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Startups and VCs step up their D.C. game

May 20, 2024
Illustration of a US Capitol dome made out of binary code.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Now that the Senate has put out its AI report, the real influence game on the Hill is beginning as work on bills kicks off in earnest.

The big picture: The biggest tech companies fueling the generative AI boom have been shaping conversations on the technology in Congress for years, but now other parts of Silicon Valley are looking to catch up.

Driving the news: Groups representing "smaller" tech and open-source AI companies don't want to be left behind, and they have big Capitol Hill plans in the coming weeks.

  • Y Combinator and Andreessen Horowitz are stepping up their visits to lawmakers' offices and making the rounds in Washington to push for their priorities, the companies tell Axios.

This week in Washington, Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan will speak at the Economic Club, host a reception with D.C.-area Y Combinator founders and hold a number of Capitol Hill meetings.

  • The company wants to promote remedies to increase tech competition for smaller players to enter the market, and AI policy that promotes open source and forces bigger firms to be interoperable.
  • Startups are a massive force in AI development, Y Combinator plans to argue to lawmakers, with critical perspectives on regulation and other issues.

VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) is also increasing its Washington presence, publishing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week saying that the biggest AI companies are unduly influencing regulators and leaving smaller companies out.

  • "Large companies are vying to control nascent technologies through regulation," a16z general partners Martin Casado and Katherine Boyle wrote, arguing a new Department of Homeland Security board on AI safety and security is disproportionately staffed by representatives of the biggest current leading AI companies.
  • Beyond that specific complaint, a16z is stepping up its Capitol Hill game too, said Collin McCune, the firm's head of government affairs.
  • AI is reaching every corner of the federal government between individual agency work and Capitol Hill, he said, so a16z wants to "touch all of those different corners to be able to understand where they're headed, and also what our perspective is from a little-tech point of view."

On the Senate's bipartisan AI roadmap, a16z's biggest disappointment, McCune said, was the fact that there was "little focus on the permissibility of open-source AI, which is a huge cornerstone of what we have been fighting for from a policy perspective."

What we're watching: "We're meeting with every corner of Capitol Hill," including both House and Senate leaders, said McCune.

  • A16z is not pushing for any specific legislation yet, he said, but the company might get more specific in the coming months.
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