The startup culture, like many subsets of industry, is very unique. The vernacular, pace of business and even the dress code are far different from many other corporate settings. When comparing startups to our current political machine, they couldn’t be more different.
Startups are lean, agile and flexible; government is bulky, sluggish and rigid. The populous’ distaste for our current political system can be seen in the decline in our voter participation, and more recently in an outright rejection of establishment politicians. Regardless of the why and how, we must acknowledge that we are currently burdened with a Congress that is viewed as unfavorable by 72 percent of Americans.
The majority of politicians are cognizant of this distaste and are looking to specific issues to try and curry favor with their base. The most recent issues being trumpeted by both sides are immigration, campaign finance, abortion and climate change. Politicians are elected to take positions on issues and advocate for them, but there is inherent conflict of interest in those same politicians trying to extensively disrupt the political machine. For instance, take congressional salaries, term limits and post-congressional benefits; no politician will ever vote to decrease their own pay, shorten their political career or modify their benefits after office. So how do you change the taste if you can’t change the ingredients? Maybe, change the way its cooked and served.
Startups are known for being lightning fast and transparent in their methods. This is largely because the practices they utilize have been battle tested and proven to be effective. I’m not throwing parliamentary procedure under the bus, as it is a necessary ingredient, but let’s repackage the ancient governing rules in a more transparent and open platform.
How do we (citizens) know when a new piece of legislation is put into committee? Who put it there? What amendments were attached and who attached them? The current process for citizens to unearth this information is laborious to the point of disinterest for most people that aren’t journalist or policy wonks. When the millennial generation matures, we will look at the political mess not as a problem, but as an opportunity. There are a million digital platforms for project management that allow transparent tracking of tasks and assignments through its various stages. Why can’t we have this for legislative initiatives? We can, if we look to lean startup methodologies to build it.
For the most part, Americans think money in politics is an issue.
A CBS News poll from May 2015 found that 84 percent of Americans feel money has “too much influence” in political campaigns, with 85 percent feeling it needs either fundamental changes or a complete rebuild. But its not really the dollar amount that irks people, it’s the way the money impacts the politicians, and the notion that cash trumps my one measly vote. I also think money has too much influence, but rather than limit contributions, I think the desired effect could be achieved if you made the financing process and records more transparent.
For instance, I referenced the ability to know who attached an amendment to a bill as it transitioned in and out of committees earlier. What if when you saw who attached the amendment, you could see who financed their campaign with one click? This small and seemingly meaningless modification could have a massive impact on our body politics.
Take fracking in Oklahoma. If a bill prohibiting fracking within 5 miles of residential properties was presented and a representative attaches an amendment that strips down the restriction from 5 miles to 300 yards, wouldn’t you want to know if a fracking company funded that representative’s campaign? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the facts to hold an elected official accountable in such instances? We could have the best tech minds in the country competing, building a transparent platform that was built by the people, for the people.
The convoluted political process we have today is indeed broken, but not beyond repair. It is going to be up to the millennial generation to disrupt the processes we currently adhere to, and create a more functional and scalable system that better serves the people. Then and only then will we have the political engagement that this great country deserves. Whether its campaign finance, legislation tracking, registration or voting, we can and should use our technological advances to reconstruct more lean, efficient and scalable political processes.