Good Insights into Washington Lobbying

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Tim O'Reilly
Aug. 02, 2003 04:13 PM

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This slashdot interview with lobbyist Reed Morgan is a great tutorial on how Washington works. It matches my (admittedly limited) experience lobbying on software patents.

I especially like Morgan's opening appeal for techies not to be so quickly dismissive of the Washington lobbying scene: "I am certain every reader can think back to an example of having a non-tech person make a disparaging, off-the-cuff comment about something which they clearly don't grasp....Most Slashdot readers prize themselves on being knowledgeable, especially about tech issues. Many readers depend on knowledge for their income. Yet on issues involving the government, these same 'knowledge workers' treat politics like the technophobes treat computers."

While I believe that corporate interests do have an undue amount of influence in Washington, this isn't a matter of corruption so much as it's a matter of paying attention to the people who pay attention to you. I saw this so clearly when I visited Washington a few years back. I think my visit may have made a small impact, but it was clear to me that it would be nothing like the impact of someone like Bev Selby, the lobbyist with the "Alliance for American Innnovation", who was in their office every other week telling them the opposite, that we need software patents to protect small inventors.

There's a lot of great food for thought in this interview. But that opening quote was the best. It's always good to remember that most people want to do the right thing. As Lao Tzu says, "I find good people good, and I find bad people good, if I am good enough" and "Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you." As the tech community tries to engage more with politics, it's best not to start from a position of hostility, but instead to bring our ideas and vision to the table, working systematically to make our point of view persuasive. There's a lot of good, practical advice here on how to have an impact, as well as thoughtful commentary on many of the key policy issues affecting the tech community.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., thought by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world. In addition to Foo Camps ("Friends of O'Reilly" Camps, which gave rise to the "un-conference" movement), O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the Web 2.0 Summit, the Web 2.0 Expo, the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, the Gov 2.0 Summit, and the Gov 2.0 Expo. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar, "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim's long-term vision for his company is to change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators. In addition to O'Reilly Media, Tim is a founder of Safari Books Online, a pioneering subscription service for accessing books online, and O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, an early-stage venture firm.