DisruptDC was founded in 2016 by Sarah Bonk and Chris Catterton. Bonk is a former Apple senior manager and pro bono consultant to nonpartisan political reform organizations. Chris is a debate coach and consultant who met Bonk while volunteering on a government reform project. In January 2017, former White House aide Charles Kolb joined the organization as its president and CEO. Kolb brings a 25-year track record of public policy advocacy, including his 15-year service as president of the business-led Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan think tank founded in 1942.
Funding comes from individuals, corporations, and private foundations. We welcome support regardless of political affiliation, and we strive to balance the political orientation of our funders. DisruptDC will not seek or accept government funding. Our funding sources will be published on our website soon.
DisruptDC is incorporated in Washington, D.C. and also has a team in San Francisco, California. Our growing team also includes advisors in New York City and Florida.
DisruptDC is governed by its board of directors. Given the board’s small size, the board also serves as the organization’s executive committee. We are growing the board to not more than 15 members. When the board is larger, we expect the board to appoint a smaller executive committee. DisruptDC will also have advisory committees to guide its work, starting with a Policy Council and a Technology Council.
Our country’s dysfunctional political system blocks progress on most of our nation’s public policy priorities. This lack of progress — in areas such as education, health care, infrastructure, tax reform, and employment — harms the business climate, the overall economy, and the public interest. While there are many voting, campaign finance, and government reform organizations working to address this root issue, there hasn’t been adequate involvement from the business sector. That’s why we decided to create DisruptDC.
As the only business alliance focused exclusively on nonpartisan, structural reform of government and elections, DisruptDC has a unique opportunity to catalyze political change. By creating a platform for business engagement and making the economic case for better government, DisruptDC increases the odds of achieving meaningful reform.
Our work is inspired by the concept of “positive disruption” that has become common parlance in the business sector. For us, positive disruption means challenging the dominant forces in a market in a way that serves the public interest. It also means making a big difference in the status quo rather than small, incremental change. While it may be uncomfortable at times, it is disruption that drives society forward. Change is inevitable, so our choice is to disrupt or be disrupted.
Disruption from external forces can be chaotic and risky. We become reactive, lose control of our direction, and put ourselves at the mercy of others. We prefer to be proactive, take ownership, and drive change. And if anything in America is ready for positive disruption, it’s our government.
We’re here to disrupt the status quo in American politics that results in ineffective government: hyperpartisanship, gridlock, lack of trust in our elections and lawmakers, outmoded technology, and ineffective policies and regulation. But we’re not here just to fix a broken system; we’re here to build a system that really works for both business and the public.
Our agenda is to upgrade government from end to end: voting and election reforms; improving how public policy is made; and bringing better technology, data, and management to government. We believe that improving the way government works will lead to better policy choices and a stronger economy.
DisruptDC’s approach to driving political change, distilled from political experts, is based on three essential factors: 1) leadership from elected officials, 2) engagement from groups at the national, state, and/or local level, and 3) some galvanizing event — a crisis or even a scandal — that demonstrates to American voters why the issue matters directly to them.
By advancing reforms at the state and local level,s we will build momentum for national change. And by establishing the business case for better government, we will encourage elected officials of all political affiliations to drive these issues forward. We are working to build an influential nationwide political organization to create opportunities for change and ensure that they are successful.
DisruptDC makes change happen in three ways. First, we give business leaders a platform to drive policy changes at the local, state, and national levels. Second, we advance technology and data science that can improve the way government works without passing new laws. Third, we’re building bipartisan consensus on the need for better government by adding a business voice. Through events, research, PR, and other forms of public outreach, we will make the case that addressing our political dysfunction is an urgent economic priority.
DisruptDC is the only business league dedicated exclusively to nonpartisan structural political reform.
There are many other nonprofit advocacy organizations working for political reform, some of who present business arguments for change. There are also several business leagues who include campaign finance and other political reform within their larger policy agendas. We’re excited to fill a unique niche and partner with these aligned organizations to advance government and election reform.
DisruptDC is a nonpartisan organization that has no partisan political affiliations, associations, or leanings. In order to be effective, we avoid the partisan political fray to focus on advancing the best policies based on their merits. As much as possible, we work to engage members, supporters, and donors from across the political spectrum to advance bipartisan proposals and prove that fixing our government and elections is best for all Americans.
As a small startup, we select policies by conferring with our board of directors, business supporters, and experts in the field. It is our primary objective to select impactful policies that stay true to the vision we outline in our open letter, “Upgrading American Government: It’s Not Rocket Science.”
In 2018, we will launch our Policy Council to bring a more systematic and rigorous approach to policy selection. The Policy Council will draw from our board of directors, business membership, and trusted partners in the policy world. The Policy Council’s focus will be to advise our board and staff about the organization’s overall policy focus and identify opportunities where DisruptDC can have a significant impact.
DisruptDC does not take a stance on any policy outside of structural governmental reform (e.g. tax policy) and will not support reforms that are partisan in nature.
DisruptDC does not endorse political candidates from any party.
DisruptDC is neither pro- nor anti-Trump. Our focus is exclusively on nonpartisan structural reform of our government and elections. DisruptDC’s origins date back to 2013, long before Donald Trump was elected president.
Although the expression “drain the swamp” is catchy, it doesn’t point to any specific solutions to address the many problems in American government and elections.
By contrast, the DisruptDC agenda targets the root cause of government dysfunction using proven solutions that are ready to implement today. The three pillars of our structural reform plan will reform the way people are elected to public office, improve the policymaking process once they assume office, and deploy technology and data to help them get better results.
Structural reform focuses on process, such as how elections are run, what lobbyists are permitted to do, how regulations are written, etc. Improvements to these laws and regulations are the nonpartisan structural reforms on the DisruptDC agenda.
Some public policies address substantive issues, i.e. laws that affect people and businesses directly, such as tax law, education policy, and health care. DisruptDC does not take positions on these topics. Instead, we’re focused on creating a better environment to have these debates.
Whether the term is used for official purposes or informally, the core purpose of lobbying is to persuade public officials. It’s natural that anyone affected by laws and regulations — businesses, individuals, nonprofits, trade groups, religious groups, unions, and others — would want to influence the process and encourage decisions favorable to their interests.
We support everyone’s right to lobby their representatives. At the same time, we recognize how current rules compromise the independence and impartiality of elected officials. Our policy agenda includes a number of reforms to tighten lobbying rules, improve enforcement, close the “revolving door” for lawmakers, and more.
As a 501(c)(3) organization under fiscal sponsorship, our policy-advocacy work through lobbying is strictly limited. Instead, we educate business leaders who may advocate for public policies and technologies in our agenda. We plan to form a 501(c)(6) for our political work in the future, and we will do more direct advocacy at that time.
The American business community can be a powerful force for driving change and for disrupting existing policies and practices. As grassroots organizations work to advance political reform, our business coalition can help by demonstrating why these reforms are vital to the nation’s business sector and economy. Our unique economic message and diverse coalition of business leaders are key to bridging the country’s current political divide and getting critical reforms into place.
When we formed DisruptDC, it was clear that there were no business organizations focused on political reform. We remain the only business alliance focused exclusively on structural improvements to voting and elections, policymaking, and how government works.
Elections are the key to holding our representatives — and by extension, our government — accountable. Therefore election reform is foundational to making government efficient, effective, and accountable. To be an effective check on power, our elections must offer voters meaningful choices and be accurate, auditable, and safe from cyber threats.
Partisan gerrymandering, for example, has resulted in a system that favors incumbents and drives both major political parties to nominate candidates with more extreme political views. This has made compromise and consensus not only harder but, in the eyes of today’s hyper-partisans, a sign of political weakness. In such an environment, little gets done. This is just one example of how election reform is critical to achieving sound business and economic policy.
We have the good fortune to know many business leaders who are tired of our country’s broken politics and would rather compete in the economic marketplace than in the political arena. These men and women are DisruptDC’s leaders and drivers of change.
Businesses come in all sizes, and business leaders have political viewpoints as diverse as our nation. Not all businesses support or benefit from the way government is run today. Those who recognize that political dysfunction is dragging down the economy also know that their civic engagement can make a difference.
Not every business leader, of course, will want to join DisruptDC. The businesses that are focused on their own short-term interests instead of the larger business climate and long-term public interest may have no interest in changing the current political landscape.