Leveraged Lobbying


Zephyr Teachout (former Sunlight colleague and continuing great ally) had an interesting post at techPresident last Friday: airlines have started using mass emails in an attempt to influence Congress. Friday morning, she received an email from United Airlines asking her to visit a petition site, “which asks me to enter my zip code and send a note to my (member of Congress) to ‘Stop Oil Speculation’ and lower energy costs.” Zephyr reports Tracy Russo told her that she received the same email from Northwest Airlines. (I have heard nothing from either of my most frequently travel carriers – USAirways or United.)

Calling it big news, but not in the good way, Zephyr says that it looks like corporations are starting to use their huge databases to try to leverage their users to lobby Congress. She suggests that potentially tens of millions of emails could be generated, since airlines are among the biggest owners of email/databases in the country. She speculates that in a few years we’ll see many more corporations leveraging their databases to advance their agenda. “As someone concerned about concentrated power in any form, this is not a great development,” she writes.

She outlined a theory: “There were three powerful forces in modern society–civic democracy, corporations, and religion–and which ever of these learned how to harness the collective action power of the internet would, in effect, win–would define the basic framework for society for generations to come.” She says that one hopeful sign is that corporations have been slow to leverage the Internet for collective action. “They’re getting faster,” she warns.

A disturbing trend. And I wonder where the lobbying is reported.