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Advocacy Toolbox FAQ

What is the difference between "advocacy" and "lobbying?"

The goal of advocacy is to transfer information/provide education. The goal of lobbying is to influence a legislator to action on a specific piece of legislation. Most state employees are ethically able to advocate for change that benefits society using research, educational materials, personal stories, etc. Requests for action, even substantive action on a specific piece of legislation, should be considered lobbying and falls outside of the scope of ethical conduct for most state employees. Many agencies utilize the professional services of lobbyists to perform these activities. State Employees may make requests of legislators for causes important to them on their personal time, but should be aware, that expertise on a subject may transcend the personal right to communicate with an individual legislator even outside of work. Since state laws vary widely, it is a good idea to check with your legislative liaison, or legal department, prior to initiating communication with legislators if you are in doubt. For more information on this topic please refer to the following resources:

Workplace Rules and Guidelines for Public Health Advocates by the American Public Health Association

As a state employee, how can I advocate?

When considering advocacy efforts, state employees should ALWAYS operate within state guidelines. If you receive CDC or other federal and foundation funding, you should also operate within their advocacy/lobbying guidelines, including the Hatch Act rules. For example, you must never use federal dollars to lobby (see CDC Guidance on Anit-Lobbying). That is, when you meet/talk with legislators you cannot advocate for funding or a specific vote on proposed legislation. To be sure you are operating in the confines of the state or federal requirements, it is always a good idea to check with your supervisor and/or grant administrator to inform them of your interest in contacting a legislator. In general, state employees can:

  • Meet with a legislator to discuss a public health or social problem as an overall educational strategy that is not tied to specific legislation.
  • Respond to a legislative request for data, information, or educational material.
  • Provide legislators with background and educational material that would be relevant to specific legislation, without calling for action on that legislation.
  • Discuss your position - or your program's position - on a policy issue or issues. Keep in mind, the discussion should advocate for a specific view or vote on the legislation.
  • Discuss specific pieces of legislation and their public health/social impact, as long as you do not advocate for a specific view or vote on that legislation.
  • Track legislators positions, votes, and contributions accepted.
  • Participate in non-partisan analysis on policy issues, including specific legislative issues.
  • Meet or contact your personal legislative representatives as a private citizen on your personal time and with your personal communication devices.
  • See examples of Advocacy vs. Lobbying Activities.

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