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Who is congress.org?

So in the previous post, I debunked the draft rumor going around. I figured I’d do a little more poking and find out who was running Congress.org, the origin of the rumor. They do pretty shoddy research, whoever they are.

No big dramatic reveal here, alas. Congress.org is owned by a company by the name of Issue Dynamics Inc.. They’re a political consulting company that focuses on liberal causes; they’re big on grassroots, which explains why they’re running Congress.org. It’s presumably an effective means of encouraging people to generate letters to Congressmen.

They also do a lot of what they call “relationship management.” This translates into introducing companies to activist groups who have a common interest. Here’s a case study illustrating how they work. Here’s another, with a less positive spin. It’s a clever piece of work: IDI raises money from corporations, and gives it to activist groups with a good image, who then run ads with the money. It’s money laundering for lobbyists.

IDI says that groups like the Grey Panthers (in the second example) are only doing what they’d do anyhow if they had the money to do it. This is a reasonable defense, if you think that money never convinces anyone to do something they wouldn’t normally do. Hm.

Disinfopedia has a list of clients up; it includes both progressive organizations and big businesses.

None of this connection shows up on the Congress.org website, by the by. The trail there leads to a website called Capitol Advantage, which boasts:

No other company has delivered more messages to Congress. When your organization needs to step up and influence legislation or public opinion, we’re the only ally you’ll ever need.

I’m not sure that connection’s much better. It makes it pretty obvious that Congress.org, rather than being a benign public service web site, is a tool for making Capitol Advantage money. In the Congress.org FAQ, I noticed that the Congress.org “Action Alerts” are generated by web sites that subscribe to Capitol Advantage’s Capwiz service. And hey! The draft rumor was in fact… just another Action Alert!

So that explains where that came from. It was just someone paying some money to put a bogus story on an important-looking web site.

3 Comments

  1. Ben Ben

    hot, steaming, and up to the minute.

    however, if you look at the front page of congress.org, you may see that there are a great deal of stories in its “soapbox” section, such as the old tinfoil hat “FEMA CAMPS” story, a litle kid getting shot in israel, and various other pieces of indymedia.org style agitprop by homeless people in libraries. the soapbox column is open to the public, and yes, it is used to advertise congress.org’s webservices. The actual “news items” inside it, however, have little to no grasp on reality. there is some actual use to the front page, tho, lots of different bills and their status.

    it’s interesting that this story caught everyone’s attention, i think it is because people are so terrified of bush doing something ridiculously stupid and horrible if reelected, like declaring a unilateral war on everyone . . .
    oops he already did that. an interesting piece of disinformation, just the same.

  2. britgeekgrrl britgeekgrrl

    Wow! Great post – and thanks for those links, they’re very informative and interesting. First moveon.org shot itself in the foot, and now I find out they’re hardly unique. Now I’m curious to learn more about the extent of “money laundering for lobbyists” – which I suppose was the point of your post in the first place. 🙂

  3. This is a response to your post (months ago) about Congress.org and the draft rumors on the net.

    First a disclosure – I am head of product management at Capitol Advantage, the company that runs Congress.org.

    Draft Rumors – the draft rumors didn’t start on Congress.org. They just ended up there and lots of other places after a concerted campaign by someone to spread it around. Many people used our Soapbox feature to sound of about it.

    You wrote: “So that explains where that came from. It was just someone paying some money to put a bogus story on an important-looking web site.”

    The Facts: Alerts are posted to Congress.org and our media network by organizations that use our Capwiz service. We have more than 1200 groups (large and small) that use our software to post alerts to their own sites. A side benefit is that they can post them to our media network, too. The media network includes AOL, Yahoo!, USA Today and many other sites. Our clients range from the far left to the middle and the right. We are a non-partisan organization.

    Soapbox Alerts are posted by anyone who wants to. The fee is $4.95. It’s not exactly a big business.

    Our Company and Congress.org – Capitol Advantage runs the site, not IDI. Though the domain is still registered to them, they have absolutely nothing to do with it. Capitol Advantage has been running it for more than seven years.

    You wrote: “It makes it pretty obvious that Congress.org, rather than being a benign public service web site, is a tool for making Capitol Advantage money.”

    The Facts: The revenue genjerated on the site does not come close to covering the cost of running it. The purpose of the site is to give people a voice, and to serve as a test bed for new products that we do sell to associations, unions, non-profits and others.

    Congress.org IS a public service. 99.9% of it is free and many people have been using it for years to comunicate with elected officials, candidates and the media. We are proud of what we do for a living. We are dedicated to helping indivuals and groups get their voices heard by elected officials. This years we helped hundreds of thousands of people register to vote, and millions to get informed about issues at the local, state and national levels. We care deeply about this country and hope to help make it better by making it easy to be an informed citizen.

    Yes, we are a business. We have developed a sustainable business model that continuess to make this data available to regular people. We have no apologies for that. On the contrary, we are quite proud of it. We have seen many simlar sites set up as non-profits go by the wayside when their funding dried up.

    There is no “money laundering for lobbyists” going on here…no conspiracies…no hidden agendas…just a small company contributing to the economy and the civic engagement.

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