SOPA Opera

The Internet Needs Its Own Lobbyist: Kickstarter Clone Raising for Anti-SOPA Cause

We the People, meet We the Lobby.

wethelobby The Internet Needs Its Own Lobbyist: Kickstarter Clone Raising for Anti SOPA CauseOver the past two weeks,  staffers from HUGE, the Dumbo-based digital agency, have been at work on a different kind of interactive campaign. Yesterday around noon, a skunkworks team made up of software engineers, interaction designers, information architects, and more finally unleashed their side project on the world: a platform called We the Lobby that “makes the United States political system available to the 99% who can’t afford a lobbying group.”

“I put it up and I immediately went to sleep,” Sankho Mallik, a web developer and primary instigator for the site, which is unaffiliated with HUGE, told Betabeat.

We the Lobby works by allowing users to pool together micro-donations for political causes. As the accusation goes, Washington only listens to lobbyists, so why shouldn’t you get one of your own?

The whole project grew out of the rabid anti-SOPA threads on Hacker News late last year declaring the legislation preposterous. But rather than take the angle of the lively Mother Board piece, “Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works,” the folks behind We the Lobby took a page from Clay Johnson’s rebuttal, “Dear Internet: It’s No Longer OK to Not Know How Congress Works.”

Unlike some of the tech community’s attention-getting anti-SOPA efforts, We the Lobby’s understanding of the political process seems to give their initiative a clearer direction for how to be heard on K Street. One of the team members, Adam Dunn, for example, is a JD who spent time at a law firm in DC with a lobbyist wing and acts as the site’s legal advisor and lobbying contact.

Kickstarter’s guidelines prohibit “charity or cause funding,” but like Kickstarter, We the People offers better incentives the more you contribute and won’t charge you unless the desired goal has been reached during a set time period. In the interim, a service called Stripe stores credit card information.

There’s always something in the ether during an election year, but this political cycle seems particularly fecund. YouLobby, a crowdfunding site for lobbying, was supposed to launch in October.  And last month, Jumo and Facebook veteran Chris Hughes announced his next project, Cloud Tiger Media, an engine for spreading progressive ideas.  But Mr. Mallik said the idea was not to create a “silver bullet,” but rather raise awareness using their technical skills.

Currently, there are two causes being featured on We the Lobby: one for opposition to SOPA and PIPA and the other to raise money to support Bernie Sanders proposed Constitutional amendment to ban for-profit corporations from campaign spending.

Although there is also a form for users to submit their own causes for inclusion on the platform, ideally they would be related to a current bill being debated in Congress, as that is where lobbying is likely to make the most impact. The ultimate goal, said Mr. Dunn, is to partner with “liberally-minded lobbying shops, former senators” or anyone skilled at grassroots lobbying.

Although We the Lobby wasn’t built under the company banner, you can expect similarly creative side projects when Huge Labs rolls out this quarter. The company said it plans to launch its own incubator/initiative where employee ideas can be launched and developed with the goal of keeping employees from jumping ship if they have a good startup idea. Think of it as a variation on “If you build it, they will come”—If you let them build it, they won’t leave.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com