Bradley Phillips is quite familiar with the Arkansas State Legislature and its process.
Both he and his dad are lobbyists.
“I’ve pretty much known since I was 7 or 8 years old this is what I wanted to do,” the now 39-year-old Phillips the Log Cabin Democrat on Monday.
The Arkansas General Assembly — 35 senators and 100 house of representatives — began its latest session Jan. 14, 2019 and will go for 60 days unless extended.
Phillips makes his way to the state capitol every morning.
“Growing up, session was such a big part of my life,” he said. “Dad was gone for three months out of every two years and I was lucky enough that he took me as much as I possibly could as I was growing up. It’s something I love.”
The Conway lobbyist said the “marble building” is his second church.
“This is my way of being an evangelist,” Phillips said.
He said the fun part about it all is that anybody who knows what “session” is, cares about it.
The fact that he gets to bond with his dad is the first reason he loves what he does.
“We suit up and drive in [to Little Rock] together every single day,” Phillips said. “I guess that’s half the fun of it.”
The other half, he said, is the success that comes from the work and being able to see what was once a bill, turn into law that governs the state.
The lobbyist said he had a senator file a bill about six years ago to create a data transparency task force, which was then turned into a commission and is now an office at the capitol.
“I enjoy looking back and saying, ‘I did that,’ or ‘I had a hand in that,’” Phillips said. “That goes into the state constitution and you see lives affected by it.”
He said he wants people to understand they don’t have to be a lobbyist to urge that type of change either, that anyone can do that through contacting their legislator, being educated and paying attention to what is going on.
Which is where Phillip’s legislative bill-tracking company, LobbyUp, comes into play.
Years ago Phillips worked in then-governor Mike Beebe’s office, leaving in 2007 to join his dad, who put him in charge of bill-tracking.
“I was completely unfamiliar with it at the time,” he said.
Back then, Phillips said, the only option he came upon wasn’t helpful.
“I was supposed to find bills that affected us and our clients and keep track of where those bills were so that we could know which committee to go to, who to talk to, that kind of thing,” he said. “In my opinion, it was just technologically outdated and didn’t do what I needed it to.”
Phillips said he joined with his best friend from college and started LobbyUp.
“We built LobbyUp on my kitchen table and it was great,” he said. “Out of the box, we had enough people that liked it that they bought it.”
At first, it was just a legislator director application but then the duo decided to produce a more advanced design.
“Everybody loved it,” Phillips said. “Everybody [already] had it so when we went into sell the professional version, someone already had the something that we had made and people loved it.”
He said what was once a basic directory has grown to now include a user’s ability to watch certain bills and each bill’s progress, to follow local legislators and ones they are sponsoring, to get updates hourly about what’s going on overall, but also to individualizing it to meet the needs of the user and way more.
The app also allows users to kill or pass, letting lobbyists know how the public thinks about the bill.
“We just had a lot of fun,” Phillips said. “We got the data and put it in a way that really made sense to lobbyists and right out of the gate they liked it.”
In the production, he said he built what he needed but also user-friendly so his dad could use it.
“Our first customer was in his 70s and he loved it so much that he immediately went out and bought an iPad to use it on,” Phillips said.
The tracking service is offered in several different formats for all types of users from the one person who just wants to watch one bill and its process to the big lobbyist that needs the whole package.
Prices range from 99 cents to $779 and up.
This is the company’s 10-year anniversary and its added to the app through the years, now including session calendars, agendas and other useful tools.
“When me and dad would leave every day to go to Little Rock, Dad would be over there sifting through, and he has printed out all of the agendas and has all of our bills, and he’s literally trying to go through there and [see] where we’re supposed to be when we get to the capitol at 10 o’clock,” Phillips said. “I wanted a, ‘Where am I supposed to be this morning?’ button so it cross references all the bills you’re tracking and all the bills on the agenda.”
In addition, it also shows a user the current status of the bill, i.e. the green box, if it’s on the committee agenda, which floor its on, if it has reached the governor’s desk and finally, when it become an act.
While the application is useful for both lobbyists and legislators — Phillips said there’s been many times he’s witnessed representatives and senators from the gallery upstairs, sitting with their LobbyUp app open — the goal behind its creation was simpler.
“My goal was to make it so literally anyone, even that person with that one 99 cents that really wanted to track that gun bill or immigration bill, for something like that that was really important to them, that was more who we were looking at,” he said.
Phillips recalled a moment at a music festival in Northwest Arkansas years ago. He said he was with a group hippies and they were sitting next to their Volkswagen Van.
“Some guy that we thought was passed out, just kind of leaned out of [somewhere] ... they were talking about legalizing marijuana and [he] said, ‘oh yeah, did I tell you I found that app that helps you look at stuff at the capitol,’” he said, laughing. “You really can get it to where anybody cares. It breaks down the process so that anybody cares.”
Beyond the app though, Phillips encouraged people to get out and get up to the capitol.
“Whatever you’re bickering about on Twitter, you have two to three and a half months to do something,” he said. “Get down there and do something, be educated. There’s nobody that has to spend money on this app to get something out of it.”
Aound 3,000 bills get filed every legislative session, Phillips said, and this is the time to be paying attention. The app gives users the ability to know what’s going on without being at the capitol every day.
Altogether, the company has grown to about 450 users a week all around.
“That means ppl are using it the way it was supposed to be,” Phillips said. “That’s also rewarding when we see our users and memberships grow and get things in other states. That just kind of keeps us going.”
Currently, the app pulls data from 14 total states.
Phillips said his end goal is 50 states and U.S. Congress.
“We want to go everywhere,” he said. “We’re confident in our model. We’ve done well here in Arkansas for 10 years, and we think the app will continue to expand.”