House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has launched a new app on Facebook called Citizen Cosponsor, designed to connect voters with bills making their way through Capitol Hill.
The new platform allows users to “cosponsor” a bill – essentially the equivalent of “liking” in Facebook lingo – and receive updates on its status throughout the legislative process, from committee hearings to votes. There is also a “keep me informed” option, which allows citizens to follow the bill rather than support it.
“We are dedicated to modernizing the way Congress connects with the American people,” Cantor said in a statement. “With the simple click of a button, Citizen Cosponsors will become a part of the deliberative process, using the same social networks they already rely on in their everyday lives.”
Citizen Cosponsor is built on Facebook’s Open Graph, which allows third party developers to create apps that “deeply integrate into the core Facebook experience.”
Matt Lira, director of digital media for Rep. Cantor, says the genesis of the idea came as a challenge to re-think the way Congress can better communicate with the public in this social media-driven age.
“We’re still in beta,” Lira said. “This hasn’t been done inside of government or Congress [yet], and we envision in the future providing opportunities for more user engagement.”
Lira also cited Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) Project Madison, an interactive blogging platform that allows citizens to comment on individual passages of legislation, as an example of the inspiration behind Citizien Cosponsor.
Cantor’s office hopes that the platform will encourage more engagement between American voters and Congress, as well as create a transparent and open legislative process.
“This is about making sure that you are involved,” Cantor said.
At launch, the platform has six bills and only one of those is sponsored by a Democrat, sparking critics to charge that the app is partisan. Shortly after Rep. Cantor’s office tweeted about the app’s unveiling on Tuesday, the press office of House Minority Whip Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) tweeted back: “We like the idea of Citizen CoSponsor, but why did you re-write the bill titles and descriptions in an entirely partisan way?”
But Lira said he “would dispute that characterization.” He added that Cantor’s office is “looking for ways to involve all people in the program,” which means Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters alike.
As of March 22, the bill with the most Facebook sponsorships is the Republicans’ 20 percent tax cut proposal for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The bill is sponsored by Cantor and currently has 935 sponsors.
Other bills included on the platform are the DATA (Digital Accounting and Transparency) Act, the Permanent Hyde Rule (no taxpayer funding for abortion) and Repeal IPAB (the health law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board). The one Democrat-sponsored bill is Green’s (D-Texas) Homes for Heroes Act, which has 269 Facebook sponsors, the lowest number of all the bills.
“On the scale of partisanship, I don’t know if this comes on the heavy end,” Lira said, adding that the app includes Democratic and bi-partisan legislation. “But that’s the typical back and forth of Hill politics. One side does something, the other side throws up a volley, but I’m hopeful we’ll overcome it and succeed.”