An Engineer's Approach to Finding Cosponsors in Congress

November 8, 2017

*This interview has been provided on background and therefore all names and offices have been changed. The speaker is the deputy chief of staff and legislative director in a Democratic Congressional office.

A Democratic Congressman’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director has been a congressional staffer for ten years, but before that, he got his masters in engineering and management science. With this niche background, he sought to apply his analytical mindset to Congress.

The congressman’s office is unique in the volume of legislation it introduces, pushing a new bill out every single week. As a result, the team has implemented a more strategic way of approaching the search for cosponsors.

To manage this volume and successfully find cosponsors, the LD has created a master spreadsheet that he uses to analyze and discover potential legislative champions for the Congressman to approach. Here are three steps to master an analytical approach to discovering cosponsors for legislation:

1. Build Out Your Data

The LD creates a master spreadsheet with members of Congress for a given piece of legislation and with the help of interns, keeps it up to date. Then, he adds columns representing different metrics that the team can sort to determine who would be the best fit for cosponsorship.

“What we try to do is find different markers to help target people, so similar bills they’ve cosponsored, similar things they’ve done, statements they've made, caucuses they’re on,” the LD told Quorum.

2. Identify Your Top Targets

Next, the LD uses the data to present a list to the Congressman of approximately 20 suggested people to talk to. The list is typically organized in one of two ways.

Sometimes, the team decides to take a more sophisticated approach and assign weights to various categories that it deems more important than others.

“If we’re really being sophisticated, I would assign different weights to things. Sometimes, if they did this, they get three points, then two points and one point and add up in a spreadsheet a total of everyone’s score you can see who gets the most points.”

However, with the rate at which the team is introducing legislation, the congressman’s team has also adopted a leaner approach on occasion.

“There’s not always the science of the numbers, it’s kind of the arc of it and the feel of it. You look at the data and you know this person looks right for it, or there’s this person who I know the staffer well. It’s not the end all be all where I do my formula and that’s it, but it certainly helps inform things.”

After they create their list of 20, the Congressman typically narrows the list to ten or so members that he is most interested in talking with about his proposed legislation.

3. Use the Data in Your Pitch

Not only does the spreadsheet of data help the Congressman’s team decide who to talk to, it also provides talking points for the conversation between members about the legislation. The data allows the Congressman to make compelling arguments to each person he approaches by having the data on their past statements that align with the issue, impacts on their respective states, and past voting history.

“[We can] hopefully tailor our advocacy for our bills [and say] 'Given that 'you’ve done these four things, we think this would be really good for you. Given that this happened in your state or your area or you’ve been to these events or given that this organization is prominent in your area and has supported this legislation.' Those types of things.”

Bottom Line:

With 435 members in the House, it can be a challenge to keep track of everyone’s position on an issue. While the Congressman uses this data to seek co-sponsors amongst colleagues for legislation his team has drafted, a government affairs or advocacy team can embrace a similar practice in choosing which members to schedule meetings with to pitch an issue they care about.

“With all the resources in the world we’d target everyone, but we don’t have all the resources in the world especially given the volume of legislation we do,” the LD said. “We want to really boil it down to people that are most likely to do what you want them to do.”

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