A common mistake is to overvalue the recent past. It is easy to look at the last action or series of actions, and say that was the cause of success or failure for a given issue, when in fact the seeds may have been planted long before the legislation is ever actually introduced. As a result, the planning that was put into the introduction of legislation is rarely re-evaluated since it happened at the beginning of the process. One of the aspects of that planning that is often over-looked is the process of gathering co-sponsorships and that a genuine strategy needs to be developed, rather than just trying to get as many as possible as fast as possible. Because most issues aren’t going to lead the 6:00 news or become the point of major partisan policy, what determines their success or failure is the plan that is put in place at the beginning. To avoid getting bogged down, buried in a committee schedule, or become part of the partisan debate, a plan needs to be in place from the beginning that keeps these factors in mind when soliciting co-sponsors for your topic.
First, figure out where you are, where you actually need to go legislatively, and how many co-sponsors you need to get there. From that number, set your goal for 10 more offices than you need as your minimum in the House, 5 in the Senate. Throughout the year members that support you are going to retire, resign, etc., and you want to make sure you have enough lee-way to still pass your issue. Knowing from the start how broadly you need to craft your legislation to reach your goal will make life easier down the road and give you guidelines for all the co-sponsor decisions you will be making. If you make a deal that gets you one co-sponsor at the cost of not getting two down the road, it only makes sense if you are at or near your goal and not at the very beginning of the process. Sticking with a goal will keep you from mortgaging the future for the short-term, a more temping thought in the heat of the moment that people expect. It is an extremely dangerous game to start adding or subtracting things after introduction to get more co-sponsors and still keep the ones already on it happy. REMEMBER: you don’t need everyone! You just need enough to win and no one piece of legislation is ever going to make everyone happy.
Alright, so we have a number, how do we get to it? Getting co-sponsors is a lot like throwing a party. You’re going to want to make sure that everyone you want comes and, most importantly, you aren’t stuck with a bunch of pizzas by yourself at the end of the night. Therefore your first goal is going to be to introduce the bill with as large a number of initial co-sponsors as possible. In every Congress thousands of bills are introduced, sent to committee, and die. The initial co-sponsor offering and constant follow-ups are what is going to separate your legislation from those other dead pieces of legislation.
To do this, you’re going to have to consider the order in which to solicit co-sponsors. First, who are the friends of your issue and of the legislation’s sponsor? Consider those your first picks, they should be easy and added upon introduction. Who is on pokies hard the committee of jurisdiction for the topic
? Usually the Chair and Ranking Member won’t co-sponsor legislation in their committee, but you’ll want as many of the other members as possible, if for no reason other than they are easy to approach and “cold sell” as well as allowing potential legislative maneuvering later down the road.
Continuing on that train of thought, an often overlooked resource is the Congressional caucuses. People tend to forget about caucus membership (even those who actually belong to the caucuses), as well as “axillary” committees, for example Veteran Affairs for an Armed Services issue. Next, look at other members of the sponsor’s state or region of the country, especially if it is a rural issue. Lobbyists.info’s US Congress Online database of members will allow you to quickly locate good targets, especially the ones that fall under more than one of your groups.
Another good target group are the Freshmen Members. They tend to be “cheap dates” as they are eager to get their name out, do favors, and like being asked to help more than some of the more senior offices do. Finally, seek out the more “popular” members. People in leadership positions tend to make the issue “safe” for the rest of their party and makes recruiting other co-sponsors easier. Using the party analogy, people will often ask “is XYZ on it” when first contacted and you want as many people out of the gate since it is easier to keep the ball rolling than it is to jump-start it.
So while that gives you a good list of targets, there are a few pitfalls to avoid. First, make sure you don’t go heavy on either Dems or Reps early. Try to keep the ratio as close to even as possible and it will be much easier to recruit on both sides. Stray too far to one direction and you might pick up the “partisan” tag when it isn’t necessary. Same thinking for regional issues, make sure everyone isn’t just from the Mid-West or cities. Also, avoid anyone who might be seen as “toxic,” which I loosely define as “would you cringe if you saw their name next to your issue in the paper.” Very controversial members can sometimes cost more co-sponsors when other offices see their name attached to an issue than having their one co-sponsorship gains.
Keep in mind, even though adding their name to a bill doesn’t technically “cost” a Member anything, they are free to co-sponsor as many pieces of legislation as they want, most offices are hesitant to actually co-sponsor anything without getting something in return. This is primarily for two reasons. One, co-sponsoring something is basically a favor and it is rare in DC that favors are done without getting something in return. Two, because so many bills aren’t successful, offices feel that the odds of any one thing going through are low so why support a failure? Get ready to hear “we can’t help now, but come back when you have the required number and we will join then.”
After all, success has many fathers while defeat is an orphan. A good co-sponsorship strategy will often lead to an overwhelming victory, as it is not uncommon to see something like 90+ Senators on a winner. However, a poor effort with no plan or momentum will add yet another “Cosponsors (12)” tagline to the thousands of other lost bills on Thomas.