A new election website called Crowdpac.com purports to assess a candidate's campaign donations to tell California voters which state and federal candidates most closely match their own values.
Donations are the clearest indicator of a candidate's views, said Crowdpac CEO Steve Hilton, who was a senior advisor to English Prime Minister David Cameron before coming to California and held a visiting political science professorship at Stanford University.
"It's looking at the patterns," Hilton said. "These kinds of donors give to these kinds of candidates. That gives you a notion of where the donors and candidates are in relative position to each other."
Crowdpac uses a database of state and federal campaign donations going back to 1979 to assess the political ideology of candidates. Its algorithm uses the pattern of the donors' giving to other candidates, and the candidates' votes once they get into office.
"Our vision of Crowdpac is that it's got mass appeal, not just for insiders who are able to follow politics closely," Hilton said.
From Crowdpac.com's list of 15 major topics, a voter picks three that matter most — for example guns, healthcare and education. Then the voter uses an interactive tool to show how liberal or conservative they are on each of the thee topics. The next step is to rate each of six politicians, including polarizing choices such as Ron Paul, Ralph Nader and Sarah Palin.
The website then tells you which candidates running in the voter's home district most closely reflect the voter's views. This early version of the website only gauges candidates along a liberal-to-conservative scale, Hilton said.
By the time of the November general election, he expects the site to have additional descriptions of where candidates stand on specific issues.
The company is still in startup mode, and has taken in $2 million from Silicon Valley venture capital firms. The plan is to eventually become a place where people can make donations to candidates, with Crowdpac taking a service fee on each donation.
Hilton said Crowdpac's simple website and focus on finding candidates who match voters' values sets it apart from tools created by other transparency organizations.
Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, parent of Opensecrets.org, said it uses campaign data to show "which industries are the biggest contributors to a candidate, or how much of a candidate's fundraising haul came from out-of-state donors."
Websites that compile and re-package campaign donor information include:
- OpenSecrets.org: Tracks and analyzes federal campaign contributions, lobbying data
- Followthemoney.org from the National Institute on Money in Politics and State Government: Tracks political influence in state government and elections
- Sunlight Foundation: Provides tools to access government information.
- MapLight and Maplight California: Track campaign donor influence in state legislature and Congress
- Around the Capitol ElectionTrack: Searches donations in state and Congressional races