Lobbying Congress: Advocacy and Digital Empowerment

I'm at the Lobbying Congress discussion panel, which is being led John Wonderlich from the Sunlight Foundation, which emphasizes the use of internet to influence Congress, and Matt Stoller, a political consultant and blogger for OpenLeft. Craig Aaron, the Communications Director of FreePress, is taking the place of Ben Scott on the panel.

Wonderlich mentions that he parlayed his blogging on DailyKos background into a career in lobbying.

Stoller starts by referring to lobbyists as "conservative activists" because they do what activists do, just behind closed doors. He mentions that "we are the only competitive network" to the lobbyist culture in DC.

"Congress is reading your stuff," Aaron mentions, but points out that "the only way to beat organized money is with organized people."

These three men are pretty young -- they look to be in their early thirties -- and all essential, influential voices in DC with Congress. They're not exactly what you think of when you think of a slick lobbyist. Their influence has been not only created but inflated by the Internet.

Wonderlich points out that the problems of the past, where the only good ideas were the ones that could get funded, are easier to circumvent with the internet. Now, the good ideas are the ones that get attention -- for example the power of the "Recommended" articles on sites like DailyKos, where suddenly one person's idea can get attention of tens of thousands of people. He also recommends that when you write about something, even if it's negative, you should send it to the office of the person you're writing about. He also recommends reading committee reports and writing about them, because they're easier to understand and the committee will generally appreciate someone reading what they've written.

Wonderlich also mentions that the Open House Project has a Google group you can join where a lot of discussion goes on about bloggers and advocacy. The Congressional Management Foundation is on there and asked for suggestions on how to make it easier and more efficient to communicate with Congress.

Stoller really has the last word. "We need to confront these people," he says, referring to the likes of Obama and Pelosi, "because if you treat them like kings and queens, they'll act like kings and queens."

How very JFK.

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