For The Record

Lobbyists can get a bad rap. Many see them as a way for wealthy donors to further their own interests. But a group of Richmond Law students is working to rethink the industry and get average citizens a seat at the table.

Heidi Drauschak, L’18 and GB’18, Dillon Clair, L’18, Samantha Fleming Biggio, L’18, and Sam Garrison, L’18, founded CrowdLobby on the premise that it shouldn’t take deep pockets to influence the government.

Instead, donors give small contributions — no more than $500 — to an issue they care about and collectively fund a lobbyist to advocate on their behalf.

Think of it as Kickstarter for politics.

“People demonize the lobbying industry, but at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily a bad system,” Drauschak says. “The government has to go through an enormous amount of material, and professional, educated people are advocating for certain things. The difference is, if corporate and special interests have this type of access, we want everyday people to be right there with them.”

CrowdLobby launched with a beta test in Virginia. Users could pick among pre-selected issues — education, clean energy, and more — with clear goals and a history of progress. Now they’re focusing on building the infrastructure for a national crowdfunding platform and a mechanism for keeping interested citizens informed about legislative developments.