Crowdfunding platforms take a data-driven approach to state political campaigns

Like most candidates vying for a state seat, Delaware state Senate candidate Stephanie Hansen spent the months leading up to her February election fundraising. And she got a surprising boost from a newly launched site called Flippable, which raises funds online for candidates in districts that could flip from Republican to Democratic. The organization raised one-third of Hansen’s campaign budget, and her campaign manager credited Flippable with doing more to secure her victory than the Democratic National Committee.

After Flippable raised $130,000 for Hansen and brought in about 1,000 volunteers from out of state, Hansen won her seat by 17 percent. The last Democrat to hold the seat won by only 2 percent.

Before the presidential election last fall, tech companies and venture capitalists funneled money into voter registration apps and voter education initiatives. Facebook let users plan their ballots with a new tool, while Spotify streamed podcasts on key political issues. So many voter registration apps got funded that I gave up on writing about all of them.

But now people eager to influence politics are funneling their money into midterm elections and state races, and new companies like Flippable are springing up to make political spending more accessible.

Flippable co-founder Catherine Vaughan is trying to keep the momentum of Hansen’s election going in other state races. Her approach borrows the metrics-obsessed techniques of tech and merges them with her political campaigning experience.

“We are very metrics-driven and focused on two things. What level of engagement can we drive to these races? By channeling the excitement of liberals into certain races, can we move the needle? Attributing wins is difficult, but we have a mindset on, is this working? Is this effective?” Vaughan told TechCrunch.

The next fundraising tests are quickly approaching in Georgia and Utah. Jon Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat and first-time Congressional candidate running in a typically Republican district, has raised more than $8 million leading up to a special election next week. Some of the money was raised through Flippable, but the organization eventually scaled back its calls for donations when it became clear how much Ossoff was raising.

When we make projections about how competitive a race will be, we can look back and see if we were correct. We can see how much it costs to flip a race. Catherine Vaughan, Flippable co-founder

Then there’s Kathryn Allen, a challenger to Jason Chaffetz for his House seat, who broke records on the political crowdfunding site CrowdPac. She raised $566,000 from more than 15,000 donors during her first quarter. Donations started pouring in to Allen’s campaign when she criticized Chaffetz for saying Americans should invest in healthcare instead of spending money on iPhones.

The outsize donations to the two underdog campaigns demonstrate how eager many donors are to get involved in politics. And Flippable isn’t the only grassroots organization that’s swooped in to respond to donors’ desires. Sister District matches volunteers with campaigns in potential swing districts, while Swing Left focuses narrowly on 2018 House races.

Instead of supporting a single candidate, Flippable’s next challenge is to push an entire slate of more than 30 candidates. Vaughan, who previously worked on the Hillary Clinton campaign, is focusing on flipping Virginia House of Delegates seats. The slate, which launched yesterday, highlights five “priority flip” districts and several other “potential flip” districts and aims to raise $125,000 before the primaries on June 13.

“It’s the first time we are experimenting with a slate as opposed to a single candidate,” Vaughan said. “We will have places were people can volunteer or donate. They can pledge in districts where there isn’t a candidate yet, because the primary isn’t until June. Hopefully it will help people connect to Virginia and this cause.”

Vaughan notes that Virginia is “trending blue,” with 17 districts casting their votes for Clinton during the presidential election, even though they are currently represented by Republican delegates.

Flippable isn’t particularly interested in the candidates’ platforms. “We don’t vet by platform,” Vaughan explains. “If we had a specific policy platform, no candidate would meet our criteria. Ultimately, viable candidates are reflective of the Democrats living in their district. That’s going to look different from one state to another.”

Although the Hansen race makes Flippable’s approach look promising, it’s not clear yet whether the big fundraising efforts will help candidates like Ossoff and Allen win their elections. After all, Vaughan notes, Clinton ran a billion-dollar campaign and didn’t secure a victory.

“A lot of people are inclined to say raising more money doesn’t help; data doesn’t help. But it’s so different than a local race where $100,000 could double someone’s budget,” she said. “When we make projections about how competitive a race will be, we can look back and see if we were correct. We can see how much it costs to flip a race.”