We know from high school civics class that participation in elections is our responsibility as citizens. But that’s usually not enough to get more than 40% to 45% of the voting age population to the polls. The platitude “your vote counts” takes on new meaning in light of the fact that not only the presidency, but also control of both houses of Congress, appear to be up for grabs in the elections next month.
From a partisan perspective, it’s easy enough to acknowledge the importance of this since the two parties will propose and attempt to implement substantively different agendas. Regardless of geography, there is a more fundamental reason to pay attention to each Senate and House race. Control of both chambers will be determined by a handful of extremely close elections in different parts of the country, meaning that the majority coming out of the election in either chamber – whether Republican or Democratic – will be razor thin.
This is vitally important since neither party will have a “governing” majority for the foreseeable future. That is, while one party in the House and Senate will technically be in the majority and will choose the leadership and name committee chairs, they will find it extremely difficult to instill party discipline in order to advance their agenda. On major pieces of legislation, individual senators and representatives will have augmented power and influence. With members of Congress showing increasingly less fidelity to their parties in recent years, the leaders of the majority party in both the House and the Senate will continue to see their control slip over what their chamber produces.
Few of us live in districts that are represented by the leadership of either party. Under the large majorities of the past, back-bench members who held little real power were forced to advance the cause of their constituents by towing the party line and then meekly asking the leadership for a budget item here or some other political favor there.
Now those members – perhaps your own representatives or senators – are afforded a great deal more leverage. Their votes are significantly more important to the leadership on more and more bills. Furthermore, given the thin majorities, members – especially ideological centrists – can more easily defy their leadership and cross the aisle to work with like-minded members from the other party in order to advance coalition-based agendas.
It is important to note that this presents us with a huge window of opportunity. The venture capital industry working with entrepreneurs are providing the leadership and vision of the New Economy. The job creation and productivity benefits provided by many technologies we have helped launch have given us unprecedented visibility and access.
In this sense – and more so than ever before – your vote really does count. More importantly, developing a relationship with your congressional representation can help make a difference for the VC industry and your firm’s bottom line. A number of important issues to the industry will come before Congress next year. In order to protect our interests, we will need to develop an even broader base of support from within Congress.
In order to effectively advocate for our interests on a number of controversial issues, the policy staff at the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) will be seeking support from more and more legislators on both sides of the aisle. Tough issues likely to come up include an effort to further reduce the capital gains tax rate to improve capital formation, legislation concerning stem cell research, proposals for further government regulations on the collection and use of online data, congressional review of business process patents, and the continuing attempt of the Financial Accounting Standards Board to eliminate pooling accounting. In short, the government now knows about the New Economy and could get it wrong if we are silent.
NVCA, through its individual members, its staff and its political action committee, VenturePAC, is working hard to develop broad based relationships that will form the foundation of successful advocacy efforts on these issues and more. As the venture industry continues its stunning rate of growth and its impact on the economy becomes ever more apparent, both the need and opportunities to reach out to more and more policy makers grows.
As practitioners and investors, what can an individual member of our community do to help? Get involved locally, at the state level and nationally. NVCA has helped to organize many relationship-building events around the country where venture capitalists are given the opportunity to explain our industry and interests to congressional delegations and other key policy makers. Several NVCA members attended the party conventions this summer – some as delegates. Many are involved in congressional races. Still others are involved in the presidential campaigns.
It is also important for you to personally reach out to your senators and congressional representative in their districts. There is no more effective way of lobbying a member of congress than for constituents, who are building companies and growing jobs back home, to reach out to them in their backyards. The relationships you build back home will help the NVCA do its job in Washington.
And don’t forget to vote.
Floyd Kvamme is a partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers in Menlo Park, Calif. James Cavanaugh is President of HealthCare Ventures LLC in Princeton, N.J. Both are members of the NVCA Board of Directors and serve on its PAC Committee.