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April 21, 2014

Startup Launches Legislative Prediction Engine

George Leopold

A Washington, D.C., startup is touting an analytics platform that sifts through state and federal legislative data to predict whether proposed bills will actually become law.

was founded by two college students looking for ways to aggregate government legislative information in a way that would make it easier to search and analyze. Their first product, Prophecy, aggregates legislative data for all 50 states and the U.S. Congress.

“Our tool tracks whether a bill will get to the voting floor and the likelihood that it will pass into law,” Jonathan Chen, FiscalNote’s chief technology officer, told the Washington Post.

Less ambitious platforms like the THOMAS search engine developed by the U.S. Library of Congress have long provided updates on the status of federal legislation. The search tool named for the third U.S. president required specific search terms like a bill number. However, it made no attempt to predict whether a bill would clear the House or Senate.

FiscalNote’s founders claimed they have managed to aggregate federal and state legislative data on a single platform using standard data techniques. This approach would make it easier to search and analyze legislative data in order to gauge the chances of passage.

Prophecy provides an overview of proposed bills that includes an analysis of the bill text, industries that are likely to be affected and legislative committees with jurisdiction. “We map out which legislators will be most likely to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Chen explained.

Among the earlier investors in FiscalNote is entrepreneur Mark Cuban. FiscalNote launched the Prophecy platform in December 2013 and claims a growing list of clients. “Our biggest challenge as we grow quickly is scaling up on the operation side,” Chen told the Post.

The startup’s founders said they are targeting businesses competing for government contracts that require them to monitor the progress of state and federal legislation. The tool tracks bills from introduction, legislative committee hearings and “mark ups” where bills are amended, committee votes and floor votes.

In attempting to predict whether a proposal will become law, the tool provides data on which political party holds the majority in Congress or a state house and, for example, whether a legislative proposal has bipartisan support.

Among the industries FiscalNote is targeting with the prediction engine are financial services, government relations consultants, agencies that must ensure compliance with new state and federal laws and academic researchers. Prophecy is being promoted as providing clients with real-time government data and analytics.

FiscalNote said it is selling access to the Prophecy platform on a tiered subscription basis.

While the predictive tool is likely to prove more useful in tracking state legislation, it may initially come up against a political reality in Washington: divided government. The U.S. House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans while Democrats hold a slim majority in the U.S. Senate. That makes it far easier to predict the fate of the vast majority of bills without the need for data analytics: Most will fail.

That could change if Republican gain control of the U.S. Senate in mid-term elections this fall.

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