Here are some questions frequently asked by real POPVOX users, and our answers to them. If you have a question, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chances are that other POPVOX users are thinking about the same question, so do us a favor and let us know!
Members of Congress (and their staff) are influenced by people’s opinions— but only if you are their constituent and have a personal story to share. In fact, 88% of Congressional staffers said that personal messages from constituents influenced their decisions, in a survey by the Congressional Management Foundation [LINK TO: http://www.congressfoundation.org/storage/documents/CMF_Pubs/cwc-perceptions-of-citizen-advocacy.pdf].
Here’s how POPVOX can help get your voice heard in Congress:
Yes, but in few cases.
After Congressional bills become laws, Federal agencies are responsible for enforcing those laws through regulations. An important step is the “public comment period,” in which individuals can offer feedback about proposed regulations.
In some cases, when we hear about a proposed regulation that we believe our users would find particularly important, we add a page on POPVOX to help our users to share their personal stories and feedback with Federal agencies. This is different from writing a letter to your Members of Congress because Federal agencies don’t want you to “support” or “oppose” a proposed regulation, but instead provide them with your insight about the regulation, via a comment. POPVOX delivers these comments directly to regulations.gov to be included in the official “public record” and forwarded to the target Federal agency.
Yes! Your comments via POPVOX are now part of our nation’s historical record.
We've been notified by the Library of Congress that POPVOX has been selected for inclusion in the official digital archives of the United States. The Library of Congress preserves “the Nation’s cultural artifacts” and “materials of historical importance to the Congress and the American people.” This mission extends to digital materials, and the Library has identified POPVOX as an important part of a collection of materials related to public policy topics and the historical record of the United States. (Learn more.) http://www.popvox.com/blog/2014/popvox-now-part-of-the-national-digital-archives/]
The titles listed on each bill page are the official titles of the legislation. The Congressional sponsor of the bill picks the bill’s title. Some official titles are short and sound like a traditional title (i.e., the Corporate Tax Fairness Act) while others are long descriptions of what the bill actually does: "To authorize the use of force against those nations, organizations, or persons responsible for the attack against United States personnel in Benghazi, Libya.”"
For long titles POPVOX may display a popular “street” name for the bill. The street name comes either from Congress’s own research team, the Congressional Research Service, or the POPVOX team based on how the bill is referenced to in the media or by the public.
The categories on POPVOX come from Congress and are assigned by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to provide an objective summary of pending bills that is truly non-partisan. That would require picking and choosing which aspects of the bill to highlight. Rather than adding our own subjective interpretations of bills into the mix, we provide a place to view a variety of opinions from issue experts, including advocacy organizations, trade groups, companies and individuals like you, so that you can learn more and make up your own mind.
POPVOX asks for detailed contact information, including your home address and in some cases your phone number, because we need this in order to ensure that your message to Congress reaches the appropriate Congressional office. We only ask for the information that Congress requires for delivery of your message.
Comments left on POPVOX are delivered to your Representative and/or Senators in Congress. Your POPVOX home page displays the status of the delivery of your message.
POPVOX delivers messages to Congress electronically* because that’s how the offices prefer to receive them. Your message goes into the office’s database that lets them track their constituents’ sentiment on bills and group similar letters together for their replies. (Printed letters and faxes are so much harder for offices to process. Your name and address would be keyed into their database by the nearest intern, and what you wrote will probably never be seen by a policy staff member.)
*A number of Congressional offices do not accept electronic delivery from third party services. In those cases we will actually print out your message walk down to Capitol Hill and deliver your message in person.
Letters on POPVOX are typically delivered to Members of Congress within 6 hours.
Throughout the day, POPVOX staff are busy keeping our delivery system up to date with each of the 541 Congressional offices. Each office accepts electronic mail in a slightly different way, and POPVOX must keep up with each office’s frequent changes to their systems. Additionally, while most offices accept most mail electronically, letters from constituents with unusual addresses are often not accepted electronically and must be printed out and delivered in person, which creates an additional delay. Fewer than 5% of letters take more than 4.5 days.
For comparison, postal mail sent to Congress may take more than two weeks to be delivered, as all postal mail is irradiated for safety reasons before its arrival in the Capitol.
In addition to delivering your letters, POPVOX staff are working with Congressional staff on improving Congressional mail systems to make this process better for everyone.
While there are many gray areas in Congressional rules, the prohibition against using official resources for campaign purposes is crystal clear and strictly enforced. Representatives and Senators must keep their official business, including receiving and responding to constituent mail, completely separate from their campaign.
According to the House of Representatives Member Handbook, “[o]fficial mailing lists may not be shared with a Member’s campaign committee, any other campaign entity, or otherwise be used for campaign purposes.” The House Ethics Committee also says that "office files may not be reviewed to obtain names of individuals to solicit for campaign contributions." The Senate Select Committee on Ethics has similar prohibitions in place for Senators: their official legislative office may only share information with their campaign office that they would make available to the general public. In other words, they can't hand over constituent contact information.
Members of Congress who violate ethics rules are subject to very serious disciplinary action, such as censure or even expulsion from Congress. A Member's campaign might get your contact information from another source (like your voter registration), but they can never get it from a message you write to Congress.
As you weigh in on bills, you have the option to skip the personal message. When you skip the personal message, POPVOX sends a simple notification to legislators (if they accept electronic delivery), which says: “(your name) supported/opposed this bill on POPVOX and chose not to leave a comment. He/she is not expecting a response.”
At this time if your Member of Congress is one of the few that does not accept electronic delivery, your position will be counted toward the totals on POPVOX but will not be delivered to your Member of Congress.
It’s important that we point out that Members of Congress (and their staff) are influenced by people’s opinions — especially if have a personal story to share. In fact, 88% of Congressional staffers said that personal messages from constituents influenced their decisions, in a survey by the Congressional Management Foundation.
POPVOX includes your email address, postal address and in some cases, your phone number with message to your Members of Congress precisely because we want them to respond to you. While the majority of our users tell us that they receive responses from their Members of Congress, the type of response (e.g. generic or tailored letter) and the frequency of response varies. Unfortunately, not all Congressional offices reply to all communications, particularly if you don't leave a personal comment—and some are simply overloaded.
We know from our extensive experience that Members of Congress only read messages from their own constituents. There are several reasons for this. One is that Members believe it is a courtesy to not engage with another Member’s constituents. In any case, since we know that a letter to a Member of Congress who doesn't represent you won’t be read, so there is just no point in us delivering your message to them.
POPVOX is a “civic startup” -- a for-profit corporation with a dual mission to scale and return value to investors while empowering individuals and making government more accountable. We have taken funding from friends, family, and a few angel investors, including fundraising through the WeFunder crowdfunding platform.
POPVOX makes money by providing a collection of grassroots advocacy tools for organizations and companies of any size to mount a significant legislative or regulatory campaign, harnessing the power of targeted grassroots action. Advocacy organizations, trade associations, and corporations pay a monthly fee for POPVOX widgets and analytics enabling networks to write Congress through embedded POPVOX tools, displaying dynamic legislative content.