Lobbying in the Age of Analytics

One person’s “education” is another person’s “lobbying.” It has always been thus. But despite a certain definitional elasticity that’s intrinsic to politics, it’s widely recognized that a strong backbone to any effective education/lobbying effort is good information — pertinent data, compelling facts, knowledge of the political landscape over which the battle is waged.

The informational weapons that educators/lobbyists use to arm themselves is eliciting heat amid reports of growing reliance on “insider” knowledge. According to this telling, “operatives” in a “political intelligence industry” are milking non-public tips from Hill contacts, then using the information to alert investors to changes afoot (or not afoot) in regulatorily sensitive economic sectors, like health care.

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“Insider” information doesn’t exactly have a nice ring to it, and folks like the SEC have long had more than a passing interest. But traditional “insider” information pertained to corporate facts and plans, the disclosure of which could affect stock prices. The “insider” information in which political intelligence “operatives” are said to traffic refers to what some view as mere Congressional semi-secrets that clients have long paid lobbyists to verify/rebut. The subject is predictably complex and controversial, sufficiently so that registration requirements for the political intelligence industry were omitted from the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act that Congress, over the objections of Iowa Republican Charles Grassley and two other Senators, recently adopted.

Despite Congressional reluctance to regulate political intelligence “operatives” under the STOCK Act, and whatever one’s views on the underlying issues, larger forces seem poised to shape lobbying’s knowledge base at least as much as any new legislated requirements ever could.

We’ve noted in a previous post that the emerging field of open-source intelligence aims to bring to heel the Internet’s tsunami-like wash of digital content. This new field includes use of technology to size up an informational jetstream too large to be comprehended at normal speed, converting it to freeze frames that isolate the facts and developments needed to understand an issue or make a case. In a word, technology-powered analytics can help tame “big data” by slowing its blur, giving it definition, and teeing up priorities and decision points.

There’ll always be a role for shoe leather in Hill lobbying. But lobbyists, no less than others, can also benefit from “big data” tools, and we expect that increasingly they will.