“Two more U.S. Secret Service agents are resigning over a scandal in Colombia involving prostitutes, the U.S. Secret Service on Tuesday.” - Reuters, 4/24/12
A great conversation happened today around a table in Manhattan. Though there was probably more than one great discussion in the city, the conversation we are referring to was an event called Hacking Society and hosted by Union Square Ventures, a venture capital firm in New York.
The discussion centered around how networks are transforming our economy and society, and what this means for the future of innovation, competition, regulation and policy advocacy.
Around the table was a who’s who of thinkers, business leaders and thought leaders spanning across various sectors of education, business and government, including Jeff Jarvis (CUNY Journalism), Lawrence Lessig (Harvard Law School), Rep. Jim Cooper (TN), Tiffiniy Cheng (Fight for the Future), Craig Newmark (Craigslist), Yancey Strickler (Kickstarter), Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures), John Perry Barlow (Electronic Frontier Foundation), Alexis Ohanian (Reddit) and Luigi Zingales (Univ of Chicago Booth School of Business).
While a number of subjects were touched upon – who are the “leaders” of systems like Kickstarter or Reddit and how markets change/adjust/stay the same around the evolution of these systems – a poignant topic for us at skimmerhat and for, seemingly, everyone around that table in Manhattan was the subject of money in politics.
SOPA and the protection of the Internet and its networks was at the forefront of the discussion (traditionally, tech people are not the most likely to lobby), but it inevitably traveled down the road of the influence of money and Super PACs in D.C.
Then, Lawrence Lessig dropped the stat that was likely the most tweeted sentence of the entire discussion. He referenced a study that showed 196 Americans gave 80% of all Super PAC money in 2011, which equates to .000063 percent of all Americans.
It’s stunning when put in those terms, and it certainly stunned many of the people in Manhattan.
The discussion then turned to, “Well, how do we solve it? Do we create coalitions? Do we actually lobby to get money out of political races? And how do we engage citizens and cause change through all of this?”
It got a little heated at times and, like many things in life that deal with people, there is no one absolute answer. But when you are talking about ambitious and experienced minds, that isn’t enough.
We at skimmerhat believe we are building a network that – along with the help of others fighting the same fight – can make a difference in the political system when it comes to this discussion.
Your instant reaction may be, “Skimmerhat says it is dedicated to finding and funding candidates based upon ideology. One of your main initiatives is funding, how can you get money out of politics?”
We believe the answer to the problem begins at the bottom with individual citizens, not at the top with lobbyists and D.C. insiders.
Build a non-partisan platform that includes all Congressional candidates, regardless of party affiliation or district lines.
Allow voters to intuitively find candidates based upon location or the ideas that are important to them. Maybe it is the environment or maybe it is regulation, with an issue like Citizen’s United. Or maybe it is a number of issues/pillars of the ideological spectrum.
When voters find candidates who believe what they believe, encourage them to take action and donate.
Stress to voters the importance of holding candidates accountable after they receive their support or donations.
Make the entire process as transparent and open as possible, when it comes to the issues, the matching process, the donation process. Everything.
Now, here’s why:
When a network is built where voters can intuitively educate themselves, take action and hold politicians accountable all while supplied with the openness and transparency they expect, change will happen.
If Americans want money out of politics, marching on D.C. is a good start. But finding, supporting, donating to and voting for the representatives that will make that a reality will be far more effective in the short-term and the long-term. We don’t believe that is just a line to promote skimmerhat, but the truth of the situation.
This is our current political system. We have to start somewhere.
Today’s Hacking Society talk revolved around networks that transform previous ways of doing things, turn them on their head and allow people to use them in new ways that create new markets. But it’s not as if old networks disappeared over night, transformation had to start somewhere.
Just like us.
A large, well-connected and informed base of voters and small donors can transform our government, whether it is in relation to Citizen’s United and money in politics or any other issue(s).
But it must be accomplished from the bottom-up through a movement of individuals who need an outlet. We think that is clear.
Skimmerhat itself won’t change the way our country is run, but it will provide a network for Americans to keep a firm grip on the controls.
We are excited to find out.