dozens of Hill staff, I found the vast majority are completely turned off (read: “disgusted,” “appalled,” and “insulted” – their words) when someone mentions a political contribution in a government meeting. It sends the signal that this person either thinks the staff can be easily bought or that the staff was not professional enough to help unless the “skids were greased.” Offending a staff person is never a good start to a meeting.
While Capitol Hill does not have open records, in offices that do, sending something in email to a staff person that mentions being a donor or a member of a political organization is one of the surest ways to not get the desired assistance. In a couple of previous positions, I occasionally received these types of emails, and, when I did, I would often politely call the person and tell them, “I’m sorry, but I work on the government side and since you mentioned the political side, I now need to direct you to the campaign.”
Had they not included those inappropriate political words, I would have gladly been able to help them.
Bottom line: it is not all about the Benjamins. Forget “show me the money.” When in an official office, keep the discussion to official business.