“A surge in tax refund fraud and identity theft has prompted the Internal Revenue Service to consider sharing more tax return information with police, a senior official told a congressional hearing on Tuesday.” - Reuters, 3/21/12
We really love introducing skimmerhat and the concept behind it to new people. It is one of the best parts about building a startup, especially in our situation as the startup environment isn’t overloaded with companies trying to improve government processes.
To many we’ve talked to, they think skimmerhat sounds like a cool idea, finding and funding candidates in a non-partisan, non-traditional way. This seems increasingly true among those in our age bracket — between 20 and 30.
However, it is even more fun when we get a chance to speak about skimmerhat with those who have been in the weeds of the political system and have the stories and scars to prove it.
We’ve been trying to connect with as many of these type of people as possible. While skimmerhat is a ‘cool idea,’ we don’t want to get lost in the reality of what we face.
That reality, as was phrased by a former state senator we spoke to, is that we are not entering a sane business. When he said this, he gestured to the fella sitting to his left and said, “This guy, he’s in a sane business. You are not.”
Now, you’re saying, “Of course. No one in their right mind thinks that the government, taken as a whole, is sane.”
And while some people certainly believe real estate, banking or law is insane, government is a different animal. By and large, as Americans, we believe that democracy, and thus our government, is the shining example of freedom, liberty and happiness. No one is saying that about real estate and banking (maybe a few?).
So how can our government — something that so many have pointed to as a model of how to run a country — also be insane?
That is the core of the message our state senator friend was getting to; it’s the belly of the beast. The part that very few want to see, and even fewer really want to fix.
People will come after you, he warned, especially if donations are gained and elections are won from those donations through skimmerhat. Even more so if it seems like a certain type of candidate is prospering from skimmerhat (to be clear, we truly want all candidates including incumbents, challengers, conservative, liberal or otherwise to benefit from skimmerhat) To us, however, that means we will have had an impact on the process, which isn’t guaranteed but is an opportunity we fully embrace.
We are aware (or as aware as you can be without experiencing it first-hand) of the implications of throwing a wrench in the system. In an application to a startup program, it asked “Who are your competitors? And who do you fear most?” We listed our marketplace competitors — some civic startups as well as bundling organizations like ActBlue and ActRight — and then we wrote that we do not fear our competitors.
We wrote that we fear politicians who might strengthen ballot access laws to make it more difficult for independent-type candidates to succeed. We also wrote that we fear gerrymandering, as it already occurs in crafting districts to create easier support and victories for a certain party or segment of people. But, then we wrote that we believe if given the right tools and the power to control our government — as Americans do and always have — citizens will make the right choices to prevent all of this from happening.
Sure, our fears might sound like paranoia, but, remember, we aren’t entering a sane business.
Even with that, though, as we noted, we have faith in Americans if they are given the appropriate tools to work with.
As we build skimmerhat, we believe we are one of the tools that will help form a more engaged citizenry. But luckily, we aren’t alone in making an impact on government in a positive way. Far from it.
There are resources like OpenCongress and POPVOX and OpenSecrets and plenty of others that are pulling open the curtain of government to give it to us, the people. Then there are organizations like Code for America and open data journalists like Alex Howard. The open data and open government/Gov 2.0 movement will supply citizens with the information and access that will educate them and allow them to take action. It will create transparency in a system that seems more muddied than ever.
So, while we know we aren’t entering a sane business, if skimmerhat, along with the others working for a better system, can incrementally improve government processes, we will gladly accept the insanity.
Being idealistic is hardly sane itself.