From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms
Dear Colleague letters
Members of Congress circulate Dear Colleague letters to urge their colleagues to co-sponsor their legislation. It is common in both chambers for the key proponent of a measure to send a Dear Colleague letter (in print or electronically) to other members requesting their support for the legislation by cosponsoring its introduction. Dear Colleague letters can include findings that would be gratuitous in legislation itself.
“Dear Colleague” letters are official correspondence distributed in bulk to members in both chambers. Primarily, they are used by one or more members to persuade others to cosponsor or oppose a bill (generally, prior to introduction). Dear Colleague letters might also inform Members of an event connected with congressional business, of new or modified House procedures, or of some other matter. The use of the phrase “‘Dear Colleague’ letter” to refer to a widely distributed letter among Members dates at least to the start of the 20th century. New technologies and expanded use of the Internet have increased the speed and facilitated the process of preparing Dear Colleague letters.
The form of Dear Colleague letters generally includes a description of the legislation or other subject matter along with a reason or reasons for support or opposition. A letter frequently begins with “Dear Colleague.” The length of the correspondence varies; a typical Dear Colleague runs one to two pages. Such correspondence may serve to identify the sender or senders with a particular issue and can form an important “unofficial link” in the information chain around Capitol Hill.
Member-to-member correspondence of some kind has long been used in Congress. For example, because early House rules required measures to be introduced only in a manner involving the “explicit approval of the full chamber,” Representatives had to receive formal permission to introduce legislation. A not uncommon communication medium for soliciting support for this action was a letter to colleagues.
Also see: Bills Introduced / Bills Referred; Cosponsor; Sponsor; § 6.22 Sample “Dear Colleague” Letter, in Congressional Deskbook; § 6.15 Over-Precision, in Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook; § 8.14 Identify Legislative Leaders and Potential Champions, in Lobbying and Advocacy.
Note: Some federal agencies use “dear colleague” letters to avoid formal rule making requirements. See Executive Branch (CongressionalGlossary.com).
Panel: “Dear Colleague”/Guidance Letters, Consent Decrees, and other admin law innovations
- Dear Colleague Letters – Senate
- Dear colleague letter – Wikipedia
- Congressional Procedure, Ch. 2. I. Sponsorship and Cosponsorship
- “‘Dear Colleague’ Letters: A Brief Overview,” CRS Report RS21667 (6-page PDF)
- “Introducing a Senate Bill or Resolution,” CRS Report 98-459 (5-page PDF)
- “‘Dear Colleague’ Letters in the House of Representatives: Past Practices and Issues for Congress,” CRS Report R44768 (24-page PDF)
- “‘Dear Colleague’ Letters: Current Practices,” CRS Report RL34636 (11-page PDF)
- “‘Dear Colleague’ Letters in the House of Representatives: An Analysis of Volume, Use, Characteristics, and Purpose,” CRS Report R42026 (23-page PDF)
- See “Betsy DeVos Withdraws ‘Dear Colleague’ Letter That Weaponized Title IX Against Due Process,” Reason, September 22, 2017
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