EDIT: That's all the time I've got today - thank you all for your questions and everyone who read through!

I'm the founder an CEO of Pillars, Inc. and an attorney licensed in California. I realized a few years ago that "economic elites," (i.e. the top 1%) have a disproportionate impact on policy and legislation because they can pay for lobbying. Ultimately I ended up building a platform to let ordinary people crowdfund to lobby for particular changes they want to see in the law over the last few years.

My day-to-day is largely spent interfacing and coordinating campaigns and potential campaigns with influencers, business owners, and nonprofits to galvanize ordinary citizens towards accomplishing change. Since lobbying is a heavily regulated industry we've had to familiarize ourselves with the intensely complex statutory systems both at the Federal and State level, especially when working with 501c(3) nonprofits (who cannot engage in "extensive lobbying") per code. As an attorney I also occasionally advise on compliance and liability issues across a broad spectrum of industries and circumstances.

Ask me anything!

PROOF: https://imgur.com/a/9FNqt5Q

Comments: 92 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

claire039 karma

Wouldn’t taking money completely out of the equation be even better? It is crazy to me that this is where we are.

Luke_at_Pillars36 karma

Great question and thanks for asking!

Ultimately, yeah, that would be better.

But the Supreme Court has determined that political donations and lobbying (paying for someone to go convince members of Congress for you) counts as "free speech" under the 1st amendment.

So after a lot of back-and-forth in my own head about it and talking with former law school professors, I decided that the answer isn't taking a certain type of speech away from a certain group, but providing access to that type of speech to everyone else.

LMK if you want clarification or I missed anything!

impressthenet23 karma

Free speech should apply to living human beings, not corporations.

Luke_at_Pillars31 karma

I agree!

Legally it's kinda complex, but the short answer is that the Supreme Court ruled that for purposes of the 1st amendment corporations are "people" because they're owned and operated by groups of people (shareholders and directors), and groups of people still get 1st amendment rights even through the organizations they own and operate.

impressthenet20 karma

Well, that’s probably about the best explanation of that SCOTUS decision that I’ve heard. :) Thanks. (Doesn’t mean I agree with it, and I still feel it was a flawed decision. Hoping the proposed constitutional amendment will succeed.)

Luke_at_Pillars16 karma

Well thanks! I'd encourage you to do what you can to get support for the proposed Constitutional Amendment going, whether through Pillars or another medium. Democracy only works when people like you (and me) make themselves heard.

throwaway9016178 karma

Also the "corporations are people" thing really comes from the fact that the legal system prefers to adapt existing law to new situations rather than create all new parallel legal theories for each situation.

Since corporations take on some of the duties that an individual would otherwise do the courts created what they call a "legal fiction" where they treat corporations as if they are people (while knowing they literally aren't) so they can more readily adapt the existing laws that apply to people to the corporations and then adjust as needed from there.

Luke_at_Pillars3 karma

Also this!

kembik5 karma

So you're want to give me billions of dollars so I can be on equal footing with my 'speech'. So Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and myself can all have equal impact on the decision to bomb foreign countries into oblivion. How righteous my dude.

Luke_at_Pillars22 karma

This is a "laugh because funny but cringe because kinda true" response.

I'm including a link to a study by some professors at Princeton and Northwestern that essentially concluded that the U.S. is an oligarchy, not a democracy.

Would you choose to "bomb foreign countries into oblivion?" My guess is no. But it's good for a lot of companies' bottom lines, so that's what our gov does sometimes. I personally believe that governmental decisions should first serve the will of the people, not corporations. Pillars is what I've built to try and accomplish that change.

Thanks for your question, sarcastic as it was. It's an important topic.

kembik2 karma

I see, so you're all for putting more money into politics but think that it gives corporations too much influence so to fix it we should keep that system and just give politicians more money than the corporations do.

I see it as legalized corruption. It seems that a 'if you can't beat em join em' stance may be helpful in the short term but overturning the citizens united ruling is, in my opinion, the only chance we have at saving our democracy.

Luke_at_Pillars11 karma

Thanks for your thoughts!

I see your point, but what do you think the likelihood of that happening is? And how much will it take everyone involved in the process to vote against their own self-interest?

I’m not saying don’t advocate for that - I’m saying in the meantime let’s actually try to work with what is while working for what could be.

kembik-2 karma

I do think we can overturn citizens united and that the political will would be there if more people were made aware of the situation. Corruption is something voters on both sides of the aisle can agree on. We have many elected members of congress who support this, but we need more and a way to do that is make the voters aware of the issue so that the politicians will be more receptive to it.


Luke_at_Pillars6 karma

More power to you! Ultimately I don't think it will be successful but I've been wrong about a lot, so who am I to stand in your way? Good luck!

bz0hdp2 karma

Just the abstract of that study was so depressing to read.

Luke_at_Pillars2 karma

I know. It was a big motivator for me in founding Pillars.

bz0hdp2 karma

I know you're facing quite a bit of skepticism and criticism, but I think what you are doing is phenomenal, forward thinking, even through the scrutinizing lens of Effective Altruism.

Are you looking for volunteer contributors in any way? I'm an engineer and marketer, with a passion for dealing up my charitable volunteer work. Pillars could also try to get roles posted on 80,000 hrs' job board.

Luke_at_Pillars2 karma

Thanks so much! And I appreciate the affirmation. Education and overcoming skepticism are our two biggest hurdles for sure.

The best thing anyone can do to help out right now is share and subscribe to Causes they're passionate about. We need people to really take the initiative in trying to make change on their own. If you're interested in discussing further please DM me and we can set up a zoom or phone call!

FinancialTea45 karma

I want to know why I can't feed my family with the words that fall out of my mouth if money is speech. Seems like we're being bent over a barrel. Sort of a piss on my leg, tell me it's raining scenario.

Luke_at_Pillars8 karma

You’ve got a way with words!

Short answer is SCOTUS decided that conduct can be speech (think kneeling during the national anthem) in certain circumstances, and giving money to a political candidate is such conduct.

_vibrate_2 karma

But the Supreme Court has determined that political donations and lobbying (paying for someone to go convince members of Congress for you) counts as "free speech" under the 1st amendment.

lol, America is absolutely fucked by their stupid amendments and how they are interpreted.

I guess eating pizza is free speech too, and so is anal sex, and badger baiting. Anything is free speech really, if you really want it to be.

Luke_at_Pillars2 karma

Oh man you’d love law school

TheUnweeber2 karma

Would it be effective to lobby for laws that take lobbying and bribery money out of politics?

Luke_at_Pillars1 karma

That’s up for debate, but I personally think no. Because who would you use to lobby for that? Lobbyists, who profit from the current system. Who would you lobby to? Congresspeople, who rely on lobbying to connect with their constituents and political donations to get into office.

Arguably instituting congressional term limits would eliminate the need for constant fundraising, but that’s also a complex issue.

Thanks for your question!

Cheddar_Bay2 karma


Luke_at_Pillars9 karma

I feel like I captured that when I said "Ultimately, yeah, that would be better."

Chocolateogre18 karma

In general, what keeps other countries from lobbying? What’s different in the US that allows it?

Luke_at_Pillars14 karma

GREAT question. The answer is it depends on the country, and the (few) that don't have a regulated system still have lobbying but they just don't call it that.
There are a couple differences in how it plays out though. Take the EU and UK for example - many countries don't elect individual politicians, but vote for a party and the party shuffles out which officials are in which positions (this is a very broad oversimplification).
Those unelected officials then do their best to govern and garner favor with as many groups as possible, so they listen to lobbyists from everyone but (largely) don't need to worry about getting donations for reelection, so they're more likely to spend all their time trying to find a balance of effective policy and legislative changes that pleases the most people.
Again, great question. Please let me know if I need to clarify anything or missed a point!

Chocolateogre11 karma

Thank you for your answer! So, basically US politicians are like private businesses that sell promises, while EU politicians are like subscription services, where you don’t know exactly what you’re getting? (Sorry if this is cringy to read, I’m slightly prejudiced against politics, and am dull in the matter)

Luke_at_Pillars17 karma

Oh man that's a great analogy! I'm a sucker for a good metaphor.

Kind of - the EU politicians have policies and stances just like US politicians, but my understanding is that they promise an approach and mindset alongside specific promises.

Luke_at_Pillars14 karma

Quick comment in light of the front post page that cites a Gallup poll that the vast majority of Americans disapprove of Congress - as of October of 2021 lobbying has reached an all-time high in regards to its efficacy - per an APCO study.

Source: https://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/business-a-lobbying/577359-lobbying-groups-effectiveness-hits-new-high-in-2021/)

vxsqi5 karma


Luke_at_Pillars10 karma

Having the name Luke is only really hard to manage in the sense that so many people (as I'm sure you've experienced) say some variation of "use the force" or "I am your father" on a daily basis.

Managing the Pillars job is hard in the sense that any scrappy startup company is hard - you don't know what will be successful until it is, and getting there requires a ton of trial and error which inherently carries a great degree of self-doubt and wondering if it will all be worth it.

But I believe that any effort that tries to make the world a better place is worth it, even if it doesn't ultimately hit the mark.

mooji65 karma

If I'm already donating to charities I care about, what added benefit is there in crowdsourcing lobbying?

Luke_at_Pillars9 karma

Great question and thanks for asking!

In short: control.

Most people don't agree with 100% of what any given organization does or how they operate. Even if you agree with the entirety of an organization's mission, you might not agree with how they go about accomplishing it (e.g. too much public awareness and not enough direct action, or too many political donations and not enough public awareness, etc.)

The other downside is unfortunately a fair number of charities or nonprofits end up lining the pockets of their executives and only using a portion of the proceeds they receive to serve the mission (after all, payroll doesn't count as "profits").

With Pillars, subscribers to a particular Cause collectively decide how their pooled money is spent, and Pillars effectively just administrates the account. Our subscription fees and the fees for the Cause are kept separate, so subscribers get control over how they want to accomplish their mission rather than just trusting an invisible board of directors.

LMK if you want clarification or I missed anything!

Wetnosedcretin5 karma

How is lobbying legal? Why is it not a bribe?

Luke_at_Pillars11 karma

Great question and thanks for asking!

Here is a link to a pretty good article explaining the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which is one of a couple Supreme Court cases in the last few decades that really changed how money and politics worked/what's "ok."

The short answer to your question is that lobbying is just paying someone to go and try to convince members of Congress to vote a certain way. Those lobbyists are typically people with some kind of connection, direct or indirect, to those members of Congress (family, friends, old colleagues, current staffers, etc.) This makes sense for a number of reasons, but psychologically we tend to listen to people who are close to us that we know and trust, even when it's our actual job to listen to other people. Also logistically it's impossible to give due attention to every single group in a given district, especially when there are tens to hundreds of thousands of people in that district. So lobbying is how Congresspeople filter out whose opinion gets more attention and whose opinion gets a 15-30 minute sit-down with the Congressperson or their manager.

Political donations are technically not lobbying, but are permitted "speech" under the first amendment, at least according to the Supreme Court.

These two "separate" acts are performed concurrently, and Congresspeople know that if they want more donations to their reelection campaign (and don't want donations going to their primary opponent), then they need to give special time and attention to the people and groups who make those donations.

So, it sounds like a bribe because it kinda sorta is. But technically it's not. But also short of completely removing money from politics it's here to stay.

But getting money out of politics would require everyone who directly benefits from that system to go against it.... which I find unlikely.

Please let me know if I need to clarify anything or I missed part of your question!

GamerZetta3 karma

I’m sorry, but this is worded misleadingly. Lobbying isn’t always bad and it isn’t just trying to get a certain vote for no reason. For example, a congressperson might not know much about the operational challenges of upgrading electric transmission lines or about the science behind vaccine development. Lobbying is the vehicle for those industries to explain their point of view and (hopefully) help our congresspeople make better informed decisions. Congresspeople are typically lawyers and, no offense, but lawyers aren’t experts in anything except maybe some aspect of the law. Also, you can get lobbying meetings without making donations.

Luke_at_Pillars7 karma

Hi GamerZetta, thanks for your comment!

First, I didn't say that lobbying is always bad nor did I say it's bad at all - in fact the company I made is all about providing people with access to lobbying!

Second, you're correct! Lobbying is an incredibly useful tool. But it is also true that lobbying takes place concurrently with political donations very often, especially when large corporations are involved. Please don't misunderstand and think my point is that lobbying is this lurking evil we need to regretfully use for the good of the realm a-la Boromir and the One Ring. It's a neutral tool that many people misunderstand and categorize as "evil" because of the aforementioned concurrent political donations. Part of the Pillars mission is to change that perception!

Hope that clarified what I meant and gives a bit more insight.

Wetnosedcretin2 karma

Sorry I'm late out reply but thank you, I appreciate your reply.

Luke_at_Pillars1 karma

Of course!

Chonky-Bukwas5 karma

Would your average person be better off donating to lobbyist groups instead of politicians?

Luke_at_Pillars13 karma

Great question!

It depends (lol lawyer talk) on what you mean by "better off," which I would change into "what are you trying to accomplish?"

If you're trying to get a particular person into office, then no - donate to that politician's campaign and more power to you!

If you're trying to accomplish targeted and specific change, then it's probably better to try to make that change happen specifically and directly rather than through the politician (unless that politician is all about that specific change, then it's a 2-birds, 1-stone situation).

But studies show that lobbying is just crazy bonkers effective, far beyond any other method of advocacy.

Let me know if I need to clarify or missed a point!

adidasbdd4 karma

So we already know that corporate interests supercede public interests almost every time. What would be the best way to flip the script on this system so that our government works more for "us" rather than for the interests of, as James Madison put it "the opulent minority"?

Luke_at_Pillars7 karma

I mean personal opinion is the mass adoption of the platform I made… just my take anyways.

problembundler3 karma

Hi Luke,

What’s preventing someone or an organization from creating a DAO specifically for lobbying?

Luke_at_Pillars4 karma

Hey thanks for your question!

Legally? Not a lot. Functionally it's complex and there is a lot of regulation.

Pillars (https://pillarsofus.com/) is a platform I built which simplifies the process for ordinary people who want change. You subscribe to a specific Cause for a few bucks each month and Pillars pools all the subscriptions for that Cause and goes and pays for lobbying. With your subscription you pay for exclusive community access with other subscribers, and collectively you vote and decide how the money is spent. Pillars then (so long as it is legal and in line with the Cause mission) goes and spends it that way. We're a C-Corp incorporated in DE, though a 501c(4) organization could theoretically accomplish a similar thing but there are a ton of hoops to jump through.

Lobby3 is a DAO created by Andrew Yang, Zach Graumann, and others formed around lobbying for Web3 regulatory structure in a way that preserves the integrity of what they believe Web3 will be. They're unaffiliated but their mission is similar in spirit and more focused. Think of them as a whole organization centered around a single Cause on Pillars.

Does that answer your question? I kind of rambled.

problembundler4 karma

I like your platform a lot and will be potentially using it.

Luke_at_Pillars5 karma

Glad to hear it! Don’t forget to also vote and protest and write your congressperson and all the other traditional means of engagement as well.

[deleted]2 karma

I'm so so glad you've started this. This has been an idea in my head for a long time, but I don't have the background or skills to execute it. Huge fan of what you're doing and will definitely be getting involved! I feel very passionately that this model is a huge step forward. My only question is are you hiring? My expertise is scrappy (getting a lot done with a low budget) b2c marketing.

Actually, I have another question. How many subscribers do you need for a cause to get a lobbyist working on it?

Luke_at_Pillars1 karma

Thanks so much!

WowSuchInternetz3 karma

What are the mechanisms of lobbying that make it an effective method of getting legislation passed?

Luke_at_Pillars9 karma

Great question! There are several. The non-exhaustive and generalized list is:

1) it’s easier to listen to and empathize with someone in your office who is super knowledgeable and passionate about a given issue than thousands of people who write/email/call and ultimately get reduced to a check mark on a spreadsheet; 2) many lobbyists have personal connections with congresspeople (friends, family, former colleagues, etc) and psychologically we tend to trust those people more than others; 3) many lobbyists come with pre-written proposed legislation that makes it super easy for the congressperson to do their job; 4) sometimes/often lobbying happens concurrently with political donations, and there’s an implicit understanding that the donator will continue donating if you help with legislation they like/support, and will donate to your opponent if you don’t.

WowSuchInternetz3 karma

Thank you for answering my question! My biggest concern would be; how would I know if a particular lobbying effort has stalled or ceased to be effective? In other words, is there a failure condition for these campaigns?

Luke_at_Pillars3 karma

Of course! Thanks for asking it.

So we will provide updates on what’s being done each month/quarter with each fund depending on how each community is choosing to direct spending. Lobbying firms already provide these updates and we will both pass them along and make user-friendly summaries.

There isn’t really a failure condition once you have enough to pay for some degree of lobbying, because even starting conversations with congresspeople and getting the ball rolling is a success.

When causes don’t get enough funding after a few months for sustained lobbying then we approach the group and say hey, you’ve raised this much money, it’s not enough for sustained lobbying, how do you want to proceed? Then we give a few options like public awareness, limited and short-term lobbying, etc. The y’all vote and we follow that.

Hope that covers it! Let me know if you want more clarification.

eusttman2 karma

Overall is lobbying a positive or negative phenomenon?

Luke_at_Pillars2 karma

Hmmm. I would say it’s neutral and just depends on how it’s used.

Is a hammer a positive or neutral phenomenon/tool?

loganp80002 karma

Sooo, the alcohol and Ag Industries are lobbying the powers that be to stop federal legislation of cannabis?

Luke_at_Pillars2 karma

Historically they have done a lot, yes!

ColdIceZero2 karma

Hi Luke.

I love the premise of your organization. My question is about its capabilities.

Since lobbying is a heavily regulated industry we've had to familiarize ourselves with the intensely complex statutory systems both at the Federal and State level, especially when working with 501c(3) nonprofits (who cannot engage in "extensive lobbying") per code.

I'm inferring from your statement here that your team does not have a lot of experience with lobbying (or at least did not have a lot of experience with lobbying prior to engaging in this venture).

What experience, political connections, or process knowledge does your team have in the lobbying industry that gives your platform a competitive advantage to accomplish your donors' goals over other more established lobbying firms who may be lobbying for matters that are adverse to your donors' goals?

Luke_at_Pillars3 karma

Thanks for your question!

So, the experience and knowledge consists of a large variety spread across our executive and operational staff and board of directors in the form of direct experience both lobbying and consulting with lobbyists at the state and federal level over the last decade or so.

Second, we hire lobbyist firms directly and utilize their long-standing connections rather than relying solely on our own (at least, we will once Causes reach funding).

I’m sure you’ll notice I’ve been intentionally vague, and that’s because some of our staff and board of advisors have asked that they not be named publicly in settings like this. I’ll say I personally know a number of politicians, lobbyists, and staff members of politicians which I won’t name drop because it’s… well, lame.

But thank you for your question!