Dear Colleague Letters

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An article by Jacob Straus written in 2009 for the annual Midwest Political Science Association meeting gives some valuable background on Dear Colleague letters.  Dear Colleague letters are circulated among Members of Congress via internal mail, the chamber floor, or electronically via Member websites.  The web-based distribution platform was introduced in 2008 and replaced the email system.  While it is still hard to get comprehensive data about the letters due to the impossibility of tracking those sent on paper, it is possible to track and analyze those sent electronically.  Between 2003 and 2008 there was a 238 percent increase in letters sent electronically.  Since paper letters are impossible to track, it is unclear whether this suggests an overall increase in letters being sent or an increase in Congressional reliance on technology.

Dear Colleague letters are sent mainly by Members of Congress but they can also be sent by:

  1. House officers
  2. Committees
  3. Commissions

Their main purpose is to encourage other Members to cosponsor a given bill.  They can also be used for other reasons such as:

  • Ask Members to cosign letters to be sent to Congressional leadership or Executive Branch officials
  • Invite staff or Members to attend briefings, events, or join caucuses
  • Share information, news, or floor proceedings
  • Announce House administrative positions or policies

As outlined in a CRS Report, Dear Colleague letters are centrally administered by the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer in the House and can be distributed to the following groups:

  • Members only (including leadership)
  • All Members (including leadership and full committees)
  • Members, full committees and subcommittees
  • Republican Members, leadership, and full majority committees
  • Republican Members and leadership only
  • Democratic Members, leadership and full minority committees
  • Democratic Memers and leadership only
  • All House mail stops

In the Senate, Dear Colleague letters are not centrally regulated and can be distributed to either Senators only or Senators and Committees.

According to the C-SPAN Congressional Glossary, a Dear Colleague letter is defined as:

A mass-produced letter sent by one member to all fellow members.  Dear Colleagues usually describe a new bill and ask for cosponsors or ask for a member's vote on a bill.  Used in House & Senate.

Background Resources

Dear Colleague Letters in Action