Named for their opening salutation, a “Dear Colleague letter” is an official communication distributed in bulk by a lawmaker to all members of Congress.
They can be used to inform other members about an upcoming hearing or vote, to request support for a particular bill, or to express a position on an issue.
And they can also be used to organize support for a cause or issue, or to gather signatures for a petition.
Signing on to one of these letters is a relatively easy ask for most lawmakers.
Origin of the “Dear Colleague letter”
The practice of members sending each other letters to solicit support dates to at least the 1800s. But the phrase “Dear Colleague letter” has only been used since 1913.
One of the first uses of the term was in 1913 when the New York Times referenced the text of a letter written by Rep. Finley Gray (R-IN) on how lawmakers should “express their well wishes” to President Woodrow Wilson and his family.
Although these types of letters have been used by members of Congress for more than a century, technological advances in recent years have facilitated their distribution.
In 2008, the House introduced an electronic “Dear Colleague” system, streamlining topic headings and distribution lists. Each of these letters can be tagged in the electronic system with up to three self-selected policy categories.
A Congressional Research Service report explains the current practices in the House and the Senate.
Use of “Dear Colleague letter” in a sentence
- The Dear Colleague letter from the senator urged her colleagues to support the proposed legislation.
- The Dear Colleague letter from the representative outlined the reasons for opposing the current administration’s policies.
- The Dear Colleague letter from the political party leadership encouraged members to attend the upcoming campaign rally.