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A lot of Americans feel frustrated that Congress isn't responding to massive problems, like climate change, and they don't know what to do to get their representatives to do something. Some donate to campaigns. Some try big public protests. Some bring their kids to confront a senator about it. Billy DeLancey says he's got a more effective way: Hire a lobbyist.
DeLancey founded Lobbyists 4 Good after watching how Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign was about to capture mass enthusiasm and raise tons of money through small donors. After a few tweaks to his idea, he settled on this system: People can submit a proposal for an issue. If it raises $5,000 in 100 days through crowdfunding, he'll hire a lobbyist for one month to take the issue to Capitol Hill.
"Hiring the people who have the relationships is so much more effective than just handing over a contribution," DeLancey says of influencing members of Congress. "You have to work the system of the individual offices and build those relationships there's really no other way to do it."
He was working recently with Laura Reese, a vegan climate activist. She'd felt like she was "voting with [her] dollars" by buying plant-based foods instead of meat. But it didn't seem like enough, especially given how much greenhouse gas livestock farms pump into the atmosphere. So after finding DeLancey talking about Lobbyists 4 Good on Reddit, Reese reached out.
She originally wanted to end all agriculture subsidies. But the lobbyist they hired, Ron Young, said that was taking on too much. Young honed Reese's proposal to a pilot program that would offer grants for farmers to switch from raising livestock to growing plants.
"I've never liked the megaphone approach," Reese says. "I think if you stand on a street corner, you just seem like a crazy person. It's much better to have conversations one-on-one." But having those direct conversations in Washington was frustrating at first. In their first meeting, in a congressional office, Reese was reminded that members of Congress can only act on things in the jurisdiction of their committees, and that she needed to tailor her appeals based on that. "I walked out and I was pretty blue," Reese says. "And Billy was like, 'That was a good meeting.' I'm like, 'We're all going to die.'"
They had 34 other meetings with Congress and staff, some of them encouraging. Young drafted proposed legislation — which, yes, really is how legislation often gets written. Now he's hunting for a co-sponsor. "We're now in the process of just looking for those members that we can get on board," Young says.
In a meeting, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer seemed to agree with Reese's ideas, but noted the farm bill — massive legislation with a lot of agricultural subsidies that Congress takes up every five years — had just passed in December. He made another suggestion that seemed to hint at the difficulty of getting Congress to act, asking Reese, "What are you doing with celebrity chefs?"
Reese wasn't super happy — she thought Blumenauer didn't sense the urgency of fighting climate change. But DeLancey was more optimistic.
"Having him agree to the theory of the pilot program in front of a staffer then gives him the green light to go ahead and do the legislation," DeLancey says. "That is required to actually get this written into law."
This segment originally aired March 19, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.