How do you turn technology nerds into political experts? That’s the question being asked by Engine Advocacy, a group dedicated to getting “tech startups, entrepreneurs and technologists” involved in shaping public policy.
The goal of Engine Advocacy is “to give entrepreneurial people and businesses a voice in the Washington policy arena that they haven’t before,” according to co-founder Michael McGeary.
The group has a stake in a variety of issues, including an open Internet, intellectual property rights, privacy laws, broadband access, spectrum reform and immigration reform. (Why immigration? Engine Advocacy wants a “startup visa” to make it easer for people to come to the U.S. to innovate.)
Engine Advocacy has no registered lobbyists working for it. Instead, the organization seeks to teach Silicon Valley about Washington, D.C and to give technological innovators “action tools” for getting involved with public policy.
“Most people realize it’s not good enough as an entrepreneur or startup CEO to take the feeling of ‘let me do my job,’” says McGeary. “I come from the political world, I’ve worked on a couple of campaigns and I’ve come to Silicon Valley and I’ve been heartened to talk to so many smart people that are saying ‘ok, let’s figure out how to do this so we don’t have to be passive all the time.’”
McGeary says his organization is a “loosely formed coalition” that’s growing “quickly by the day.” The idea to start the organization came before SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) became the hot-button issues of the day, but according to McGeary, they were the sparks that “set the building on fire,” so to speak.
“What we thought was a good idea in the Fall turned into ‘we have to do this right now.”
“What we thought was a good idea in the fall turned into ‘we have to do this right now,’” says McGeary. “[SOPA and PIPA] were a galvanizing moment.”
Engine Advocacy isn’t just trying to educate tech innovators about Washington, it’s also doing the reverse. The organization is making an effort to educate politicians on technology and Internet issues.
“We’ve met with several members of congressional staff,” says McGeary, singling out Sen. Moran of Kansas.
“(Sen. Moran) and his staff are really committed to tech issues and wanting to get more education about them and trying to find ways to legislate in more productive ways. We’re young in the Senate, but together there’s power in injecting these two communities and I’ve been glad about that.”
With SOPA and PIPA gone, what’s the next big fight for Engine Advocacy? We asked McGeary if ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) was on Engine Advocacy’s radar.
“Yes, but it appears to be mostly complete at this point. We’ll keep our eye on it as it rolls out, however, to see what implications there are for tech business going forward,” he said.
“We’re keeping our eyes on (SOPA and PIPA), of course, just in case they make a stunning, election-year comeback from being mortally wounded,” says McGeary. “Beyond that, we’re now taking some time to build and strengthen our organization and begin rolling out our legislative priorities for 2012, as well as beginning to develop campaign strategies looking toward the Fall. We’re looking at things like Startup Act and spectrum coming down the pike fairly quickly, but also beginning to beef up our web presence and policy research to be ready for the next fights as they come along.”
Do you think it’s a good idea to get tech experts and innovators involved with the public policy process? Sound off in the comments below.