Happen to be discussing with Colin over at e.politics about blogrolls, and he points out an excellent blog called Dr. Digipol, of which I have not seen before. I begin reading it, and alight upon this post about CapWiz’s testing of email advocacy tools in communicating with members of Congress. In reading his post, I came upon the following passage:
… But the important issue here is not which software vendor is better at jumping through Congress’s hoops. It is that Congress is creating hoops in the first place.
If Congress is flooded with more constituent email than it can handle, it should increase its resources to handle it, not figure out ways to block constituent email. Efforts to block email will only give advantage to the larger, better resourced advocacy software vendors over the smaller ones. In essence, Congress is perpetrating anti-trust behavior by creating uneven market advantages for some vendors.
Worse, the barriers erected by Congress are obstructing real constituents from petitioning Congress via email. Consider that one office implementing the Logic Puzzle saw an 80% drop in email coming in through their servers. There is absolutely no way that all 80% of those emails were SPAM. Even the most generous estimates are that about 10% of emails flowing into Congressional offices are SPAM. The rest of the blocked email represent citizens denied their First Amendment rights.
The problems that need fixing are clear, and they are not the responsibility of the software vendors or the advocacy community. They are Congress’s responsibility. First, Congress must provide itself with the necessary resources to handle constituent email. In the last 5 years, constituent communication to Congress has increased 4-fold. In the past 25 years, Congress has not increased its staff or administrative budget. Further, instead of having a Congress-wide standard for email, each office is flying solo, free to choose its own system, its own subject headings for incoming email, etc.
If Congress is committed to constituent services, then it would create an environment that welcomes constituent communications and effectively processes them when they arrive. When that happens, there will no longer be any issue about which grassroots advocacy system is better at delivering email to Congress.
And what was even more surprising was the backlash it begat at Democracy in Action (where the testing methodology was not effective in handling DiA’s processes, and getActive’s request for the effectiveness numbers that Colin posted from the study to be taken down.
Interesting to see something like this performed, and amusing to see CapWiz be the leader of the bunch. Personal amusement was Convio and Kintera’s numbers, if only for the fact that they did not make a stink about the test themselves.