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The voter file was meant to be free

When I announced a bid for an open SF East Bay Congressional in early 2009, I had it in mind to take on a U.S. political system that no longer works for the common person - a system where parties are about power and dealmaking more than they are about ideals, and where national officeholders must fundraise every day they are in office just to hold on to their seats. By the end of my six month run as a Democratic primary candidate, though, I was pretty badly beaten. I’d failed to convert my significant new media following into supporters and votes, and had spent an awful lot of money I couldn’t afford on fundraising consultants, voter files and other trappings of a modern political campaign. (Update: In 2012, we created the NationBuilder Election Center to allow free CSV downloads without even signing up for NationBuilder first - register your campaign and request data here. If you want to start a NationBuilder trial account, do that here.)

In 2008, Jim Gilliam founded 3dna to build Internet tools to shake up the broken system that subsumes all to money and top-down power politics. Last month, he launched the most significant of his efforts to date, the NationBuilder organizing platform, which allows candidates to easily interact with both online and offline contacts in one easy to use dashboard. But Jim’s commitment to taking on the system was quickly put to the test when the partisans who run the left wing’s data operations began leaning on him to turn NationBuilder into a Democratic operation. Jim stuck to his guns - work with everyone to open up access to the political process, and part ways with those not willing to support this vision.

Today in Dallas, Republican Party operatives are fighting over the future of their party’s most valuable asset - its tightly controlled trove of voter data. Will the Republican National Committee keep its hands on this data, or will it be handled by a “trust” run by party consultants? Either way, it’s still controlled by the Republican establishment.

This morning, NationBuilder and its new partner, the nonpartisan political data management platform Political FORCE, turned the tables on both major parties with the launch of free access to voter data nationwide for all NationBuilder subscribers, and rich add-ons for fundraising and social intelligence at rates affordable to even the smallest grassroots campaigns.

Just as Jim was having his showdown with the Democrats, Jeff Mason of Political FORCE was reaching out for a partner with a contact management system to successfully leverage his company’s data-rich offerings. Said Political FORCE co-founder Taylor Landin, “It’s like we independently built two halves of the same company. This partnership will change the way campaigns are run and have a major impact on who wins elections going forward.”

So, while the Democratic Party’s data is locked up behind costly consultants and partisan bosses, and the RNC fights over future gatekeepers for its data, we’ve got what candidates need right now. You don’t need permission or big bucks to run - you just need a nation. We’re in this to give the system the shaking of a generation - and we’re just getting started.

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