Political fundraising tool taps social networks

Jun 14, 2010 By GLEN JOHNSON , AP Political Writer

(AP) -- Candidates in some top political races are raising big sums of money using software that taps donors' social networks, an endeavor that lets the donors track their friends' donations with the zeal a fantasy baseball team owner uses to monitor player statistics.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker in Massachusetts and two GOP Senate candidates, Marco Rubio in Florida and Rob Portman in Ohio, are among those using a software-based fundraising tool called BlueSwarm to successfully tap their social networks for campaign cash. The Democratic Governors Association also plans to use it.

The software democratizes the fundraising process by letting average citizens not just donate, but raise money themselves from their Outlook contacts or their .

The traditional political fundraising model relies on experienced bundlers to hustle money from a small set of well-connected donors.

In contrast, BlueSwarm and similar software lets users work their friends and families and, in turn, have them solicit their own network to build a donor tree with deep roots. The same technique applies to institutional fundraising used by colleges or social causes such as charity campaigns.

Success and failure are tracked over the Internet on a screen illustrating the roots of donor's organization, as well precisely who has given and who still needs to cut a check or type in their credit card number.

It's an advance over 2004, when Democrat Howard Dean posted the rudimentary outline of a baseball bat on his Web site and ask donors to "fill" it with money. It's also more sophisticated than 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama coaxed small donations from supporters concerned about a specific issue and then returned time and again until they had incrementally given sizable sums.

"It's bringing a sales-force technology into the political realm," said Brian Shortsleeve, a from Boston who is already responsible for raising more than $100,000 for Baker's gubernatorial campaign personally and through his network.

"If you can empower a broad range of people to use this system to go out and solicit, it helps the whole operation," Shortsleeve said.

All told, BlueSwarm is being used by 11 U.S. Senate candidates, 26 House candidates, three state parties and 11 political action committees.

Clients of the company, split between Westford, Mass., and Palo Alto, Calif., have raised more than $45 million this election cycle.

Baker has far outraised Democratic incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, while Rubio was closing the fundraising gap on Gov. Charlie Crist before Crist quit the GOP to run for Senate as an independent. Portman's campaign kitty is seven times as big as his rival's.

Shortsleeve, 37, tried the first generation of such technology in 2007, when he participated in a national fundraising day for Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney. The "CoMITT" system allowed supporters to tap their contacts and easily track any donations they provided or solicited.

Romney raised $6.5 million in a single day, at the time an unprecedented sum and early validation for a candidate who ended up being the last survivor among the challengers to 2008 GOP nominee John McCain.

Erik Nilsson, who developed CoMITT, has since refined the technology. His software's name derives from the tendency for big-time fundraisers to dress in blue suits.

In the old days, wealthy candidates could invest the money needed to establish a fundraising apparatus, said Nilsson. BlueSwarm sells itself as an easy way to motivate donors.

"Now, you can give them a user name, a password or a Facebook application and make them a part of your network," he said.

Baker's gubernatorial campaign is his first statewide race in Massachusetts, though he is well-known as a former administration budget chief.

Baker's network plays to the strength of social fundraising: After just five months of campaigning last year, he had $1.6 million in campaign funds, about triple the $670,000 Patrick had at the end of 2009. As of May 1, Baker had built the balance to $2.3 million, while Patrick was at $1 million.

Baker's staff declined to specify how much they have raised through BlueSwarm, but campaign manager Tim O'Brien embraced it.

"BlueSwarm has been an integral piece of our fundraising efforts and allowed us to reach more new faces and grow our team in a quicker time period," he said. "So much of our grass roots outreach is through social means, so having the ability to link our fundraising to those networks is crucial."

Explore further: LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New Republican Party 2.0 website unveiled

Oct 13, 2009

The Republican Party launched a redesigned website Tuesday with a heavy emphasis on the social media tools that Democrat Barack Obama used so effectively to win the last presidential election.

Charities see potential, risk with social networks

Apr 24, 2009

(AP) -- Meredith Bowen was getting tired of requests from Facebook friends to exchange make-believe pansies, daffodils and tiny cartoon characters for her "(Lil) Green Patch," a virtual garden that sprouted on her social-networking ...

Charities changed by technology

Aug 16, 2005

The Internet has transformed the way people shop for cars, pick the right stock options and choose the movie they want to see on the weekend -- and now it can be used to help them shop for the right charity. At the same time, ...

Recommended for you

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

10 hours ago

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

16 hours ago

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

21 hours ago

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...