Change.org used to be explicitly progressive; it no longer is. Salsa Labs remains progressive, but some users fear a change in leadership will change that.
NationBuilder founders Jim Gilliam and Joe Green both came out of progressive causes and campaigns but see the software company they founded in 2011 as fulfilling a higher purpose. That’s not because it will help Democrats beat Republicans; NationBuilder is open to both. The social good is in leveling the playing field so that any candidate, no matter their budget or staff skill level, can have a professional digital operation.
“As someone who fought in the political trenches, I realized the most important thing wasn’t fighting the individual political battle but changing the whole political system,” Green said. “We believe America is a better place when everyone has the power to run a grass-roots campaign.”
Earlier this year the Republican State Leadership Committee inked a deal with NationBuilder to make its tools available to all 6,000 of its candidates. It was a major breakthrough for the company — and a sign for some Democrats that they should steer clear.
“Most of the tools for political organizing are partisan, so we have a technical advantage,” said Raven Brooks, executive director of Netroots Nation, an annual get-together for lefty digital activists. “Basically what this is doing is it’s throwing open that door and taking away that competitive advantage.”
One concern is that working with NationBuilder will help the company build better tools — that will then be used by Republicans. Some even argue that NationBuilder could share their data with Republicans, a fear Green calls “just crazy,” saying that if the firm handed proprietary information from one client to another it would immediately go out of business. Others just wonder whether NationBuilder will use all its data to make models it can sell to clients, as the Democratic firm Catalist does. The firm has promised that will never happen.
NationBuilder traces many of those concerns to NGP VAN, a behemoth in the Democratic data field used by everyone from the Obama campaign on down.
“NGP VAN sales people regularly lie about us, saying that we will share your data with Republicans,” the NationBuilder Web site reads. “This is not true.”
NGP VAN chief executive Stu Trevelyan dismisses those claims. NGP VAN recently launched its own affordable option for local candidates. But, he argued, Democratic wariness makes sense: “NationBuilder would like to have everybody forget what they’re trying to do, which is level the technology playing field, and the reality is that it’s not in progressives’ and Democrats’ interest to do that.”