Decision-makers in politics are not always the obvious leaders. While you can always target the President through the We the People platform, often times Congress or specific Members make the final decision on an issue. Or for ultra-narrow issues, a specific staffer or bureaucrat makes the call.
Further, rarely are political decisions made on a handshake like in the startup world, and even more rare is when a handshake agreement is completed without staff-level follow up. Elected officials are more like a non-executive board chairman than a CEO, as they are symbol as much as executive.
In the run-up to its statement on SOPA, the White House hosted meetings with top executives at record labels (RIAA) and movie studios (MPAA) on the one hand and tech VCs and executives on the other. In the end, they decided to support the latter. That decision resulted in the Senate consensus on PIPA falling apart following the initial collapse of SOPA in the House.
Simple? Not so fast. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made a stand-alone decision based on public outrage several days before the White House moved to announce that even if SOPA was ready for a final vote, he wouldn’t schedule one. Even if the White House had released its statement earlier, Eric Cantor is not one to follow the lead of President Obama.
Who in the tech community targeted Eric Cantor on SOPA?
When it comes to taking effective action in the political space, the best first step is to figure out whose decision matters. It’s not always the person with the most generic political power.
When it comes to the House on immigration, President Obama doesn’t matter—Rep. Bob Goodlatte matters, who chairs the Committee that oversees all immigration bills. Bob is from Roanoke. Virginia Tech is just outside his district, with many students born and raised within his district, and all elected officials know that they need to listen to their districts to get reelected.
So if you need to convince Bob on something that matters to startups, you can start by convincing the excellent Hokie entrepreneurs to become evangelists to bring a local voice to Bob.