GOP’s NationBuilder and Dem’s VAN in a Political Data Duel

Nation Builder
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INTERACTIONS

Democratic campaign managers are all familiar with the NGP Voter Activation Network (VAN), which is a digital database of voter information to keep campaigns organized and to provide them with a massive database of contacts and voter information.  The VAN doesn’t deal with non-Democrats seeking political data.  They are a partisan organization and don’t try to hide it.  In fact, I tried this primary season to tap into the VAN on behalf a non-partisan candidate and they told me to pound sand.  Granted, they told me that very nicely and one of their reps actually told me to check out Nation Builder, because they were a non-partisan company who offered cheap political data (hope I don’t get someone in trouble).

Nation Builder is a website and data management platform that is supposed to give candidates an all-in-one solution to their online and data campaign needs. I did check out Nation Builder in February, and aside from the fact that it was difficult to use and confusing in its current state, it seemed like they had a product that was on its way to being very powerful.  Most importantly, they provide what has traditionally been expensive data for extremely cheap; in a database that is directly accessible by campaigns.

In March, Nation Builder announced that they had received over $6.25 million from investors including Sean Parker and Neal Mehta.  Presumably, this will give them the capital to make Nation Builder a more user and campaign-friendly experience.

Now, Nation Builder prides itself on being non-partisan.  This is important because Democrats, who traditionally have relied on the more expensive VAN, can get their political data extremely cheap from Nation Builder.  This is not welcome news for the Democrat-only NGP-VAN.

But this month, NationBuilder signed a deal with the GOP to be the exclusive campaign technology of the Republican State Leadership Committee, whose mission is to elect Republican candidates running for office at the state level across the U.S.  And NationBuilder is surprised that NGP-VAN is instilling some anxiety into NationBuilder’s Democratic customers?  The e-mail I received today from Nation Builder says it all:

I hate having to send this email, but we are getting numerous reports that NGP VAN is both lying to and bullying some of the Democratic candidates using Nation Builder. This is appalling, and we want to make sure our customers know the truth.

They are saying that your data is not secure and more specifically, that we give it to your opponents. This is utterly ridiculous. You own your data. You can export it, import it, and share it with whoever you want, but we will never give it to someone else. Ever. Our entire company and infrastructure is set up to preserve your data’s integrity.

Some of you are also receiving threats from NGP VAN and being prohibited from importing your data into Nation Builder.  I’m so sorry you are being treated like this.

I started Nation Builder to make the tools of organizing accessible and affordable to everyone. There are two things you can count on from me and the Nation Builder team: we will not rest until we have fulfilled our mission, and we will always be honest and forthright with you.

If you are being bullied, please know that this pressure is not coming from the Democratic Party. It is coming from NGP VAN, a corporation trying to preserve their monopoly on a market with anti-competitive and unethical behavior. We encourage you to contact your state party, and if that gets you nowhere, call us.  We can give you access to voter data for free, and you can use all the money you’ll save to rent vans and get your voters to the polls.

Jim Gilliam Founder/CEO

My two cents on the issue: Jim Gilliam is probably 100% genuine. He wants to provide a platform that is truly non-partisan and secure.  But, he made a deal with the proverbial partisan devil … the GOP.  And if you think that Democratic clients should not be worried that the GOP has made Nation Builder its exclusive provider, you haven’t been in politics very long.  Fact is, Nation Builder took a side.  And if controlling ownership ever shifts out of an altruist like Jim Gilliam’s hands, I don’t think any Democrat would want all their political data stored in their system.

UPDATED: Shortly after posting this article, I was forwarded the response from NGP-VAN’s Stu Trevelyan:

It appears NationBuilder wants to manufacture a fight with NGP VAN, possibly as a means of marketing NationBuilder. NGP VAN is in good company in being attacked by NationBuilder’s CEO, Jim Gilliam. Recently, when the Netroots Nation ED called for a Democratic boycott of NationBuilder because of NationBuilder’s new contract with the Republican State Leadership Committee, Gilliam told him to “stop lying about us”. When a Democratic NationBuilder consultant blogged that they could no longer use NationBuilder because of the Republican contract, Gilliam wrote, “Shame on you.” To a person who asked if Gilliam would feel guilty if Republicans won as a result of NationBuilder help, he wrote, “You’re insane.” When TechPresident covered the Democratic boycott, and Jim didn’t like the coverage, he attacked the reporter as “exactly what is wrong with political reporting.” And he’s attacked partisan firms Salsa Labs and Blue State Digital also.

My mother taught us to deal with these sorts of situations by contacting the other person directly; Jim did not attempt any contact with NGP VAN.

Had Jim done so, we would have explained to him that NGP VAN is not in a position to threaten or prohibit anyone from taking data from VoteBuilder and importing it into NationBuilder. The state Democratic parties own the voter files and distribute VoteBuilder access. It is true that the state Democratic parties and all the Democratic candidates in their states benefit from the collaborative data structure of VoteBuilder, and therefore there is a rationale for all the Democratic candidates using it.

It is also true that since NationBuilder has a contract to provide thousands of anti-gay, anti-union, anti-women, anti-immigrant Republicans with their software, any dollar, idea or feedback provided by a Democratic or progressive client to NationBuilder does in fact go towards improving a tool that is being used to defeat Democrats.

Is it coincidental that Jim is creating this dustup during the same week that TechCrunch, Mashable, ClickZ, and others covered the launch of our Social Organizing tool? For which NationBuilder lacks equivalent functionality? Perhaps.

It’s 100 days until Election Day. Every minute NGP VAN spends addressing NationBuilder’s baseless accusations is a minute we’re unable to dedicate to President Obama’s re-election and Democrats running for office everywhere. We’re going back to work to elect Democrats.

 

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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  1. Christine L Kramar Take a look at what NGP VAN did to the Clark County Nevada Democratic Party. I was the party recording secretary responsible for all of the "lists" of members of the central committee and precinct captains. This issue caused me to resign my post because I won't deal with people who have to act dishonestly to keep their monopoly. The Clark County Democratic Party executive board voted last May to leave VAN because we could not get administrators with our state party to provide access to our precinct captains in a timely manner. This was after months of complaints and I believed that the chair of our party had acted in good faith to get the best service possible from the state party. Our corresponding secretary came back from the New Organizing Institute in Washington DC and pitched NationBuilder as a solution to our problems. The serious evaluation we took into getting our own data and creating community for our precinct captains was not taken lightly. First our State party lied about Jim Gilliam with a whisper campaign saying that he was a Ron Paul supporter and this is why we could not use the software. Then they said they would have to cut us off from using VAN because it would violate our user agreement to allow us to import files from VAN into NationBuilder (which did not matter because my state party never allowed us access to export lists anyway.) Then finally by reason #4 which they concocted after the public announcement in our Central Committee Meeting (of which both the State Party Chair and the Executive Director of the Nevada State Democratic party were present for and never spoke up) to say it was critical that we use VAN again because the coordinated campaigns needed the data. The Chair of the Clark County Democratic Party Chris Miller had to have an "emergency" meeting to get the vote to kill NationBuilder. I had personally demonstrated it for many people within the organization who were excited to move forward. Chris Miller stated to the board that "our President needs us to drop NationBuilder and go back to VAN." The Clark County Democratic Party wasted 6 weeks of my volunteer time building a beautiful database that was better than any I have ever had in the 20 years I have been with campaigns. I had hundreds of precinct captains set up and ready to go. I hope this reporter follows up with the Clark County Democratic Party and the Nevada State Democratic party and me with all my documents in hand that a great program that would have mobilized voters in Southern Nevada is dead, gone, and buried because it is too late for the Clark County Democratic Party to rebuild the wheel in a system they don't even have the ability to ADMIN because the state party locks it down. I had the ability to be responsive to my users instantly and the board was lobbied into agreeing to the vague promise of a 48 hour turn around time. This is unacceptable in any other industry and stinks of protecting a monopoly. What good is that a party is supposed to coordinate data ONLY using VAN when the whole program dies? Any competent DBA could take the export of data from NB and plug it into VAN. Clark County Party Chair Chris Miller had to have been mightily strong armed. He did not tell me the key person working on the project there were meetings with VAN. He did not allow me to ask any technical questions and sprung this reason for why we needed to kill a whole program at the meeting where an immediate vote took place. He had stated to me through numerous conversations that NationBuilder was not going away and that the reason for this meeting was about a fundraiser. Good luck from anyone getting real answers from him about this because he has not answered any questions publicly. I can only hope that my party will do the right thing and either state explicitly in writing that VAN is the only way you are allowed to go - or - stop killing good work done by good people. There would have been a Clark County Democratic Party Precinct Captain program running right now if it were not for this corporate interference!
  2. Donald Remington Is not the first time that I read about Nation Builder and their possible data traffic and playing out the Democrats…? I found this http://techpresident.com/news/22556/nationbuilders-mammoth-deal-state-level-republican-committee-sparks-calls-boycott I think that this whole issue it’s getting out of hands.
  3. Yustin Cuhar Look at the results that leave the greed of Mr. Gilliam. He ignored the principle of partisanship for His desire to make money they, that grief and shame. I do not judge the Republican Party, but I think it is understandable that that they not want to relinquish a tool that was sold by a firm called fair. Now that hey have finished their pot of gold, when run by the opposition party and watch the results. I hope that Mr. Gilliam misplay by the crisis is not more likely, by the greed.
  4. Jack there are serious problems in this company, apparently disclosed their strategies easily and does not give sufficient confidence to their "clients" are in season and it is unwise to issues of strategy and uses of the information is around for the media. In addition to the exclusive agreements are respected and fulfilled, otherwise you can be fimando the death of your own campaign.
  5. Jennifer Phaser What’s this? Know we are getting companies to cheat on politics? Is this only happening in the US or all around the world? Can we do something about this? Or this is just normal and everyday stuff in our politics? Shame on you guys.
  6. Ariel Dos Santos I personally think this is outrageous with the Democrat party in the whole USA, they should not have to deal with crooks like Nationbuilder or NGP VAN! It trully hurst me to see private companies stealing resources and sharing data and other party data with de Republicans. It should be illegal.
  7. Hardy I'm a Libertarian candidate and have only had excellent service from NationBuilder and very pleased with the services they offer at their current price. This seems more of a hit piece by NGP-VAN against NationBuilder. Why would they even care? If NationBuilder can get exclusive deals with the GOP good for them. It's all part of competition.
7 comments
Christine L Kramar
Christine L Kramar

Take a look at what NGP VAN did to the Clark County Nevada Democratic Party. I was the party recording secretary responsible for all of the "lists" of members of the central committee and precinct captains. This issue caused me to resign my post because I won't deal with people who have to act dishonestly to keep their monopoly.

The Clark County Democratic Party executive board voted last May to leave VAN because we could not get administrators with our state party to provide access to our precinct captains in a timely manner. This was after months of complaints and I believed that the chair of our party had acted in good faith to get the best service possible from the state party. Our corresponding secretary came back from the New Organizing Institute in Washington DC and pitched NationBuilder as a solution to our problems. The serious evaluation we took into getting our own data and creating community for our precinct captains was not taken lightly.

First our State party lied about Jim Gilliam with a whisper campaign saying that he was a Ron Paul supporter and this is why we could not use the software. Then they said they would have to cut us off from using VAN because it would violate our user agreement to allow us to import files from VAN into NationBuilder (which did not matter because my state party never allowed us access to export lists anyway.)

Then finally by reason #4 which they concocted after the public announcement in our Central Committee Meeting (of which both the State Party Chair and the Executive Director of the Nevada State Democratic party were present for and never spoke up) to say it was critical that we use VAN again because the coordinated campaigns needed the data.

The Chair of the Clark County Democratic Party Chris Miller had to have an "emergency" meeting to get the vote to kill NationBuilder. I had personally demonstrated it for many people within the organization who were excited to move forward. Chris Miller stated to the board that "our President needs us to drop NationBuilder and go back to VAN."

The Clark County Democratic Party wasted 6 weeks of my volunteer time building a beautiful database that was better than any I have ever had in the 20 years I have been with campaigns. I had hundreds of precinct captains set up and ready to go.

I hope this reporter follows up with the Clark County Democratic Party and the Nevada State Democratic party and me with all my documents in hand that a great program that would have mobilized voters in Southern Nevada is dead, gone, and buried because it is too late for the Clark County Democratic Party to rebuild the wheel in a system they don't even have the ability to ADMIN because the state party locks it down. I had the ability to be responsive to my users instantly and the board was lobbied into agreeing to the vague promise of a 48 hour turn around time. This is unacceptable in any other industry and stinks of protecting a monopoly.

What good is that a party is supposed to coordinate data ONLY using VAN when the whole program dies? Any competent DBA could take the export of data from NB and plug it into VAN.

Clark County Party Chair Chris Miller had to have been mightily strong armed. He did not tell me the key person working on the project there were meetings with VAN. He did not allow me to ask any technical questions and sprung this reason for why we needed to kill a whole program at the meeting where an immediate vote took place. He had stated to me through numerous conversations that NationBuilder was not going away and that the reason for this meeting was about a fundraiser. Good luck from anyone getting real answers from him about this because he has not answered any questions publicly.

I can only hope that my party will do the right thing and either state explicitly in writing that VAN is the only way you are allowed to go - or - stop killing good work done by good people. There would have been a Clark County Democratic Party Precinct Captain program running right now if it were not for this corporate interference!

Yustin Cuhar
Yustin Cuhar

Look at the results that leave the greed of Mr. Gilliam. He ignored the principle of partisanship for His desire to make money they, that grief and shame. I do not judge the Republican Party, but I think it is understandable that that they not want to relinquish a tool that was sold by a firm called fair. Now that hey have finished their pot of gold, when run by the opposition party and watch the results. I hope that Mr. Gilliam misplay by the crisis is not more likely, by the greed.

Jack
Jack

there are serious problems in this company, apparently disclosed their strategies easily and does not give sufficient confidence to their "clients" are in season and it is unwise to issues of strategy and uses of the information is around for the media.

In addition to the exclusive agreements are respected and fulfilled, otherwise you can be fimando the death of your own campaign.

Jennifer Phaser
Jennifer Phaser

What’s this? Know we are getting companies to cheat on politics? Is this only happening in the US or all around the world? Can we do something about this? Or this is just normal and everyday stuff in our politics? Shame on you guys.

Ariel Dos Santos
Ariel Dos Santos

I personally think this is outrageous with the Democrat party in the whole USA, they should not have to deal with crooks like Nationbuilder or NGP VAN!

It trully hurst me to see private companies stealing resources and sharing data and other party data with de Republicans. It should be illegal.

Hardy
Hardy

I'm a Libertarian candidate and have only had excellent service from NationBuilder and very pleased with the services they offer at their current price. This seems more of a hit piece by NGP-VAN against NationBuilder. Why would they even care? If NationBuilder can get exclusive deals with the GOP good for them. It's all part of competition.