To most members of the general public, the word “lobby” conjures up images of corporate greed, outrageous levels of campaign donations, and unsolicited “gifts” of Caribbean vacations to elected officials. But the lobbying work done by the ACLU involves anything but the aforementioned activities. In our case, lobbying never includes donating to a campaign or supporting a candidate for public office. Instead, it means testifying against bills that would trample on the Constitution and speaking out in favor of bills that protect people’s fundamental rights. For example, we advocated against a statewide network of highway cameras at the 2010 Special Session, and lobbied hard (and successfully!) for a Domestic Partnership bill in 2009 that provided many legal protections for couples who cannot or choose not to marry.
In its most general sense, lobbying is an attempt to influence the votes of members of a legislative body (although in the state of Nevada, lobbying has a more specific definition). While we are strictly nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, there are still many ways to effectively lobby legislative bodies. For us, lobbying includes a lot of research, preparation, writing, and honing of arguments for or against specific legislative measures. Once we’ve solidified our position on a specific piece of proposed legislation, we reach out to bill sponsors and other committee members to share with them our position. Often, we reach out to the public and our members to alert you of the consequences (and sometimes unintended consequences) of the measure—and urge you to let legislators know that Nevadans care about Constitutional principles.
Our lobbying style is unique for many reasons. Primarily, we don’t compromise-- there is no horse-trading when the Constitution is involved. When we believe a portion of a bill violates constitutional principles, we will not look the other way in order to garner a vote on another issue. And while many lobbyists would rather wait in the lobby, the ACLU of Nevada actually prefers to enter remarks on the public record in front of legislative bodies. We make it a point to testify publicly as much as possible for two reasons: 1) it is the transparent thing to do; and 2) it helps build a record of legislative intent.
My work lobbying for the ACLU of Nevada is intense and rewarding. I’ve been a part of many ACLU lobbying victories, both during the 2009 legislative sessionand the most recent 2010 special legislative session. But you don’t have to be a registered lobbyist to influence members of a legislature how to vote-- there are many other ways. Here in Nevada, one of the best ways to stay updated on legislative issues related to civil liberties is by joining us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d certainly be honored if you would help us lobby in the future!
Rebecca Gasca is the Public Advocate for the ACLU of Nevada. She was awarded the “Pro Bono Piggy Award” for Best Public Interest Lobbyist by her fellow lobbyists at the 2009 Nevada Legislature.
Legislative Lobbying is conducted by the ACLU of Nevada, Inc., a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization. For a description of the differences between the two branches of our organization, click here.