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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Those Letters to Your Congressman DO Count

The business trade press is full of self-congrat­ulatory articles these days at the success which well-financed corporate lobbies are having in Congress. Although these articles point to larger staffs, computerized mailing systems and per­sonal visits on Capitol Hill by the heads of large corporations, the influence behind much of this lobbying is how much money business is going to pour into the 1978 elections for the incumbents or their opponents. All this dollar power is bound to be of growing interest to citizen groups around the nation as they address the question: “Who are the mem­bers of Congress working for, anyhow?”

Well, some members of Congress are trying to help voters find out in a modest way. For exam­ple, if you want to obtain a complete voting record from your Representative, the vast majority will tell you that they do not compile such a record for their constituents. But Congressman Max Baucus of Montana does supply such a record every year for the people back home in an effort “to promote openness and ac­countability in government.”

REP. BAUCUS compiles his voting record under various categories such as agriculture, economic affairs, energy, environment, housing,

defense, budget. He ends by suggesting that any constituent who has further questions about his votes can write him or call a toll-free number.

An obvious question arises: why don’t all members of the Congress do the same? One simple way to find out is to write and ask representative and senators. You may want to obtain a copy of Rep. Baucus’ record as a sample.

Congressman Morris Udall of Arizona recently devoted an edition of his uniformly literate news‑ letter to a series of suggestions on the importance and technique of writing your member of Con­gress. If you cannot get a copy of the November 3, 1977, Congressional Record (E6322), write to Rep. Udall for a reprint. The Arizonan noted that some 90% of the citizens have never written their opinion “to the man or woman who represents them in Congress — a person whose vote may de­cide what price they will pay for the acts of Gov­ernment, either in dollars or in human lives.”

UDALL EXPLAINS this reluctance to write as due to the widely held feeling that letters don’t count. Well, they do. Letters represent an impor­tant gauge of voter opinion, voter intensity and possibly voter opposition above the horizon. What Udall lists are specific ways to make your letter more likely to receive a raised eyebrow of re­spect.

One of the issues sure to be coming up before the 1978 Congressional elections is the Congres­sional pay raise. In February. Congress gave it­self a $12,900 pay raise to add to their existing salary of $44,600, plus ample fringe benefits and perks. At the same time, many legislators were speaking out against inflation and excessive gov­ernment spending.

Congressman Toby Moffett of Connecticut decided against accepting the pay raise and asked citizens in his district how the money should be used. Some suggested a student intern fund; -others said he should return it to the U.S. Treas­ury. But the largest number thought that the money should go toward expanding the congres­sional district’s services — keeping in touch and helping more people in his district through better communications and projects.

THE MORE citizens know about what some of the more sensitive members of Congress are doing, the more likely it will be that other, less sensitive legislators will shape up. The day is not far off when non-partisan teams of voters will routinely compile biographical profiles on their Congressional representative or senators for a more informed public.

To see what a profile of a past member of Con­gress can be like, send for a free copy to Congress Profile, P.O. Box 19404, Wash., D.C. 20036. Please include a first class stamp.