CQ Roll Call Group
There have been several shakeups and reorganizations among the big boys of political technology in recent years, and Capitol Advantage was no exception.
"Was" is the operative term here because Capitol Advantage is no more: The purveyor of CapWiz and Knowlegis software was bought by Roll Call Group in 2008, and then, in 2009, Roll Call Group bought CQ.
As the companies continue to reorganize, says Brad Fitch, vice president for client services, resources should start to merge together. Bill summaries written by CQ staffers should become available in software that comes to the organization from what once was Capitol Advantage, for example. More and more data — such as a directory of congressional legislative directors or upcoming congressional town hall meetings — could be available to users of CQ software, Fitch theorizes.
As one of the corporate behemoths in the political technology realm, CQ Roll Call Group has gobs and gobs of data, agglomerated across all the properties it has absorbed en route to becoming the entity it has become. Over time, the organization's goal will be to make it easier for data that was formerly only available to clients and staff of one subsidiary to be known, and available, to people affiliated with any aspect of the corporation.
From a client's perspective, Fitch figures, this is one of CQ Roll Call Group's greatest competitive advantages: Paying for this company's services should come with access to its vast amount of data, and the ability to infer facts — about legislation, about voters, about elected officials and candidates — from that data thanks to being able to look at it all at once.
Coming to CQ Roll Call Group from what once was Capitol Advantage are two pieces of political software, CapWiz and Knowlegis, that are designed to help organize advocates around legislation and to glean insight from data about Capitol Hill, respectively.
CapWiz, at its heart, creates the ability for an organization to create a "contact your legislator" style page. Constituents can then fill out a web form on that page, click a button, and CapWiz will seek to deliver that message to legislators via the web forms on each legislator's own site.
"[The] U.S. Congress has started throwing up a lot of new, for lack of a better term, barriers," Fitch says.
He was talking about CAPTCHA tools, add-ons to web forms that require the entity filling out the form to do some simple math or write in a code printed on an image in order to prove that the entity filling out the form is a human being rather than, well, CapWiz software. (Though that's not how anyone from CQ Roll Call Group would put it.)
If you were an advocacy organization, CapWiz software would help you set up a landing page on your website where constituents can write a note to their legislator in keeping with your message. CapWiz's e-mail blast tool allows you to announce the existence of this page, or some other type of "take action" page — CapWiz can also do basic online fundraising, says Fitch — and track which people click the link to go there. What the CapWiz development team does is try to stay ahead of the CAPTCHA tools so that people can continue to write their notes on your website, with its helpful prompts to stay on-message, rather than the legislator's.
By Fitch's count, as of January 2010, about 100 members of Congress used CAPTCHA and other technologies to prevent software like CapWiz from filling out web forms on their web pages.
This, says Fitch, is CapWiz's core strength: Finding ways to get constituent messages to legislators, tracking those delivery rates, and improving on them.
"CapWiz made a strategic decision that they're going to be an advocacy tool," he says. "They do advocacy better than everybody else."
Part of that is a company representative on Capitol Hill, working to make sure that congressional staffers treat messages coming in through CapWiz as constituent communications and not spam.
For instance, CapWiz can take a constituent's ZIP code, use that to figure out who that person's legislator is, and then pre-fill the appropriate web form with a message tailored to that legislator's voting record on the issue at hand — the "Thank You/Spank You" approach, as some others call it.
It can generate legislator scorecards, lists of bills and votes to watch, and other advocacy tools.
The flip side of the software coin is Knowlegis, which started out as a constituent relationship management system for big organizations and lobbyists to track their interactions with elected officials. That's largely what Knowlegis still is today, but with twists: For example, the software allows access to what CQ Roll Call Group claims is an exclusive, complete database of upcoming town halls held by elected officials. (That database is also available to people who use the highest tier CapWiz product, CapWiz-XC.) CQ Roll Call Group staff track comings and goings among legislative staff to keep an updated list of who's working for whom, and Knowlegis can issue alerts whenever there's staff turnover, such as when a specific member of Congress gets a new legislative director, Fitch says.
Knowlegis' relationship management tools allow a larger organization to track every member's interaction with legislators and legislative staff, the hope being that record will allow the organization to understand and make constructive use of connections on Capitol Hill. And with analytics, users can track voting records, co-sponsorhips, and signatures struck to "dear colleague" letters, according to Knowlegis' website.
Through Knowlegis, says Fitch, you can build a list of targeted staff and then send an e-mail, with your organization's branding, to that list.
- The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents uses Knowlegis, in particular a browser toolbar add-on that allows quick lookup of elected officials, to get quick access to legislator profiles.
- The National Association of Children's Hospitals uses Knowlegis' Capitol Messenger service to send targeted communications to legislators, among other products.
The American Farm Bureau Federation uses Knowlegis' town hall listings and the CapWiz e-mail and action alerts systems to get their constituents to town hall meetings, armed with talking points and ready to engage with their legislators across the country, according to a video testimonial by a federation staffer on Knowlegis' website. With the CapWiz system, the federation can then solicit feedback from members about what their elected officials said during the meeting. The federation takes that information into account when crafting its message, via its lobbyists, back to those lawmakers.
With add-ons like a federal database and separate state affiliate sites, Knowlegis' cost could exceed $10,000/year but starts at $595. CapWiz basic federal or state service is $2,500/year . Setup fees depend on complexity of setup; no charge for training.
Automotive Free International Trade PAC; Campaign for Working Families