Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, now chairman of the Democratic National Com-mittee (DNC), is likely to go down in history for two things: the primal scream that made voters question his sanity, and using the Internet to raise money and mobilize supporters.
The latter contribution is considered the more significant of the two, and it has people like Juan Proaño, co-founder and president of Plus Three, an online fund-raising company with offices in Washington, D.C. and New York, eager to demonstrate how his company can link candidates to constituents and, most importantly, their wallets.
"There's never been anything like the Internet for fund raising, which has changed the way
people think and the way they approach fund raising forever," says Mr. Proaño, 32, a Miami native of Peruvian and Colombian descent.
Plus Three, founded with partners David Brunton and Thomas Burke, was born in 2002 out of a merger of several companies that brought together expertise in online marketing, design, and software development. The company works with private corporations, nonprofits, and political organizations to communicate with constituents and solicit donations.
Plus Three might be just another company had it not been for good timing and Mr. Proaño's decision to keep in touch with a former colleague who happened to be working for the DNC on a technology project. His colleague made him a job offer, which Mr. Proaño accepted because, he says, it was the biggest technology project going at the time. The fact that it might affect the 2004 presidential election also played a role in his decision.
The project involved building a computer database for the Democrats that would compete with the Voter Vault database compiled by the Republican Party beginning in the mid-1990s. The Republicans had information on millions of constituents, while the Democrats had collected a mere 65,000 to 80,000
Plus Three helped the DNC build a database called DataMart containing the names of 166 million registered voters. The database – like the Republicans' Voter Vault – contains information on each person's party affiliation, home precinct, census tract, and consumer habits, along with other demographic information. From this list, they compiled a second list of anyone the Democratic Party does business with such as donors, volunteers, activists, local and state party leaders, and members of the news media. They called this database "Demzilla," which grew to some four million voters.
The Democrats and, later, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, used the DataMart list to contact people by telephone, direct mail and, primarily, e-mail, targeting them with ads and political messages tailored to each person. Their efforts proved so successful that the DNC raised $85 million in 2003-04 and raised more money than the Republican National Committee for the first time ever.
"All the candidates and campaign committees we worked with actually gained ground against their counterparts," Mr. Proaño says.
Those results assure a permanent place for the Internet in political campaigns. Companies like Plus Three can help candidates use the Internet to accept registrations, track donations, and write letters, blogs, and petitions.
"It makes everything you were doing before easier, cheaper, and faster," says Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet (IPDI) at George Washington University. Ms. Darr says campaigns must still rely on fund raising, organizing people, and getting people to vote. The Internet makes it more efficient, she says.
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