4. Research your policies and the politics

Before you launch an advocacy campaign, thoroughly research the specific problems and solutions that you intend to take to policymakers. In addition, research the political barriers you will have to overcome. It is awful (and not uncommon) for a campaign, after spending a great deal of time and money, to discover that the policy is unworkable, unconstitutional, unconvincing, or politically impractical. Don’t be taken by surprise.

Research the problem you want to solve

What is the problem? Be able to quantify it and describe it in detail. Be able to show how the problem works in your own state, county or city—you usually cannot persuade policymakers based solely on nationwide data. Be able to describe specific local stories about, and victims of, that problem.

Research the solution you want to propose

When you propose legislation or administrative action, you need to know more about your solution than anyone else. You don’t have to be an expert in climate science if you’re proposing to change your state’s or locality’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, but you need to be an expert in what your policy does and how similar policies have worked in other jurisdictions. Gather information and be prepared to answer all policy objections. And again, policymakers want local information, so engage experts from your own state to do research that supports your solution.

Research any possible legal issues

Can your opponents possibly argue that your solution violates the federal or state constitution or is preempted by existing federal or state law? Ensure there will be no unexpected legal attacks on your proposal.

Research your proposed message and talking points

In addition to polling (discussed in Chapter 5), you need to thoroughly research all of your arguments. Be ready to prove with footnotes and hyperlinks every single fact that your arguments rely upon. This will prove invaluable throughout the campaign. You should also prepare a list of every argument that might be made against your policy and prove, with footnotes and hyperlinks, that they are false. The easiest way to find such arguments is by looking at similar policy battles that took place in other jurisdictions.

Research the interested parties

What groups and influential individuals are likely to favor or oppose your proposal? And why? This research helps you create a list of who to recruit as allies, spokespeople and donors, and what kind of opposition you might expect. It’s also important to know if some influential media outlet, like your big city newspaper, has already taken a position on your issue.

Research the policymakers

Which policymakers are probably already on your side, already against you, or truly undecided? Create an initial target list (see Chapter 13) and then update it throughout the campaign. To find out elected officials’ past issue positions, read their biographies, search the Internet for articles and blogs about them, and talk to allies who know them. In addition, as you try to understand officials who are undecided, you can learn a great deal by regularly reading their social media posts.

Research what your group can do under its legal status

It is essential for groups with a 501(c)(3) charity status to understand exactly what they can and cannot do. This is also true of 501(c)(4) advocacy groups when they want to involve themselves in elections. Your group should have legal counsel. But for an excellent layman’s understanding of these legal issues, read the resources provided by the Alliance for Justice (afj.org).

Research rules and dates

To approve a law, some bodies require a majority of members who are present, others require a majority of all elected members. Some legislatures have deadlines for introducing bills and some have deadlines for a bill to be passed through one house or it is defeated (called the “crossover date”). Some governing bodies give the committee chair the power to refuse to hold a hearing and/or vote on a bill, others require a hearing or vote. Research the rules of your council or legislature and incorporate them into your campaign plan.

Sometimes all this research can seem difficult and tedious. But over the course of an advocacy campaign, the research that you do at the beginning will be rewarded again and again. More than anything, it will help you avoid mistakes.