Craig Newmark had a good piece yesterday at The Hill’s Pundit’s Blog on how the Internet is reenergizing and redefining representative democracy in America. Called, “The Internet: More than just cute videos of kittens on YouTube,” the piece discusses the tools and innovations that are transforming government and modern campaigning.
One of the tools Newmark mentions is You2Gov.org:
You2Gov.com (sic) doesn’t eliminate the simplicity of the e-mail form letter, but it confirms the constituent’s zip code. Congressional representatives and Hill staffers tell me that messages from verified people in their districts carry more weight than blind e-mails that could be mass-produced. Communications from constituents are read, but form e-mails may not be — confirming the e-mail writer’s location may bring us one step closer to direct democracy.
You must have received, as I have, dozens upon dozens of pleas over this campaign season to sign this or that petition to go to this or that Congressperson on this or that issue. While we all have probably known that a plea to your own Congress member is the one that will get the attention, it may not have been as simple to make that plea until You2gov.org set up shop.
Certainly another tool that has allowed individuals to become directly involved in campaigns is online fundraising. While Howard Dean was arguably the pioneer in this area, Barack Obama has shattered fundraising records through an extraordinary online campaign. September reporting showed that Obama had raised an amazing $150m while maintaining a low average donor amount of $86.00. Private democrats also founded ActBlue, a “PAC allowing individuals and groups to channel their progressive dollars to candidates and movements of their choosing.” It was through ActBlue that bloggers set up the recent campaign to help un-seat Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) after her McCarthy-like comments on Hardball. That particular campaign has raised $127,695.41 (though it’s gratifying to know that anti-Bachmann campaigns have brought in nearly $1m for Bachmann opponent Elwyn Tinklenberg). Grass-roots networking backed up by the green stuff in real time has truly transformed the political landscape.
It can also be argued that bloggers have had an enormous impact on campaigns. The above Bachmann example is one such case where a race could be changed by blogger intiative. As soon as Bachmann made her comments, the video and transcript of those comments went zipping around the ‘net and folks began contributing to her opponent. Those contributions have allowed her opponent to triple his advertising presence and the race has moved from likely Republican to a toss up. From the Cook Political Report:
Bachmann’s comments likely changed the complexion of her reelection race overnight and helped to turn the race into even more of a referendum on her.
Had her comments not had the benefit of instant viral reporting on the ‘net, I doubt the impact would have been as great.
It will be fascinating to watch how campaigns continue to evolve and adapt to the ‘net environment. Stay tuned.