A West Wing watching-spree may not be the best reason to choose a company for Startup Spotlight, but it has my head swimming with ways that the internet can improve democracy.
BlastRoots was founded by Washington D.C. mover-and-shaker Chris Hull. Hull spent his career working in politics. He has worked for state and national legislatures, as well as for a national party committee, public policy think tanks, lobbying groups, and public affairs firms. His primary role was to advise organizations of all sizes, from grassroots campaigns to global corporations, on how to best achieve their political aims. He is also an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University.
A few years ago, Hull’s attention began to wander away from from serving special interest groups and towards creating a system where a majority of the population is not unhappy with the way government works. A Gallup poll conducted last year found that satisfaction with the government was at a record low of nearly 30%. Hull believes that these numbers would go up if voters felt they had a greater impact on policy.
“I felt for a long time that someone should automate me out of existence,” Hull said in an interview with VentureBeat. “Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my head and I realized this was made possible by the social networking revolution. It is undeniable that the internet has changed politics by making it easier for people to organize online.”
He left his public affairs job and set out to create a platform that combined the knowledge, resources, and tools of political insiders with the capabilities of internet technology. Hull’s cofounder John Merz previously served as the Director of Technology for the AOL Greenhouse. The men combined their political and technical expertise to create what they believe is the ultimate grassroots lobbying platform.
“In my judgement, there was not a company that took the know-how of Washington and how things actually work, and applied these new lessons of technology to it, opening it up to the public. What we really need is a transparent and open marketplace where people can access these services and use them to participate in the political process.”
Hull said BlastRoots bridges the gap between platforms like Change.org and Causes which are entirely focused on grassroots momentum, and the “enormous but completely subterranean” industry in Washington that influences public affairs for a very high price.
BlastRoots is now in beta. Visitors to the site can create their own campaign using a step-by-step guide, browse existing campaigns to join, or blast out an idea to their social network to incite action. The dashboard offers tools to create a grassroots lobbying campaign, including a customized petition template, a database of email addresses and Twitter handles for directly contacting the members of Congress, customized print-and-send letter templates, and recruitment features. There are also analytical features to track progress, measure impact, and follow up as needed.
The idea is to help people without a lot of expertise, connections or money, change the world. According to an analysis BlastRoots conducted on the political advocacy market, $17.2 billion was spent on federal lobbying, non-profit advocacy, political contributions, and campaigns in 2012. However, while these numbers are high and climbing, the increase is partly driven by relatively small online donations.
“Our view is that spending not only on politics, but on policy – advocacy and lobbying – will eventually flow more and more from ordinary citizens, much of it gathered online,” Hull said in a discussion on Politico. “That’s a promising trend.”
BlastRoots is based in Washington DC. It’s core team consists of 6 people, all dedicated to the goal of a more democratic lobbying system, and the ideal of a more democratic America.
Startup Spotlight is a weekly series that features a company with a unique idea or story to tell. If your company would like to be considered, please submit an application at https://venturebeat.com/news-tips/.