Lobbying candidates: How CCL makes the most of campaign season

Tucson

CCL Tucson volunteers celebrate after the Tucson City Council voted to support Carbon Fee & Dividend

Lobbying candidates: How CCL makes the most of campaign season

By Philip Finkelstein

One of CCL’s core activities to generate political will is lobbying elected officials about our Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) proposal. In campaign season, we extend those relationship-building efforts to candidates as they pledge to address voter concerns and work to win the support of their electorate. The campaign stage is a natural time for voters to set the agenda by voicing their opinions on issues such as climate change. Lobbying candidates before they get into office is like making an investment; if elected, CF&D stock will rise, and with it our capacity as shareholders to influence decision making. And for the candidates who don’t win a seat, CCL has still developed a valuable relationship and continued to build awareness and political will for climate action.

Just as mitigating risk is achieved with a diversified portfolio when investing in the stock market, the key to successful candidate outreach is to connect with as many candidates as possible. That’s exactly what Edward Beshore and Jane Conlin in the Tucson CCL chapter are doing in advance of the Arizona primaries, which take place August 28. According to Ed and Jane, “Candidates of every party needed more information about climate change solutions,” and they see this as a great opportunity to provide that information.

By pinpointing state legislative and congressional districts touching Tucson, the chapter established their lobbying zone. They surveyed the Arizona State public utility commission, the U.S. Senate race, and gubernatorial candidates, identifying the top candidates based on campaign donations, polling and name recognition. Their outreach list was then strategically apportioned so that CCL volunteers could be dispatched in pairs to meet with two or three candidates over the course of the summer.

(L-R) CCL Tucson volunteers Ed Beshore, Mike Conlin, Jane Conlin and Hermann Flaschka tabling at the Tucson Festival of Books in March

Jane found this undertaking to be an exciting change of pace from the standard activities of generating letters, op-eds and endorsements. She realized that the reason most climate advocates joined her chapter was their desire to lobby. Jane said, “This project was exactly what our volunteers wanted to do more than anything else. It has given them a way to talk to their family, friends and neighbors about their CCL activities, and make a real difference in creating political will.” As a consequence, she has noticed more motivation among members to learn about all aspects of carbon pricing.

This motivation has led to a lot of success in setting up interviews with candidates. At these meetings, the CCL volunteers ask a series of questions to the political hopefuls, informing them that their basic views on climate change and ideas for solutions will be used to educate the expansive Arizona CCL network. They ask questions like, “How much of a problem do you consider climate change is to Arizonans?” and “Do you plan to talk about climate change in your campaign?” Perhaps most critically,  one question introduces the subject of CF&D. This allows the volunteers to inform candidates of the benefits that would affect their constituents. The hope is that the candidates will walk away from the meeting with a positive take on a policy that could win them meaningful support. At the very least, candidate responses can be the basis for better-informed questions during town halls and public debates.

So far, the Tucson chapter has met with 11 candidates, with six additional meetings hopefully to come as the Arizona primary fast approaches. The lobbying efforts have led to candidates including climate change solutions in their speeches and campaign websites, which proves that the strategy is working. By September, the goal is for every race across Arizona to bear CCL fingerprints.

Ed thinks this is a winning approach, summing it up this way: “We establish relationships early. Our members get practice lobbying. It’s relatively easy to get a face-to-face meeting in primary season, and even if they don’t win, we have a relationship with a potential grass top endorser!”

To hear from group leaders and even some elected officials themselves about how to reach out to candidates, watch this Citizens’ Climate University webinar called “Developing Relationships with Candidates.”

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Originally from Vermont, Philip Finkelstein is a recent Political Science graduate from the University of British Columbia. He has a deep passion for writing and desire to bring about meaningful change.

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