November 21, 2008

Catholic Conference launches online tool for grassroots effort

Special to The Criterion

Catholics across Indiana can engage their elected officials in a new and powerful way through an online tool offered by the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC).

Capitol Advantage, the software tool launched by the Indiana Catholic Conference and now available on the ICC Web site,, allows visitors to enter a Legislative Action Center and engage in a variety of grassroots activities in a few simple keystrokes. One of the key features of the software allows visitors to quickly identify and contact their elected officials.

By clicking “Legislative Action Center” on the ICC home page, the visitor has information and quick access to government officials. The center includes these choices: Elected Officials, Issues, Election and Media.

Under the “Elected Officials” menu, for example, visitors are able to access the “Indiana Legislative Directory” for state officials; or select “President” to access the president of the U.S., federal agencies and a congressional directory; or select the “Supreme Court” for contact information for the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to contact information for each office holder, biographical information and links to other useful Web pages for individual members of the Indiana General Assembly or the U.S. Congress, governmental agencies and the U.S. Supreme Court are available.

Visitors to the center also have the option to join the action network. By joining the action network, members will begin receiving a weekly electronic newsletter called “Legislative Update” when the Indiana General Assembly is in session during the months of January through May 2009.

Those receiving the “Legislative Update” remain current on the issues and in tune with the ICC’s efforts in the legislature.

The ICC also sends periodic electronic “Action Alerts” to network members who, when called upon via

e-mail, will assist the Church’s legislative efforts at the statehouse by contacting lawmakers.

“When the Indiana General Assembly is in session, getting input from constituents in a timely manner on legislation that is being created is vital to the process,” said Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director. “When Catholics contact their representatives in unison with the work of the Catholic Conference, it allows the Church to be more effective in shaping morally sound public policy.

“The use of this software by Catholics has the potential to significantly impact the Church’s role in the public policy arena,” Tebbe explained. “It is my hope that our faith community will seize the opportunity to take advantage of this online tool.”

Tebbe added, “Catholics that have a particular charism in pro-life, social justice, education, immigration reform, health care or family life issues will be able to stay connected and be counted when important legislative decisions are made on priority issues the Church is following.”

Want to know what the current issues are or how elected officials voted on abortion legislation? Select “Issues” from the menu in the Legislative Action Center.

Under “Issues,” individuals can look up voting records under “Key Votes” for members of the Indiana General Assembly (state senators and state representatives) or members of Congress (U.S. senators and U.S. representatives) on legislation affecting the unborn, families in poverty, capital punishment, same-sex marriage, the common good, education and immigration reform.

Also under the “Issues” menu, visitors can view current legislation, legislative alerts and updates, and get tips on contacting legislators via phone, mail or in person.

Other features include a “Tell a Friend” option, which allows visitors to e-mail friends or family members about legislative alerts or updates further expanding those who can become informed and involved in the legislative process.

Want to write a letter to the editor or put a call into a talk radio program to voice a concern from a Catholic perspective? Contacting the media is made easier than ever by selecting “Media” from the menu in the Legislative Action Center. Contact information is available for major newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations in the state, including e-mails, addresses, phone and fax numbers.

While the role of the ICC is to serve as the official voice of the Catholic Church in the public policy arena primarily in Indiana, those visiting the ICC Web page will also be notified about important federal legislation that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is concerned about. The Web page also offers the means to contact members of Congress.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that, “It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent to the dignity of the human person. … As far as possible, citizens should take an active part in public life ” (#1913, #1915).

Since its inception in 1996, more than 1,200 organizations nationwide have used Capitol Advantage’s online tool to engage millions of interested citizens in the public policy process.

There are 11 other state Catholic conferences that use Capitol Advantage, including California, Kentucky, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin. Six other Catholic Conferences use similar online systems.

Christopher Leifeld, executive director for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said that in the two years since the Capitol Advantage software was made available in his state, they have had more than 1,500 subscribed users. More than 450 of the subscribed users have sent e-mail messages to government officials.

“We have editable messages. So many of the messages sent by users are personalized, resulting in greater impact,” Leifeld said.

(To explore the ICC’s new online public policy tool, log on to the ICC Web site at Click on “Legislative Action Center.”)

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