Tech Influencers Take to Capitol Hill
Three days ago I participated in a special outreach campaign. Specifically, I was part of an effort to mentor various members of the U.S, Congress (in both the House and Senate) in issues concerning technology companies. I took part in a full day of meetings on Capitol Hill, organized by the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), an organization with which I have been associated for more than 10 years and on whose board I now sit.
I met with many elected officials' staff, but also had meetings with members of Congress. I have participated in an ACT "fly-in" before but, even so, I was once again exhilarated with the experience of engaging members of Congress so directly.
The participating ACT membership split up into five groups, roughly defined along geographic lines, such that each group was matched with its own members' elected officials. All in all, the ACT membership met with the offices of more than 30 Representatives and Senators, from both major parties. We carried forth important messages about cloud computing, net neutrality, intellectual property, taxation of carried interest and its impact on funding of tech startups, and more.
The good news? The ACT delegation was respectfully received, and members of both parties seem very cognizant of the importance of small technology companies to the economy. Everyone listened to us attentively, many took careful notes, and several seemed interested in working with ACT in the future, in order to understand tech issues better.
The bad news? Many, though not all, members of the Congress, including those who have significant influence over legislation affecting the industry, remain ignorant of many aspects of technology. It's a bit frightening, to be honest, and as good as the fly-in was, it certainly didn't resolve the problem.
That problem will only be solved if and when our participatory democracy enjoys, well, greater participation from the tech industry. That's a tough order because, in my experience at least, most technology entrepreneurs tend to be cynical about government, and politics too. In fact, there seems to be an intractable paradox: those who need to educate elected officials most are those least likely to believe that they can. Given how busy techies are, and their corresponding need to triage their time, political activism often gets ruled out.
Where does this leave us? I am not sure. But I would encourage people to get involved, on a trial basis, and here's why: everyone who I have seen try, including those most skeptical, become excited, engaged and much more optimistic once they've been through the process. And the next such convert could be you.
ACT maintains an office in Brussels and lobbies the European Parliament, as well as the U.S. Congress. If you're a tech entrepreneur or executive in the US or the EU, consider joining ACT and getting involved. Participate in one fly-in. If it doesn't change your outlook, so be it. But I bet it will, and I bet you can make a concrete difference in laws that affect your business, and you.
Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 06/21/2010 at 1:15 PM