How a political outsider's fundraising tool is helping insurgent, working-class Dems mount primary challenges and campaigns


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/01/23/not-rocket-surgery.html


#2

It seems like there’s a battle shaping up at the moment between civic-minded young people like Mr. Hogenkamp on one side and entitled hatemongering smirkers like the MAGAjugend. I will always side with and share my experience with the former.

Using skills he’d picked up interning at the CFPB in college, Hogencamp used zero-inflated negative binomial regressions to analyze Chase’s data to produce "lists of individuals most likely to support a candidate given shared characteristics and shared views

If the GOP didn’t already want to destroy the CFPB because it looks out for consumers, this would have been reason enough for them to target it. Can’t have bad ol’ gubmint training the enemies of the “free” market, Blessed be Its Name.

That’s what Grassroots Analytics has done, and though it’s received a cold shoulder from both the Democratic establishment and the Sanders-affiliated Our Revolution group

The DNC establishment isn’t surprising – hand them any tool for election success and they’ll likely misuse it or ignore it or injure themselves with it. Our Revolution, however, needs to get on the bloody ball with this, like yesterday.

I love this line from one of the critics in the article:

“They’re donor pimps, that’s all they are,” said one fundraiser. “If you don’t know people, if your staff doesn’t know people, then you actually shouldn’t run for office. You’re not actually a good candidate.”

To bring this into focus, put the word “wealthy” before every mention of “people”. Suddenly the fundraiser sounds like the madam of a high-end exclusive bordello turning up her nose at street pimps.

The candidates this org is helping do know people: their prospective constituents, as opposed to the donor class.

Some suspect they’re just farming out lists of rich people to clients and engaging in another disapproved practice that’s rampant in the campaign industry — taking donor data from one campaign to another.

Don’t hate the playah, hate the game. Hogenkamp seems to agree at the end of the article.

[@doctorow : in your write-up you refer to the SEC, when it should really be the FEC . Thanks for bringing this story to our attention ]


#3

Finally an answer to “yeah? So what are we supposed to do about it?!”


#4

They are. Sort of. Actblue is the app/fundraising suite that’s changing the face of how the DNC is funded. It’s a non profit, independent from the party itself, and thus able to keep fundraising aparatus operating and in place independent of and past individual campaigns.

The “green wave” of “dark money” the GOP is freaking out about in terms of DNC funding is coming through small dollar donations through candidates and organizations use of Actblue systems to move off traditional fund raising tactics. With the GOP scrambling (and largely failing) to create an equivalent.

Actblue is pretty open and access to it doesn’t run through the DNC. An ever increasing amount of left wing dollars run through it. And a number of these same candidates are cited in stories about Actblue’s ability to shift politics, with it apparently also being key to a lot of those big progressive successes.

Now I dunno what Actblue does analytics wise. But if there is any actual resistance to this I think it’d be a couple of things.

These guys are new. Actblue is a better established and more comprehensive option. And new analytics firms very much burned the DNC in 2016. Hillary’s pull out from key states was driven by analysis by a relatively young voter turnout start up and analytics firm founded by some people associated with Obama’s legendarily effective digital team. And they straight screwed the pooch, there were multiple similar fuck ups up and down the ballot as a rush for fancy new digital campaigning and fundraising firms saw a lot of sketchy or just no good companies hired by various campaigns.

But the big thing might be that what these guys are doing is very tied to traditional fundraising methods. And Actblue’s super power is how it liberates campaigns from traditional fundraising methods.

The DNC, and a shit ton of left wing organizations are moving hard towards Actblue. You know all those pledges not to take big dollar donations? Actblue made it possible to replace and exceed them, making such pledges practical. You know how AOC and other newly elected Dems don’t seem to be spending 5 days a week manning the phones to busk for donations. They don’t need to do that because Actblue.

If all these guys are doing is making the traditional turn and burn fundraising more efficient. Well there’s a place for that. But they’re already behind the times. The left is shifting rapidly to newer, less intense, but more successful fundraising techniques that have been a factor for a while. But have finally matured to the point (along with changed in the electorate) that they’re likely to become the primary fundraising methods. These guys may not fit with that as they currently exist.


#5

From the article and your summary of Actblue, Grassroots Analytics seems to have slightly different purpose than Actblue does. The former is more focused on streamlining early money seed fundraising for a campaign from more affluent and regular donors – raising that initial $250k in the first quarter so that the candidate will be taken seriously by follow-up donors, including small-dollar donations raised through Actblue.

Using the analogy of startup fundraising, I look at Grassroots as facilitating friends-and-family and angel investor rounds, and Actblue being the equivalent of matchmakers for VCs. Until the entire campaign fundraising system is overhauled, you need both.

Hogenkamp is anticipating that, and would prefer an even greater shift:

“I sort of stumbled into this. I think the whole campaign fundraising system is stupid, and you know, if our country gets serious about publicly funded elections, I would so gladly shut down the business and go work in the State Department like I had planned,” he said. “I don’t care enough about this; the whole campaign finance system needs to be completely overhauled, but until that happens, the only way you’re ever going to do it is helping Democrats raise money to win competitive elections.”


#6

So, yet another way the Dem’s are an insiders club and not really on board with progressive values.

Dem’s, get the fuck out of the way.


#7

That’s sort of my point. How useful is a company that’s figured out a clever way to contact big money donors. When someone’s already built a completely different sort of organization that makes doing that obsolete.

Five thirty eight did some numbers about how significantly Actblue is reshaping donations earlier in the year.

Even so far as Hogenkamp may be anticipating or arguing for reform in out elections. Actblue is already doing an end round on fucked campaign funding. And it isn’t the sort of thing that would have to shut down and go work for the state department like it always planned if and when reform comes.


#8

Yes. Completely rejiggering your fundraising aparatus to focus on a non-profit, open, small doner campaign platform.

Rather than small, insider associated for profit firms.

Is totally making sure the party is an insiders club tied to the moneyed few.


#9

In a system that currently requires existing connections with them* in the early stages, apparently very useful. Actblue, which focuses on later stages, hasn’t made that obsolete yet. If they push into Grassroots Analytics’ “seed stage” market or just buy them out, I’m sure Hogenkamp would gladly move on to the State Dept (whenever it opens for business again).

Future tense. Grassroots is just trying to make a rigged game a little more accessible to a different kind of candidate right now. No-one, except perhaps Grassroots’ direct competitors, is going to cry if the rigged game is replaced with one that’s better in all ways.

Look at it this way: coding skills and vision being equal, if Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t a Harvard student from an upper middle class family but rather a single father on disability in the midwest, FB would have never reached the point where VCs would take meetings with it because you don’t meet the Winklevii at the local diner in Podunk, MN.

[* the kind that first-time candidates who are poor don’t have]


#10

I recall the same or similar tool being used on the right. (I think I can remember the trail to that info. I might follow that later.)

Old Right Money would probably like it just as much as Big Money Democrats.


#11

So the DNC is bad and wrong due to a long term effort to move away from and preclude that system.

Because they haven’t gone whole hog on this one particular analytics company? Which appears to be small, for profit, and new.

I’m not pushing back on the idea that what they’re doing is useful, or the area they seem to be focusing on is a good one.

Just Cory’s implication that the DNC is trying to prevent fundraising from changing, or some how handicapping this one company for the sake of the status quo.

When there’s a 15 year old mass scale, incredibly successful project that says otherwise.


#12

Where did I say that?

The Dem establishment is bad and wrong because they first went whole hog on a different for-profit analytics company that seems to use inferior technology, a company that’s secured a semi-monopoly through insider dealing and cronyism and that will let Republicans as well as Dems use its tools. From another upstart competitor to an incumbents in the wider field of fundraising and organising and field ops software:

But one thing that ended up being a bummer was the DCCC had their own thing they forced campaigns to use, so we ended up only getting the real scrappy campaigns, the real mega-underdogs.” Adler was referring to VAN, an omnipresent software company that provides what they describe as “an integrated platform of the best fundraising, compliance, field, organizing, digital, and social networking products.”

And the new entrant blessed by the Dem establishment that is competing directly with Grassroots in the seed/angel space has its own issues (my boldface):

There is another data analytics company that bills itself as helping candidates (and nonprofits and universities) become more strategic in their fundraising efforts. RevUp, which promises to “revolutionize your fundraising,” was started in 2013 by a top Obama fundraiser and Silicon Valley investor named Steve Spinner. It’s a software company that works with both Republicans and Democrats

[…]

A key difference between RevUp and Grassroots Analytics is that the former doesn’t expand the universe of donor prospects beyond your own network — it just helps you navigate and analyze the contacts in your existing universe more efficiently. From one vantage point, that’s more respectful, and skirts the thorny questions of legality and ethics. From another, it doesn’t do much to change the problem of connected people hoarding access to connected people.

To be clear, everyone in this particular space is being disrespectful/intrusive and walking the tightrope when it comes to legality and ethics. If there’s a difference between RevUp and Grassroots in this regard, it’s so small as to be insignificant.

To the problem of perpetuating connected people hoarding access I would add the problem of RevUp not making ethical policy-based decisions about who within the Dem party is worthy of its technology:

Over the course of the last two years, though, Grassroots Analytics has decided to work with anyone running in the Democratic caucus, a decision Hogenkamp says was made to avoid pitting themselves as arbiters of the left. (This could also just be a handy rationale to bolster their client lists and profit margins.) But Grassroots Analytics, Hogenkamp adds, does have some red lines for clients, saying they turned down someone last year who they felt had too strong of ties to charter school backers.


#13

Ontario Proud is trying to leverage its large Facebook presence to do offline work. Its website runs on the NationBuilder platform, which is an out-of-the-box political organizing system that seamlessly integrates a database with website hosting and with social media and fundraising tools. NationBuilder also will spit out canvassing walks and calling lists. Whether Ontario Proud can actually take advantage of all these tools remains to be seen, but it is successfully taking the first steps.

https://nationbuilder.com/


#14

You didn’t but it’s the angle the post is pushing.

What I’m complaining about is looking at this without the context of what they’re doing overall. Recently the DNC has broadly embraced an approach that replaces such contractors with non profit, distributed platforms. That they didn’t embrace this one company may have as much to do with that as it does their size and lack of track record.

Which is sort of how these conversations are generally going. Jump on an isolated detail in the latest headline to complain “the establishment” is doing it wrong. While ignoring much bigger shifts or context that point very much in the right direction. It reminds me too much of the fringe infighting on the right. And nests too nicely with left wing defeatism. And it’s starting to sound a little too much like arguements around the new Star Wars films. It’s always a disater and some ones always wronged the fans.


#15

Well, give them a cookie! They should have started moving in this direction a decade ago (for reference to a similar platform, CiviCRM’s initial release was 13 years ago).

Don’t forget that the founder didn’t have the political pedigree and connections of RevUp’s founder.

It’s yet another example of the Dem establishment’s institutional sclerosis, cronyism, classism and complacency. You don’t have to be a fringe lefty to see that.


#16

Thank you!


#17

Yes. We should.

You can lament the status quo. But if that doesn’t go along with celebrating (and building on) positive change it isn’t exactly useful.

The broader context here is that the last decade or so the left is finally carving itself a place in American politics after a half century fade. And their doing it within and through the DNC, which seems to finally be catching on that this is a good thing.

They did. Actblue started in 2004, and IIRC it’s what Obama used for his record small dollar donations from young people. It’s been a key, if smallerbpart of national level campaigns since, and a growing number of Congressional candidates were using it every year.

It’s just that it was only the last couple of election cycles were it became a default funding strategy up and down the ballot. And those small, digital donations started to eclipse the old school fundraising. They did the thing they should have done, but that’s insufficient because it took time.


#18

Covers other packages:


#19

The DNC establishment has been dragged to this point kicking and screaming at every juncture as its fingers gripped every old instance. That includes the move to Actblue in the early 2000s, when a lot of establishment types were moaning that it was impossible to win with a focus on small donations. Before that it was the 50-state strategy that was most recently rejected by Hillary “why campaign in MI and WI?” Clinton. This is just the latest instance, focused on the seed funding round instead of the big ask.

So if you want to hand out credit, give it out to the left wing of the party that’s been pulling the DNC away from the broken old systems. I only wish the pull leftward had come before they ran yet another Third Way Boomer Dem without rockstar charisma against Dolt-45.


#20

That’s very much what I’m trying to say.