Two recent T.C. Williams School of Law graduates, Samantha Biggio and Heidi Drauschak, launched CrowdLobby to give the everyday person power in the political lobbying process.
CrowdLobby was started as a way to pair the lobbying industry with a crowd-funding model.
After interning at McGuire Woods LLP during a legislative session of the Virginia General Assembly, Drauschak began to realize the disconnect between the effectiveness of the lobbying industry and the accessibility to the general public, she said.
“I kept thinking, ‘Why couldn’t you take this industry that already exists and democratize the client and the people paying for it?’" Drauschak said. "After talking to Sam, we realized that crowd funding had become so popular and people were starting to see that if everyone gives a little bit, together you can be a very powerful force.”
CrowdLobby's website features numerous campaigns and an option for anyone to submit a campaign.
After the campaign is submitted, it has to pass through CrowdLobby's three-tiered vetting system.
Criteria for a campaign are that the proposal cannot be discriminatory in nature, the problem has to have a specific legislative fix and there has to be polling or public data to show that 51 percent or more of the general population or the affected population is in favor of the proposed legislation.
“The campaigns come through the site, and as long as they meet that criteria, they go up," Drauschak said. "So any part of the team’s personal feelings about policy is completely negated as far as what campaigns we choose."
Once a campaign is put up on the site, members of the public are able to contribute to the issue. Each issue has a monetary goal.
“Once [the campaign] reaches the critical mass of funding, we as CrowdLobby go and hire a lobbyist to represent whatever issue it is," Biggio said. "Ideally, we will send some requests for proposals to a number of lobbyists and then the crowd will actually get to select the lobbyist, and then we’re just hoping that there’s going to be communication between the lobbyist and the people who have contributed so that they get access to the whole process.
"In terms of facilitating the whole process, we’re taking that resource that already exists and bringing it to people who wouldn’t have ordinarily been able to access it."
For University of Richmond students, it is very easy to get involved. You can become part of the crowd by giving as little as a dollar, submitting issues or being part of the ambassador program.
“It's really important for college students who feel passionately about an issue and aren’t really sure how to get involved," Biggio said. "And so the idea is just ... you can become an ambassador for that issue, and we’ll send you information and some other things that help in that process. Then you really just then go and try to explain it to your peers. You could host events, maybe table at an event on campus. Even if you just become an ambassador and get 10 people to contribute, that's still a huge success for one of these issues."
Along with voting in the upcoming midterm elections, Drauschak and Biggio are rallying to get people involved with politics and voice their opinions.
“There’s a lot of anger and a lot of anxiety about what’s going on," Drauschak said. "Voting is super important, and it’s a way to show your voice, but a lot of times people lose power after election day because at that point, regardless of which party you’re from, a lot of corporate and special interest groups step in after election day and start lobbying on all sides of the spectrum.
"Voting is absolutely important and election day is important, but it's important for us to have power after that, and I think that's where CrowdLobby has an interesting opportunity to actually make a difference. We’re really hoping that people see that and are willing to join a crowd and hopefully start to move some legislation."
Contact features writer Allison Walters at firstname.lastname@example.org.