Of particular concern is Salsa Labs, which specializes in online organizing and communications tools for nonprofits. In October, co-founder and chief executive Chris Lundberg was ousted by the board of directors. He was replaced by Scott Stouffer, who joined the company when the venture capital firm Edison Ventures invested in Salsa last year.
“How long before Salsa takes on its first right-wing candidate or group?” the other co-founder, April Pederson, wrote in an
e-mail to staff members after the overthrow. “How long before the litmus test we’ve used to evaluate potential clients disappears?” While she and Lundberg own a majority stake in the company, they no longer have control.
The new Salsa leadership has repeatedly said that there will be no change in mission, and that the staff shake-up was strictly organizational. The Web site’s “About Us” section still commits to “basically progressive values.”
Stouffer said that the changes were made for internal, organizational reasons and that a shift in mission wouldn’t even make business sense.
“A large number of our clients are very progressive nonprofits,” Stouffer said. “A large number of our employees are passionate about progressive causes. For us to migrate away from that, not only would we we alienate our customer base, we would alienate a whole lot of our employees.”
Pedersen, who resigned from the board after the shake-up, isn’t convinced. “Salsa has to say that to maintain their current client base in the short term,” she said. At least one client, FitzGibbon Media, has stopped working with Salsa in the wake of the change.
Part of the angst stems of a recent shift that disturbed many on the left — Change.org’s decision to stop screening its sponsored campaigns.
Change.org started as a progressive blog, before evolving into a user-generated petition Web site. Any individual can submit a petition for free. Nonprofits and companies can pay to advertise in the form of sponsored petitions.
For years, the site had a policy of accepting only petitions that support “fairness, equality, and justice” and banning those that “violate these values, support discriminatory policies, or seek private corporate benefit that undermines the common good.”
In October, that changed. Now the advertising guidelines ban only “hate, violence or discrimination.” Sponsored petitions are taken from groups that many progressives deem anathema, like the education reform group StudentsFirst and the business group Fix the Debt.
Change.org staff say the shift isn’t so incendiary. Like NationBuilder, Change.org sees itself as a champion of small-d democracy. Getting involved in debates over what constitutes “fairness, equality and justice” isn’t part of that mission.
“We want to focus on building the world’s best tools for citizen empowerment, not on making subjective decisions about advertisers that would put our open platform in the middle of controversial disputes,” said Change.org spokesman Benjamin Joffe-Walt.
CORRECTION: This article originally made reference to the Republican State Legislative Committee. The group’s title is the Republican State Leadership Committee.