In 2006, Democrats rode a wave of discontent with the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s Katrina response to a resounding, power-shifting victory. Republicans were demoralized, disorganized and rudderless, and fundraising for many right-leaning causes plummeted.
After four years of Democrat stimulus packages, “green jobs,” nutty cash-for-clunkers proposals, et al, Republicans fell back into the House majority much in the way Jimmy Carter got elected president: through the back door. Meanwhile, Democrats had formed potent fundraising organizations such as the Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org. Despite a wretched political climate for Democrats in 2010, MoveOn managed to raise $30 million online, of which $7.5 million was invested in infrastructure to continue driving the digital liberal agenda. Republicans, clinging to talk radio and consultant-laden efforts in reverence of the lucrative Swift Boat Veterans campaign, had no instinct, ability or desire to match the left’s electronic organizing prowess — until now.
TheVanguard.org, headed by former PayPal senior counsel Rod Martin, is the right’s strategic response to MoveOn and the first effective digital GOP warehouse of and by Silicon Valley. The first thing Martin noted about MoveOn is that it is not a traditional political organization. MoveOn.org is a highly effective, low-cost-per-unit fundraising vehicle intertwined with social media. MoveOn’s platform has far more in common with Twitter, Facebook or PayPal than it does with the NRA. Like its commercial cousins, MoveOn produces transformative results; but with high, up-front, technology-related costs. What passes for a “tech-savvy” conservative non-interactive website can cost $50,000 or even $500,000, but MoveOn’s vastly more sophisticated technical infrastructure has cost well into the millions.
George Soros and his associates allocated a significant portion of the $24 million that they donated to MoveOn.org between 2002 and 2004 to technology. With the shrewd investments that Soros made possible, MoveOn’s membership grew from 500,000 in 2002 to 2.5 million in 2004. They now have 5 million clued-in members. MoveOn, Martin noted, did not waste the Soros funds on inefficient capital expenditures (big new headquarters, huge numbers of TV ads, or any of the short-term activities conservatives reflexively engage in). Mr. Martin regards The Vanguard’s investor’s revenue as venture capital and is working to build an informed, active membership and monetize activists.
Martin’s Vanguard project represents a perfect “merger” of technology, strategy, capital, and ideology. It will, in effect, create an online force that democratizes the GOP and in so doing decentralizes power to millions of anti-statist activists, stripping power from the core bureaucratic structure that has been built up by the Boomer left over many years. This will not only level the political playing field, it will revolutionize political campaigns to the chagrin of D.C. churn-and-burn consultants. This is a good thing.
Republican campaigns have long concentrated political power in a dated, ineffective vacuum that has not served the party’s supporters well. A new organizational voice has emerged, one that hails from outside the Beltway and has a digital core. The vanguard of political technology has a new name and it is Rod Martin. Funders should take notice.
Monty Warner is a Director of the Everglades and Frontier Legal Foundations.