Advocacy Focused On DC? You’re Missing The Big Picture.

Advocacy Focused On DC? You’re Missing The Big Picture.

Is Your Advocacy Focused on Washington, DC? Then You Are Missing the Big Picture.

I was teaching at an advocacy seminar this week, chatting with a group of attendees, when the subject of state legislation came up. I was struck by the fact that every one of the people in the little group was somehow involved at the state level.

And why not? That is, after all, where business gets done these days.

By way of example, look at the 113th Congress, which passed 352 bills and resolutions in 2013 and 2014, according to data from my colleagues at CQ Roll Call. That was utterly dwarfed by the 45,564 bills and resolutions passed by the legislative bodies in all 50 states and Washington DC during that same period.

Of course, much of that legislation never made it into law, state or federal. But for advocacy professionals, the message is clear: if you are focused rigidly on Washington, then you are missing a big part of the picture.

State Struggles

States have always been laboratories for policy and legislation, and they have often been a sound alternative for advocacy groups who cannot get what they want from Congress. But watching states grapple with a blizzard of issues — and with Congressional productivity lagging — its hard to argue that they are not playing a bigger role these days.

Sure, there are the everyday struggles with issues like budgets and education funding. But there are also huge issues, such as the massive changes brought about by shifts in the energy sector. In Alaska, which has been hit hard by low oil prices, there is talk about raising taxes — a huge deal in a place where there’s no state income tax. In North Dakota, the center of the U.S. oil boom, there’s talk about dropping the state income tax to zero.

In many other states, low prices at the pump have put gas taxes on the table, in order to address crumbling infrastructure. The issue also ties directly to Washington, where many states are waiting for Congress to serve up a highway bill.

Advocating in the States

What does it all mean? It means that savvy companies, associations and advocacy groups will have eyes on the states — and the capability to act.

Let’s start with tracking. How you go about it will largely depend on how much action you have to watch. If its just a few issues, you might get by with Google News and a spreadsheet. But any more than that and you’ll need professional tools, including a news outlet that watches state action and a state-level bill tracker. There are several options available, and you should shop around.

One great technique is to chat with someone who tracks state legislation for a living and to get them to walk you through the drill. If you know somebody, you are way ahead. Invite them for coffee and bring a notebook. If you don’t, track somebody down and introduce yourself. The effort you save will be well worth that awkward first phone call.

You should also have the ability to respond to issues that impact your organization, using digital advocacy campaigns — responsive websites paired with email and social media powered by advocacy software — to drive engagement and action on state issues. If the issue is important enough, you should also at least have a line on how to run a ground campaign should you need it.

Again, there are options on how to get there (naturally, I’m partial to solutions offered by 720 Strategies and CQ Roll Call), and you should investigate your options vis-a-vis your needs and your budget. Sure, this is all time consuming. But ask yourself how much time you put into monitoring and trying to sway Congress.

Then, let me remind you that fully 38 states and the District of Columbia passed more legislation than Congress did last session. Put another way, while Congress passed roughly 4 percent of the bills introduced, the states passed about 25 percent.

Watching what the states do — and responding — is clearly worth your time.

Glen Justice has been a journalist for more than 25 years. He is currently Managing Editor for Marketing at CQ Roll Call.

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