Startup politics

Americans might not love politics right now, but apparently no-one told the startups. For them, interest in politics is at a record high – even putting aside websites like, you know, Fuck You Congress.

Today saw the launch of Democracy.com, a tool that lets anyone running in an election set up a simple campaign website and accept donations. Backed by $2 million in funding and with copyleft activist Lawrence Lessig on its board of advisors, Democracy.com is attempting to make it easy for even penniless politicians to connect with voters, and, more to the point, raise money online.

It’s not clear how Democracy.com is going to make money, but it’s free for candidates to set up a website and the company charges a 3.9 percent fee on all transactions. It will compete squarely with Seeds, which provides similar but more comprehensive campaign and engagement tools for $99 a month but is limited to progressive causes. Seeds, too, is more focused on harnessing a base of volunteers and activists.

Also today, NationBuilder, which competes with Democracy.com as well, announced that it is transforming itself into a platform. The Los Angeles-based startup, which has raised close to $15 million for its mission to reinvent community organizing, has released an API that gives developers an open platform with free access to the nationwide voter file.

Apps already available on the platform include Change.org’s Relay, which lets advertisers pay to link their NationBuilder communities to sponsored campaigns on Change.org, CallFire, which offers text and voice blast campaigns, and online Q&A tool CrowdHall, as well as 12 others.

The Democracy.com and NationBuilder launches come soon after Causes re-launched itself as social network for social good, which also focuses on fundraising campaigns around specific causes.

The folks over at Rally.org, too, will no doubt be keeping a close eye on the developments. It is also heavily invested in the political fundraising space, even as it stresses that its focused on a wider range of things that matter, from the Lavabit defense fund to an anti-Keystone Pipeline initiative.

Even as Congress seems to have entered a permanent state of lethargy, startups can’t help but see dollar opportunities in the political arena. It’s no wonder, really. There is a healthy demand – or expectation, really – for digital organizing and fundraising tools, but until the last couple of years they have been affordable only for the largest of campaigns, or restricted to partisan corners. Now, tech opportunists are catching up to the play and making the tools so easy to use that even crusty old politicians can wield them.

If only one of those tools to could make the US federal government function again…

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]