Yalies to develop campaign finance software

A summer spent in front of Excel spreadsheets led two Yale seniors to develop software they say could make campaign finance trouble-free — but only for Democrats.

Last month, Steven Winter ’11 and Yale College Democrats president Ben Stango ’11 helped to found QuickCampaigns, a company that will produce a Web application to simplify political campaign finances by transferring budget data between two budget software systems to avoid budget errors and state fines. The program will not be released until early 2011, and the company co-founders said they will sell their products only to Democrats.

Seth Bannon, a Harvard senior, another co-founder and CEO of QuickCampaigns, said Democrats are not using technology as effectively as Republicans and need the software for themselves.

Trevor Wagener ’11, president of the Yale College Republicans, said in an e-mail that “the software sounds like a simple mechanism.”

“The time saved by this software is likely to be marginal, but in a close race, such details can influence the outcome,” Wagener added. “If they actually have a valuable product, it makes no sense for them to reject half of their potential consumers … They are letting partisan zealotry impinge on common sense.”

In response, Bannon said products sold to political campaigns are made by groups that are “extremely partisan” and “no political vendors exist that sell a product such as [QuickCampaigns] successfully to both parties.”

The QuickCampaigns co-founders became friends when they worked on budgeting for the state Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Ned Lamont SOM ’80 over the summer.

“When entering a gas receipt into the spreadsheets, I had to find the original receipt, review what our campaign bought at the gas station and finally enter the information,” Stango recalled. “It was a waste of valuable time.”

Although Winter said state fines due to errors in transferring budget data are rarely larger than $5,000, Bannon said public embarrassment from state elections compliance issues is far more damaging to a campaign.

During the summer, the Lamont campaign suffered a $500 state fine after failing to report spending levels to Connecticut, Bannon said, adding that the opposing Dan Malloy campaign immediately seized on the fine. Stango said one important message during the campaign was Lamont’s experience as a businessman. The Malloy campaign attacked Lamont for failing to manage campaign finances as evidence that the candidate was not a fiscally responsible politician.

Stango said that although he believes the fine did not lead to Lamont’s eventual defeat, it was an avoidable mistake.

Reid Magdanz ’12, a summer intern for Mark Begich, the U.S. Senator from Alaska, said any product that makes “drudge work” easier for campaigns will be helpful.

Bannon said the founders believe advertising will not be necessary because the co-founders have altogether worked on 18 campaigns and have many campaign contacts who might be interested in the software.

Winter added that the company may not need any outside investment because the costs will be low, though he declined to say how much. The Yale Entrepreneurial Society is helping the founders to write a business plan and providing legal advice, YES President Max Uhlenhuth ’12 said.

Stango and Winter said the profits will be split between the five co-founders. Stango and Winter added that they plan to work on the business after graduation and are already brainstorming ideas for other products to improve campaign efficiency for Democrats.

QuickCampaigns will be based in Connecticut, though Stango said he is unsure whether it will remain in New Haven.

Correction: Oct. 3, 2010

An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed two quotes regarding Ned Lamont’s SOM ’80 Senate campaign to Ben Stango ’11. That Lamont suffered a $500 fine this summer after failing to report spending levels and his experience as a business man is attributable to Seth Bannon.

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