News organizations and interest groups have been producing election guides for years in the hope of helping clueless voters as they prepare to cast ballots.
Crowdpac, a for-profit Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup, is taking that concept a step further, through an online service that helps guide potential donors frustrated with Washington to candidates who best match their beliefs. The company gets a small cut of every campaign contribution made through the site.
“There is a sense that big donors and special interests control the political system,” said Steve Hilton, a Crowdpac co-founder and visiting professor at Stanford University. He was previously a senior adviser to David Cameron, the U.K. prime minister.
“What we’re saying is that within the system we have, one way to address that problem is encouraging more people to give money to dilute the power of the big-money donors,” Hilton said.
Since most people live in congressional districts that aren’t particularly competitive, they can have a bigger influence on elections if they give money in close races in other states, he said.
“Voting in your district is not the most effective way of having your voice heard,” Hilton said. “At a national level the most effective way is to donate. We’re making that process easier.”
The site ranks congressional candidates on 15 issues, including the economy, abortion and immigration, and allows you to search for candidates who share your beliefs via a sliding scale rating how conservative or liberal you are on that issue.
The site depends on a system developed by co-founder Adam Bonica (another Stanford professor) that analyzes previous campaign contributions to generate a score that shows how conservative or liberal a candidate is. (The scale ranges from 10C as the most conservative, to 10L, the most liberal.)
Rankings are also influenced by a candidate’s voting record (if the politician is an incumbent) as well as speeches or other public statements.
There’s no shortage of interest groups and partisan news websites providing suggestions about where to funnel campaign contributions. News outlets have provided voters guides for years, mostly focused on local races.
Crowdpac (which isn’t actually a political action committee) is slightly different. It’s nonpartisan and isn’t trying to influence to whom you give money. Crowdpac executives just hope you’ll give money via their site, since they get a cut of the donation.
Last month, the company received approval from the Federal Elections Commission to collect eight percent of any political donation funneled through its site. Some of that money will go to Democracy Engine, which processes the payments, but about five percent will go to Crowdpac.
The site quietly launched earlier this year, but its founders are trying to make a bigger splash now that the post-Labor Day campaign season has kicked off.
It’s already begun providing targeted lists for potential contributors to funnel their money to Republican and Democratic candidates in competitive races. A voting guide will be available before Election Day, Hilton said.