US Chamber of Commerce, Advocacy and the Internet


I had the pleasure this morning of speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for a panel on Innovative Advocacy (cohosted by Adfero).

While much of the discussion centered on best practices and ideas around (what seemed to me to be) more traditional advocacy, I tried to add some of my thoughts on what might make for more effective non-traditional advocacy and outreach. Speaking in public is always useful exercise for me, and, as is often the case, my thoughts are better organized after speaking than before.

My initial thesis was that the form of our advocacy is determined by the form of our awareness, and that the Sunlight Foundation, by extending the reach of our awareness of Congress, is broadening the field of advocacy opportunities possible for both the public and for traditional advocacy organizations.

Sunlight grantees, and other similarly minded folks engaged in entrepreneurial political Web design are enabling these opportunities to flourish, and Congress is adapting, both as in terms of staff, and as a technological institution.

My advice for advocacy groups could probably be summed up in a few brief points:

  • Simply overloading Congress with email has an upper limit of effectiveness, overloading members of advocacy organizations with similarly excessive appeals has similarly diminishing effectiveness.
  • While re-imagining advocacy is unlikely to replace email anytime soon (as many prefer it when offered alternatives), adding other features to advocacy methods will increase effectiveness (retention, appeal, impact, ability to get attention from Congress)
  • To best affect a legislative information ecology, you should be a part of it.
  • This means taking advantage of Congressional data sources, being databases like opensecrets or opencongress, legislative support agency publications (like CBO, GAO, or CRS), or committee reports. These publications take immense staff effort to create, and they probably get some satisfaction out of people actually reading them.
  • Members of Congress can’t ask you to do their work for them, but, if you’re interested in getting their attention, there’s nothing to stop you from doing it anyway. In other words, you can write legislation, read the House or Senate rules, suggest questions for a committee hearing, or outline arguments or messaging. If someone was trying to do your job for you online, wouldn’t you check to see how well they were doing?
  • Blog Ads are a massively under-appreciated way of reaching specific and involved constituency groups, and well worth looking into. They’re also very very cheap when compared to advertising alternatives.
  • By asking your members to engage with the substance of Congress (and helping them to do so), they’ll more likely be viewed as relevant, and likely to enforce political consequences reinforce good or bad decisions.