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Federal Advocacy Toolkit

SEIA is working hard to represent the industry from our Washington, D.C. headquarters. We have experts and professional advocates working to influence federal policy. But when it comes to making a personal impact with legislators, the power of grasstops advocacy cannot be underestimated. Congress needs to be reminded that the solar industry provides jobs and energy security in their states and districts. This toolkit shows you how to connect with your legislator and get the most out of your interactions. It provides information to help you foster an ongoing relationship and maximize your influence.

Lobbying 101

Understand the basics of lobbying your federal representatives

Lobbying 101

Federal Legislators split their time between Washington DC and their offices back home. A Congressional Calendar will help you know where they are.

The best time to begin to form a relationship with your legislators is when you DON’T have an ask.  Request a meeting and introduce yourself and your company.  Invite them to a site or your office to meet your employees. Once you have an established rapport with them, they will be more likely to respond to your concerns when they arise.

It is important to remember that the relationships legislators value the most are those with their own constituents and with the companies in their district/state. You are the people that help them achieve their legislative, personal and political goals. No amount of one-on-one professional lobbying can consistently educate legislators to adopt positions and pass laws that benefit the solar industry – that is why YOUR involvement is the most effective method of industry education.

Understanding the Staff

Congressional offices have a wide variety of staff positions that you should familiarize yourself with.

Make-up of a Legislative Office

Definitions

People who work on Capitol Hill use some specialized language and terminology. If you want to be an effective public policy advocate, you need to be familiar with some of the commonly used terms.

Advocacy Glossary

Appropriations bill – A bill passed by Congress that provides the legal authority for spending U.S. Treasury funds. There are 12 regular annual appropriations bills, each one covering hundreds of programs or spending lines. In the Senate as well as in the House there is one Appropriations subcommittee for each of the 12 bills. In addition, Congress often passes a supplemental appropriations bill midway through the fiscal year.

Authorization bill - A bill passed by Congress that provides authority for a program or agency to exist and sets guidelines for its policies and activities. The bill may recommend spending levels for programs, but they are not binding. Generally, an authorization must be enacted before an appropriation is made for a program or agency, though there are exceptions. Most authorizations are multi-year, and subsequent versions are called reauthorizations.

Budget resolution – An annual Congressional document that provides a broad framework within which Congress fits the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the government, and in some cases sets reconciliation instructions. The Budget is not a law, but its assumptions and statements are a basis for future decisions, and its spending ceilings impose restrictions on the actions of Congressional committees.

Cloture – A process for ending debate in the Senate. Senate rules permit unlimited debate, so the Senate does not vote on a bill if someone wants to keep debating it. The exception to this rule is that the Senate can close off debate by cloture, which requires 60 votes (out of 100) to pass. With the current 51-49 split between the two parties, cloture is usually difficult to achieve. The House has no comparable provision for unlimited debate, and thus no cloture provision.

Conference committee – A group of officially appointed Representatives and Senators that works out the differences between the versions of a given bill passed by the two chambers. Its leaders are the chairs and ranking minority members of the committees that wrote the bill in each chamber. Once agreed on, the conference committee report goes back to each chamber for final passage. Some conference committees leave much of the work to staff (who may “pre-conference” a bill before the conferees are appointed).

Continuing Resolution (CR) – A bill passed by Congress as a stop-gap when the new fiscal year begins. The CR sets continued spending levels for a specified period of time if any regular appropriations bill has not been signed into law. Often the CR continues spending at the previous year’s levels, though it may be at levels marked up by appropriations subcommittees.

Co-sponsor – A Senator or Representative who formally lists his/her name as a supporter of another member’s bill. Generally – but not always – done before mark-up.

Discretionary spending – Government spending enacted by annual appropriations. A government agency cannot spend more than the total appropriated for a discretionary program in a given year. Discretionary spending is projected to make up about one-third of total FY12 federal spending of $3.8 trillion; about two-thirds of discretionary spending goes for security (military, homeland security and international) activities, while the remaining third is for all “domestic” programs. Domestic discretionary spending includes: education, community and economic development, transportation, housing, national parks, energy – and, of course, the Older Americans Act and other programs serving seniors and their families.

Fiscal Year – The official year for the government runs from October 1 through September 30.

Mandatory spending – Sometimes called entitlement spending or nondiscretionary spending. These are government programs for which there is no annual spending ceiling. As events unfold and people qualify, the government spends the money needed. Although there are not many mandatory programs, they comprise over half of all federal spending. Major mandatory activities are Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the debt. Spending on mandatory programs is noted in appropriations bills, but is not limited by those bills. Legislation that revises a mandatory program (e.g. Medicare) is an authorization for which there is no corresponding appropriation.

Mark-up – A business meeting of a subcommittee or full committee to debate, amend and vote on a bill. A bill passed in a committee mark-up session can be scheduled for a vote in the full chamber.

Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) – Budgeting rules that require that most new spending (including revenue reductions due to tax cuts) is offset by corresponding spending cuts or increased revenues. Congress can waive PAYGO rules, and the current statute defining the rules, the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, automatically exempts over 150 programs, funds and activities.

Reconciliation – A complicated part of the Congressional budget process that directs changes to already-existing legislation in order to cut spending. Because reconciliation bills are not subject to a 60-vote cloture requirement in the Senate, and thus can move forward with only 51 votes, reconciliation is sometimes favored as a vehicle for moving controversial changes. A reconciliation bill is subject to a Presidential veto.

Scoring – The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzes every bill and determines the effective cost of the proposed legislation. The score that CBO gives a bill may shape its future, e.g. whether it will attract cosponsors and whether the relevant committee chairman will hold a mark-up session.

Subcommittees and committees – All members of Congress serve on committees. Every member of a subcommittee is also a member of the full committee to which the subcommittee reports. All committees and subcommittees are chaired by someone from the majority party in that chamber, and they all (with minor exceptions) have a majority of members from the majority party. The lead member from the minority party is designated the ranking member. Much important work (both mark-ups and hearings) is done in subcommittees, and everything done by a subcommittee goes next to the full committee for action.

Telling Your Story

Your job is to be an expert on your company and your industry, not the issues; that is what your trade association is for.

You’ll want to create your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a brief, persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in what your organization does. A good elevator pitch should last no longer than a short elevator ride of 20 to 30 seconds, hence the name.

Here are some things you may want to include:

  • Your company name and locations
  • Your company mission statement/what your company DOES
  • Interesting fact from your company background
  • Number of MW in state/district
  • Number of Jobs in state/district
  • Economic investment in state/district
  • Projects in development in state/district

Ways to Advocate

There are many ways to advocate on behalf of your company and the solar industry.

Ways to Advocate

It is imperative to build relationships with your legislators when you don’t have an ask so that when you do they are already educated about why they should care. SEIA can help you with all these options, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our government affairs staff for assistance.

Get in Touch
Requesting a Meeting

You can visit with your legislators at home in their local district offices or while traveling through Washington DC. Visiting your local district office takes some planning, but it makes the most impact – when legislators are at home they are thinking about local constituent issues. You’ll have the chance to sit down with a staff member from your local district office – or maybe even talk directly with your representative! If you’re trying to schedule a meeting, let us know. We’re here to help.

When identifying your representative(s), it is helpful to think not only about the district in which your home office is located, but also the areas in which your business has sales offices, projects and economic investment. It is likely that your company’s reach extends across the country! Identify which Members of Congress represent areas in which you fund or have a connection with.

Most offices have information about how to request a meeting available on their website, but if they do not or if you are having trouble, please reach out to SEIA and we will pull the email address for you.

Prepare for Your Meeting

It's important to come prepared and make the most out of your conversation

How to prepare for your meeting

It is important to know some background information about your legislator. Prior to the meeting we recommend you do some light research on him/her. You can also reach out to our team for any specific talking points and/or “asks” related to the State Legislator.

Determine your agenda for the meeting. Prior to the meeting you should review specific policy items to be discussed and the general legislative ‘ask’ of the legislator. If more than one person is attending the meeting, determine beforehand who is going to say what and in what order; it will help make the meeting run smoothly. The person responsible for a particular issue should not be the only one to talk but should be the one who begins the conversation. Also remember to share your involvement with the national association.

Make it personal and bring it all back home. All legislators want to improve the economy and quality of life in their district/state. It is your job to familiarize them with your company and employees and educate them on overall solar policies which will have a beneficial impact on the people living in their congressional district and ensure future job creation and increased economic output.

Don’t feel that you have to be an expert on specific policy initiatives. Most legislators are generalists. Be open to counter-arguments, but don’t get stuck on them. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Offer to look into the question and get back to the Member—which is an excellent opportunity to stay in touch and create an on-going dialogue with their office.

Legislators are always looking for facts and figures to support their arguments or guide their decisions. Prepare an information packet to leave with your legislator. This should include the most recent solar market data and information on your company and the impact specific legislative policies will have on future job creation.

Download a Sample Agenda
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Browse the Database of State & Federal Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency
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After the Meeting

Following Up

If you got a photo, share it on social media with a thank you to the Member for their time and industry support. Participants should always send thank you letters after a meeting, especially if the official was specifically asked to do something. The key is to foster an ongoing relationship. If you had a good meeting with the official, you can invite him or her to visit your site/facility. Keeping your legislator involved and informed about your company is the best way to create a strong and personal relationship that will help the association and solar industry overall. DON’T FORGET: We need to know about your advocacy efforts. Reporting your advocacy action back to SEIA is an important part of the process!

Phone Calls

Phone calls should be reserved for emergencies and hopefully only after you’ve established a relationship with your legislator.

Often the office phone number will be listed on their webpage or you can call the Capitol Hill main line (202-224-3121) and ask to be connected to your Senator or Representative’s office.  When your Representative’s main office answers, introduce yourself and say that you would like to talk to someone about XXX issue.  The main office may take your message, or they may forward you to the issue specialist to take the notes.

Many offices will ask for your address as well to confirm that you are a constituent, some House of Representative offices are very protective over only engaging with constituents.

Host a Site Visit or Tour

A great way to build a relationship with your elected official and demonstrate how important your company, and the solar industry, is to the community is to invite them to visit your company headquarters. Tours at your facility or a new project site provides a great opportunity for your legislator to meet your employees and to discuss your company’s issues and concerns in depth. By seeing the operations first-hand, your legislator will also have a better understanding of how certain legislative and regulatory proposals may impact our industry and effect potential job growth in their district/state.

Most elected officials will be receptive and recognize your invite as a valuable opportunity to meet their constituents (potential voters) in a friendly environment.

Other Ways to Engage

The SEIA SolarPAC

The near-term growth of the U.S. solar industry is dependent, in part, on national and state policy. One way SEIA can be an effective public policy advocate for the solar industry is through a strong and vibrant PAC. As a maturing industry, we have a responsibility to support policymakers who will back pro-solar policies and provide financial contributions to the political campaigns of key policymakers.

Learn More
The Solar Power Advocacy Network

Powerful organizations are leveraging their resources to lobby congress and your state legislatures to stop the solar industry from growing. SEIA's Solar Power Advocacy Network is a growing list of individuals who are passionate about supporting the growth of solar in the U.S. Join the network and raise your voice!

Join Today
SEIA's Federal Affairs Committee

SEIA hosts a weekly committee call made up of our member companies who have an interest in federal policy issues on Capitol Hill. If you have a vested interest in this work, this is a forum to get involved and have your company's perspective factored into our strategies and actions. This premium-level call is only available to SEIA members at the Megawatt level and above. Check out our membership levels page for more information and contact our membership team to learn more about how to get involved!

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