Information for League Members About League Terms and Processes
How Does A League Form “Positions”? What Is League Program?
What is a Position? In the League, a “position” is a statement of the League’s point of view on an issue, arrived at through member study and agreement (consensus or concurrence), approved by the appropriate board and used as a basis for League action. The term League “Program” includes the entire process from proposing a topic for study to action on the position reached through that study, as well as including all of the positions that have been adopted by the respective League (local, state, regional or national Leagues).
Positions exist at the national, regional, state, and local League levels. Before initiating any studies towards the development of a new position, carefully review all higher level positions to see if the issue is already covered. LWVUS & LWV-VA positions can be used by any League in Virginia.
How does a League form a position? There are four major steps in developing a position:
- The League selects an issue to be studied at Convention or Council at state or by LLs at annual meetings.
- The League studies the issue in a non-partisan, unbiased and objective manner.
- Members come to an agreement about the issue using either the process of consensus or concurrence.
- Based upon the result of the consensus or concurrence, a position statement is written, adopted by the respective League board, and subsequently approved by the League membership at an annual meeting or convention.
The process for developing positions begins with the selection and adoption of the “program” for the respective level of League (local, state or national). Ideas for new study issues start at the “grassroots” level, reflecting a particular interest of an individual member, unit or League. Some evolve from a community concern. Members may express preferences on already existing positions and recommend new study items or request an existing position be updated; the recommendations are compiled by the local League board which recommends a “program” (list of study items) to be approved by the League’s annual meeting, or convention. When considering state-wide issues that would be considered in state legislatures or nation-wide issues in the U. S. Congress, the local League board recommends one or two items [top priorities from the list submitted by its members or units] to the state League (LWV-VA) or to the United States League (LWVUS), respectively. Traditionally, the program process for local League items and for state League items occur in alternate years. And the program adopted at the respective annual meetings or conventions is to be carried out over two years (or a biennium), with the state League program being studied by all Leagues in Virginia. This process also applies to items approved at the LWVUS biennial Convention where the adopted program will be studied in all Leagues in the United States.
LWV-VA is also part of a regional League, called an Inter-League Organization or ILO. The regional League of which LWV-VA is a part is the LWV of the National Capital Area, or LWVNCA, which includes Leagues in Maryland, the LWV of the District of Columbia and Leagues in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. The LWV of Maryland and the LWV of Virginia are also members of the LWVNCA. The LWVNCA adopts positions on issues that affect the region, such as transportation, water resources, and environmental quality. The Leagues that comprise LWVNCA give recommendations to the LWVNCA for program items using the same process described above.
When proposing a program item for a study that might lead to a position, the following criteria should be considered: Can the issue be resolved by government action? At what level? Does the League already have a position at any level that could address the specific issue? Can the League’s involvement make a difference? Is there enough enthusiasm for the topic? Do we have the resources (both monetary and human)to work on it?
Once a program item is adopted at the annual meeting or convention, a program committee/team made up of interested members is organized to study the topic selected. For state-wide items, the committee is from around the state; for nation-wide issues, the committee is from all across the U.S.
This group is responsible for pulling together the information and examining all sides of the issue so that the information presented to members will be balanced and objective. The program committee/team devises `questions for discussion’ outlines. Members then answer the questions from which consensus and/or concurrence reports are made. Consensus is agreement among a substantial number, not just a simple majority, of members, reached after study and group discussion. It is the “sense of the meeting.” Consensus does not require unanimity. The presence of disagreement may be noted as a minority opinion, but this does not imply taking a vote. Concurrence is the act of agreeing with or concurring with, a position reached by another League, or study committee, task force, or board. Concurrence is achieved by member agreement with another statement.
The program team/committee, after considering the consensus or concurrence reports, recommends a position statement. The Board then makes any change it thinks appropriate and adopts the position. Once a position is adopted by the respective League board, action may be taken in support of the position. This may include providing information to the public, building public opinion, lobbying, testifying at public hearings, issuing media releases, writing letters to editors and officials, or participating in marches or rallies.
Positions for LWV-VA and Other Leagues
NOTE (from LWV-VA Bylaws Article 10 ):
Sec. 5. Program Action. Local Leagues may act only in conformity with, not contrary to, the positions taken by the LWVUS or the LWV-VA. Action on state governmental matters on the basis of local positions should be undertaken only after consultation with the state board. Members may act in the name of the LWV-VA only when authorized to do so by the state board.
LWV-VA Positions are called Positioned For Action. Click here to read or download the document.
LWVUS’ positions are called Impact on Issues and can be found on the website at http://lwv.org/content/impact-issues. LWVUS positions fall into the categories of Representative Government, International Relations, Natural Resources, and Social Policy.
What is League Action? What Is the Difference Between Advocacy and Lobbying?
In the League, “ACTION” means “advocating” or “lobbying” for an issue on which the respective League (local, state, regional or national level) has taken a position. Action can mean both advocating and lobbying. What is the difference and which funds (LWV Operating Fund or LWV Education Fund) can be used for these activities? LWVUS offers the following explanation on its website, lwv.org. Click here to read the full document.
What is the difference between advocacy and action?
From a FAQ sheet on Advocacy and Lobbying created by member and former League Treasurer Therese Martin is this description: Many LWV members have been confused about advocacy because they can’t identify how it differs from “action” — a term that has been used by Leagues for at least 40 years. To explain the difference depends on how “action” has been defined. One of the easiest ways to explain the difference is to consider LWV activities within the following major categories: VOTER SERVICES or LEAGUE PROGRAM (issues).
Voter Services is anything that informs the voter about candidates (like voters guides), who or what is on the ballot (like referenda, ballot issues and candidates’ names), and voter registration and voting processes on election day. Program is the list of issues on which the League has a position, or is studying in order to arrive at a position, on which to take “action.” Action includes both advocacy and lobbying.
Thinking about it in these terms should eliminate the confusion about whether advocacy or action is the more general term (action is the general term). In other words, advocacy is a part of action, but not all action is advocacy–action can also include lobbying which shows that lobbying is distinct from advocacy. And it shows that Voters Service needs to be kept separate from program study and action.
Does it make a difference whether a LWV is using its operating funds or education funds to pay for an activity?
Actually, the question should be turned on its head. Many LWVs have “tied themselves in knots” over the types of funds that they can use for an activity. First, most local LWVs don’t have a significant amount of education funds (EF), either in their own EF or on deposit in the LWVEF that this should be a major concern. These EF funds have been donated to either the national or local LWV’s 501(c)(3) organization, which makes them tax deductible for the donor. Simply speaking, LWVs can use any type of funds for voters service activities. LWVs can use any type of funds for study or advocacy. LWVs cannot use funds donated to a 501(c)(3) education fund for lobbying. Many LWVs confused things over the years by assuming that all action or advocacy was lobbying and went to great lengths to keep their activities separated needlessly or did nothing.
So, What Is Lobbying?
Lobbying is defined as an attempt to influence specific legislation, including both legislation that has already been introduced in a legislative body and specific legislative proposals that the LWV may oppose or support. There are two types of lobbying: direct and grassroots.
To constitute direct lobbying, a communication must either (1) be directed to a legislator, their staff or other governmental employee who may participate in the formulation of legislation and a.) refer to, and b.) express a view on specific legislation;
OR (2) be directed to the general public and a.) and refer to, and b.) express a view on a specific referenda or other ballot measure.
To constitute grassroots lobbying, a communication must be: (1) directed to the general public and a.) refer to, b.) express a view on specific legislation, and c.) include a statement that directs readers to contact their legislators or include the contact information for a legislator or employee of a legislative body (aka “Action Alert”).
Only the President or her designee may speak publically in the name of the League. Readers would make this contact as an individual — not a League member.
Then, What Is Advocacy?
Most other activities promoting LWV positions that do not fall within the strict definitions of lobbying noted above are general advocacy and may be funded by charitable contributions (EF). One caveat is that LWVs are advised to keep clear lines between voters’ service activities and advocacy activities. For example, LWVs that have taken a position on a ballot measure should not include that position in their Voters’ Guide.
Examples of advocacy techniques or activities? Advocacy activities are whatever a LWV does, at every level of government, to implement its positions. They include analyzing issues, providing information, making recommendations for reform, developing educational materials, providing forums for discussion and education, writing letters to the editors, doing public service announcements, providing guest commentary to newspapers, testifying to board, commissions and local governing bodies, joining coalitions, etc. Remember that many local situations are handled through the local budget process. Be informed and testify at budget hearings.
Some important documents: