What Type of Legislative Tracker Are You?
If you have been handed a job that involves legislative tracking, take a minute and answer this question: which of these people do you most resemble?
Some trackers follow issues, topics and bills that are vital to their organization, staying aware of every development and updating colleagues, but their work stops short of analysis. They watch the action closely, without forecasting or drawing major conclusions.
Others are asked to do exactly that, meaning that analysis is at the very center of their work. Often working for organizations that are directly involved in lobbying or writing legislation, they sift through news, reports, briefings, letters and other documents with an eye toward making recommendations or shaping strategy.
Which one are you? The answer could have a big impact on how you do your job. To learn more — and to download CQ Roll Call’s report on legislative tracking — read on.
‘Stick to the Facts’
Of course, there’s no one-size fits all description for legislative trackers. Every organization has different information needs and every tracker takes a different approach.
But how your organization uses the information you provide is worth considering when you take on a tracking job. Often, it provides the best clue as to where to focus your time and energy, and what kind of tools and resources you will need.
For example, many might identify with Barbara Brincefield, research and legislative director at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP. Brincefield has 35 years of experience — she started before tracking was an electronic game — and has a reasonably broad portfolio, tracking issues as diverse as international trade, net neutrality and the Doc Fix.
Yet, while she may be asked to describe the state of play on her issues in detail, she will not be asked to do go beyond the factual. As she jokingly puts it, “No one cares what I think.”
“I stick to the facts,” she said, adding, “My job is not to say what it means, how it will impact a particular industry or how it will effect a party. That’s not what they ask me for. They ask me for who, what, when, where, why and how.”
Brincefield’s firm does not lobby. Instead, the tracking she does supports the firm’s legal work. That may require some explanation, but it stops short of analysis.
For example, when the White House announced this week that President Obama intends to remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, Brincefield reported it, along with the provision that Cuba won’t come off the list until a 45-day review period has expired and that Congressional action could block the effort. But she did not tell clients what that meant for their business.
“I’m not saying, ‘as of June 1 you will be able to do A, B, C or D,’” she said. “My job is to say, ‘we are here and the next step is…’”
‘Connecting the Dots’
Segundo Mercado-Llorens, a Democratic lobbyist who runs his own practice, has a very different vision of legislative tracking.
Like Brincefield, Mercado-Llorens inhales information. He watches bills, reads news, and consumes documents of all kinds. But unlike Brincefield, he is using the information he gathers to shape and support legislative strategy. As he put it, “It is my job, in many ways.”
To Mercado-Llorens, the goal is to find material that can be used to help his lobbying clients in their legislative efforts.
“You want to be kind of strategic,” he said. “If you are sufficiently forward thinking, you can look pretty smart. You’ll seem to be able to forecast trends. That comes from connecting the dots. That comes from taking seemingly disparate documents, news items or reports and seeing where they fit into the Congressional biosphere.”
Mercado-Llorens sifts through terabytes of information — from “dear colleague” letters to the footnotes on obscure congressional reports — in search of material that can be used to support his clients. As he put it, “I want to take the horns off the bill and put the halo on.”
Sometimes, it might result in a new and novel ally. Other times, it’s an enhanced argument in favor of a legislative measure.
“It’s taking a statement that seemingly unrelated to a bill and knowing that it appeals to a particular set of stakeholders who might support your bill,” he said. “You have to be willing to expand the field of what you consider relevant to your issue.”
Want to learn more about legislative tracking and how Brincefield and Mercado-Llorens do their thing? Fill out the form to download CQ Roll Call’s report Legislative Tracking: Understanding the Basics free of charge.