Software helps fill campaign coffers
Program taps social networks
BOSTON — 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.
Charles D. Baker, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts, and two GOP Senate candidates, Marco Rubio in Florida and Rob Portman in Ohio, are among those using a software-based fund-raising tool called BlueSwarm to tap social networks for campaign cash. The Democratic Governors Association also plans to use it.
The software democratizes the fund-raising process by letting average citizens not just donate, but raise money themselves from their Outlook contacts or their Facebook friends.
The traditional political fund-raising model relies on experienced bundlers to solicit money from a small set of well-connected donors.
In contrast, BlueSwarm and similar software let 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 fund-raising by colleges or social causes such as charity campaigns.
Success and failure are tracked over the Internet on a screen illustrating the roots of the donor’s organization, as well as precisely who has given and who still needs to cut a check or type in a credit card number.
It is an advance over 2004, when Democrat Howard Dean posted the rudimentary outline of a baseball bat on his website and ask donors to fill it with money. It is 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 venture capitalist from Boston who is responsible for raising more than $100,000 for Baker’s gubernatorial campaign personally and through his network.
All told, 11 US Senate candidates, 26 House candidates, three state parties, and 11 political action committees are using BlueSwarm.
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 Governor Deval Patrick, the Democratic incumbent in Massachusetts, while Rubio was closing the fund-raising gap on Governor 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 fund-raising day for a 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 John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee.
Baker’s network plays to the strength of social fund-raising: After just five months of campaigning last year, he had $1.6 million in funds; Patrick had $670,000 at the end of 2009. By 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 fund-raising efforts,’’ he said.