The CrunchGov leaderboard is our first attempt at helping public officials and technologists understand how closely Congress’s voting record aligns with the expressed interests of the technology industry, especially those in the consumer and Internet space.
As a nascent industry, businesses in technology have not had the same time to develop networks of trust with policymakers in Washington, D.C.. For instance, during testimony on SOPA, only one company, Google, stood on a panel opposing the legislation, even though it was widely opposed by near every technology company. While each member of Congress does their best to have a respected pool of advisors, it is clear that experts in the technology industry are an underrepresented voice.
Thus, we wanted to design a place where well-intentioned public officials could learn more about how the overwhelming majority of consumer and Internet businesses felt about certain policies. As a result, we do not rank congressmen on privacy, cybersecurity, or net neutrality, because during our investigation, we found broad disagreement over those issues.
Additionally, some Congressmen, because of their occupational backgrounds or natural interest in science, have stood out as distinctly informed voices. More than not, these congressional experts avoid supporting poorly crafted technology bills. For instance, in a spirited discussion on SOPA at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2012, Representative Darrell Issa gave nuanced testimony against the legal and technological issues of the bill, based on his experience personally dealing the relevant international agencies as a former engineer. Representative Marsha Blackburn, for her part in the discussion supporting the bill, seemed unable to go beyond the basic talking points. We thought it was important to highlight those in Congress who seems to be the most informed and engaged with the technology industry, especially for when the most technologically savvy officials all seem to agree on a particular issue.
Last, technology should be as useful to the market as it is to the democratic process. Those Congressmen who find innovative ways of making the government more transparent and participatory show a willingness to expand the social impact of the technology industry. As a result, those congressmen who are responsible for opening government with technology increase their grade.
The ranking is our best attempt at reflecting what are the generally agreed upon policy interests of the technology industry. We also wanted our ranking to be as quantitative as possible, therefore we chose voting record as the primary measure.
For the 112th Congress, we ranked on three bills: voting for H.R. 3012 – The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, no co-sponsoring H.R. 3261 – Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and voting for H.R. 3606: Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act.
Grades represent the probability that a member of congress’s voting record will be consistent with the consensus interests of the technology industry. A “B” signifies a member of congress who always voted with the industry. A “C” signifies occasional alignment and a “D” signifies rarely or never in alignment.
Voting records don’t capture all of ways a congressmen can be influential, yet we believed it is important to identify those policymakers who are stand-out tech champions or tech threats. In some cases, these members are well known. Rep Darrell Issa, for instance, is a frequent topic of newspaper articles on tech policy, has received numerous awards and accolades from the industry, and is responsible for many open-government initiatives in the House. Conversely, Rep. Lamar Smith introduced SOPA.
Some influencers prefer to work behind-the-scenes. To unearth hidden influencers, we asked the tech lobbies to indicate congressmen who they thought were both helpful and a hindrance for the industry.
After we compiled a shortlist of potential “A”-listers, we personally spoke with each member in a short interview to assess their technological knowledge and willingness to champion tech issues.
We first set out to find which bills tech companies cared about most, by scouting which bills the major technology firms were lobbying for in Congress (official lobbying records are disclosed on the Senate’s website, here). Immigration, tax reform, SOPA/PIPA, STEM education, crowdfunding, and net neutrality emerged as consistent interests.
Tax reform and STEM education were cut from our measure, since there was no meaningful legislation passed (or proposed) in the 112th congress that had wide enough support to rank a sufficient number of Congressmen.
We then asked the major technology lobby groups and businesses with an established presence in Washington, DC to fill out a survey on their policy positions related to the four bills mentioned above on immigration, net neutrality, crowdfunding, and SOPA/PIPA. Using a popular online survey tool, respondents answered a multiple-choice question on 4 pieces of legislation.
Only the Internet Freedom Act, an anti-net neutrality bill, didn’t get 100% agreement from all respondents, so we were left with 3 bills.
Starting with the next Congress, will update our list of bills as they are submitted for consideration.
Those groups were TechNet, The Internet Association, and Engine Advocacy, which collectively represent most of the Industry we regularly write about.
We would like to in the future. Unfortunately, the “do-nothing” congress made it impossible to rank the Senate, because they didn’t pass enough bills related to technology policy (the House barely passed enough).
To our knowledge, there has been no effort to find a representative sample of technology companies from which we could survey their policy positions. Since the technology industry is still quite new, only a handful of companies even have staff dedicated to policy, let alone offices in DC with a public address.
Nor could we have randomly sampled tech companies and asked their opinions on certain laws. Survey respondents are notorious for “overclaiming” knowledge, often giving opinions on laws that don’t even exist [pdf]. The only reliable sample could only have come from policy experts.
As a result, the best available way to get a representative sample of policy beliefs in the technology industry was through a widely used technique in social science known as “snowball sampling,” which is a “a special nonprobability methode for developing a research sample where existing study subjects recruit future subjects from among their acquaintances.” Our policy writer, Gregory Ferenstein, developed extensive ties over the last year and reached out to his immediate and indirect contacts to get an exhaustive look at which companies had policy experts and which issues they cared about.
Because snowball sampling has a high probability of bias, in the future, we would like to find probabilistic sampling methods to get a better representative picture of the policy beliefs of technology companies.
Due to this limitation, we chose to grade conservatively, and only evaluate on bill that had near 100% of agreement with those respondents who filled out the survey.
There is no such thing as neutrality on a moving train. Congressmen either help or they do not. On occasion, a congressman may be absent for a vote, but nonetheless still have an official position. Staff members from those offices who would like to change their “absent” standing should email Greg Ferenstein at GregF [at] techcrunch [dot]] com. Let us know what your position is, and given that there is no evidence to believe your stance is disingenuous, we will change your grade.
Email Greg Ferenstein at GregF@techcrunch.com. We strive to continually improve CrunchGov.
If anyone has questions about the ranking, please email Greg Ferenstein at the email address above. We will do our best to make this section as clear as possible.