Political fundraising app wants to make donations a social experience
Creators of a new nonpartisan political fundraising app want to change the way candidates raise money and voters engage in elections.
Royal Kastens, John Polis and Chris Tavlarides – three friends of varying political ideologies – launched Prytany on Wednesday, just before the first Democratic presidential primary debates. Not only will the app allow people to donate to campaigns, but it will also serve as a social media platform, connecting users to issues they care about.
The trio was inspired by their own experiences donating to campaigns, and the frustrations they faced doing so. In the past, they found the donation process to be tedious because there wasn't a central place to give money to candidates across party lines.
Named after the ancient Greek system of democracy, Prytany aims to change that. Its founders want the platform to be the Amazon of political donating and voter engagement.
"People actually do vote across party lines. People that are red believe in blue issues. And people that are blue believe in red issues. That's just a fact. We don't believe the whole country is so polarized," Polis said.
If someone agrees with a candidate, regardless of party, Prytanty allows the user to demonstrate support with just a couple clicks, Polis explained.
The app started out simple, as a donation processor. But as it was built, Prytany quickly evolved into its own social media network in which users could connect with candidates who support their top issues.
Through the app, users can see candidate profiles, which show what issues they support as well as recent news about them. This creates a feed of candidates and information that users can follow and use to inform their donations. If an issue is particularly important to a user, that person can also create a campaign around the topic to garner support from others who use the app. Public campaigns allow anyone to join and donate, while private campaigns are by invitation only.
The Federal Election Commission gave its stamp of approval on Prytany back in April, allowing the app's creators to move forward with the launch. Included in the FEC's approval is the app's donor verification feature. Prytany uses FEC information to automatically link registered candidates to the app's database. Then, each candidate is manually screened through phone calls by the Prytany staff to ensure they are who they say they are.
Prytany isn't the only fundraising tool to launch recently. The Republican Party introduced WinRed, its long-awaited response to the Democrats' ActBlue, at the end of June. WinRed hopes to become the hub for conservative small-dollar donations that the GOP has lacked for years. Through WinRed, donors can give to multiple candidates at once, so campaigns, big and small, can benefit from this pooled support.
Much of WinRed's platform has been modeled off ActBlue, which was started by the Democratic Party in 2004. Over the past 15 years, ActBlue has been the leading example for small individual fundraising, securing billions for Democratic campaigns and causes.
While ActBlue and WinRed are openly partisan, Prytany isn't beholden to any political party. Besides ideological independence, what sets Prytany apart from other fundraising platforms is its efficiency, Kastens said.
Unlike Prytany, ActBlue and WinRed are political action committees, so fundraising money has to go through an extra step before the candidate receives it, Kastens said. Prytany is also the only one of the three to have a smartphone app.
"Whereas, in our system, we have removed ourselves. When a contribution is given, it goes just between a contributor and the candidate receiving. We are not a part of the equation, we never touch the money," Kastens said.
This difference in functionality also allows Prytany to keep the transaction fees lower than those of ActBlue or WinRed. Each contribution made through Prytany has a 3 percent transaction fee — compared to ActBlue's 3.95 percent and WinRed's 3.8 percent plus 30 cents. The money collected through these fees goes toward the upkeep of the fundraising platforms.
To put that in perspective, a $50 donation will actually cost $51.30 on Prytany, $51.98 on ActBlue and $52.20 on WinRed. A maxed-out contribution of $2,800 would run the donor $2,884 on Prytany, $2,910.60 on ActBlue and $2,906.80 on WinRed.
At its core, Prytany hopes to close the gap between voters' ideals and candidates' campaigns, Kastens said.
"That's the idea behind it: to maximize that connectivity, to allow (voters) to communicate about issues that matter to them — and to have it all in one spot," Kastens said.
In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.