News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

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.

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Princeton Gerrymandering Project

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has released a new database to track state-level redistricting reform.

There's a new state-by-state guide for tackling partisan gerrymandering

An advocacy project at Princeton University has released a new guide for those who want to combat excessive partisanship in the drawing of legislative districts, hoping it will be a roadmap to help citizens push for fairer maps in all 50 states.

The guide was created by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and released on the heels of last month's Supreme Court ruling that federal courts will not be in the business of assessing partisan gerrymandering claims.

The Princeton project's state information page offers a color-coded map that divides states by "key redistricting features." Eighteen are shaded dark or light green, for example, signaling a third-party commission or demographer already guides the drawing of voting districts.

Keep reading... Show less
Congress
True
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Both Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid have taken hacks at the filibuster rules, but it's time to go even further, writes Golden.

McConnell opens door for Democrats to unrig the system: End the filibuster

Golden is the author of "Unlock Congress" and a senior fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, which seeks to improve democracy on a global scale. He is also a member of The Fulcrum's advisory board.

It may seem like recent Supreme Court decisions have the conclusive power to halt reform efforts to unrig congressional districts and suck the billions of dollars out of our politics. But this is really not the case. A path remains for Democratic leaders to restore fairness and common sense to American elections. But in order to do it, they'll need to rip a page out of Mitch McConnell's book and restore majority rule to the Senate.

The fact is that millions of Americans of different political stripes crave electoral reforms that would make the House more accurately reflect voter preferences and would slash the corruptive influence of big money on Capitol Hill.

Keep reading... Show less