Taxpayer Group Adds Text Messaging to its Arsenal

Published July 1, 2009

Taxpayer activists can more easily reach elected officials on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures through a new text messaging advocacy effort by the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union.

Taxpayers can opt in to NTU’s service by texting “FIGHT” to 67292. Then, with the push of a button, subscribers can call their members of Congress and state legislators with a better-informed voice.

NTU already has activated its mobile membership to call Senators to oppose the Senate Democrats’ budget resolution, as well as C-SPAN Radio’s Washington Journal program to fight another $1 trillion in potential bailouts.

NTU used texting to share information about its 2008 rating of Congress, which assigns lawmakers a “pro-taxpayer score” based on every roll call vote affecting fiscal policy. Subscribers who text 67292 with their state abbreviation (such as VA for Virginia) receive information about how their state’s Congressional delegation performed.

Multiple Media Effective

In one weekend shortly after its debut, more than 1,000 taxpayers subscribed to the text messaging service.

“Congressional offices inundated with e-mails can easily ignore those messages by hitting ‘delete,’ but nothing sends a more powerful message—one that cannot be ignored—than thousands upon thousands of phone calls that could shut down the Capitol switchboard, as was the case during recent bailout and stimulus votes,” Andrew Moylan, NTU’s director of government affairs, said. “The same is true for state legislatures across the country: A voice on the phone has much more influence and immediacy than an e-mail.”

Legislators Sensitive to Reactions

Both phone calls and e-mails from constituents can be effective, says U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), a former state legislator. “They should both be done at the same time,” he said, comparing overloading the Capitol switchboard or e-mail server to the “old days,” when staff would bring in sacks of constituent letters sent via postal mail.

Texas state Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown) says constituent outreach in any form is important, but “we always prioritize how we get information.

“If somebody sits down and writes me a handwritten letter, it carries more weight than somebody who sent off a quick e-mail,” Gattis said. “The mass e-mail campaigns—we respond to all of them. But they do not carry as much weight as a handwritten letter or a well-thought-out phone call.”

 Gattis added, “If you find somebody who’s reaching out to you, reach back, because most often they’re doing it for the right reasons.”

Natasha Altamirano ([email protected]) is communications manager for the National Taxpayers Union.