Candidates let social network users monitor donations

Bundlers can set up networks

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BOSTON | Candidates in some top political races are raising big sums of money using software that taps into donors’ social networks, an endeavor that lets the donors track their friends’ giving with the zeal a fantasy baseball team owner monitoring player statistics.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker in Massachusetts and two GOP Senate candidates, Marco Rubio in Florida and Rob Portman in Ohio, are among those using a software-based fundraising tool called BlueSwarm to tap their social networks for campaign cash. The Democratic Governors Association also plans to use it.

The software democratizes the fundraising process by letting average citizens not just donate, but solicit money themselves from their Outlook contacts or their Facebook friends.

The traditional political fundraising model relies on experienced bundlers to collect money from a small set of well-connected donors.

In contrast, BlueSwarm and similar software lets users ask their friends and families and, in turn, have them solicit their own network to build a “donor tree” with deep roots. The same technique applies to institutional fundraising used by colleges or social causes such as charity campaigns.

Success and failure are tracked over the Internet on a screen illustrating the roots of donor’s organization, as well precisely who has given and who still could cut a check or type in their credit card number.

It’s an advance over 2004, when Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean posted the rudimentary outline of a baseball bat on his Web site and ask donors to “fill” it with money. It’s also more sophisticated than 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama coaxed small donations from supporters concerned about a specific issue and then returned time and again until they had incrementally given sizable sums.

“It’s bringing a sales-force technology into the political realm,” said Brian Shortsleeve, a venture capitalist from Boston who is already responsible for raising more than $100,000 for Mr. Baker’s gubernatorial campaign personally and through his network.

“If you can empower a broad range of people to use this system to go out and solicit, it helps the whole operation,” Mr. Shortsleeve said.

All told, BlueSwarm is being used by 11 Senate candidates, 26 House candidates, three state parties and 11 political action committees (PACs).

Clients of the company, split between Westford, Mass., and Palo Alto, Calif., have raised more than $45 million this election cycle, thecomany claims.

Mr. Baker has far outraised Democratic incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, while Mr. Rubio in Florida was closing the funding gap on Gov. Charlie Crist before Mr. Crist quit the GOP to run for Senate as an independent. Mr. Portman’s campaign kitty is seven times as big as his rival’s.

Mr. Shortsleeve, 37, tried the first generation of such technology in 2007, when he participated in a national fundraising day for Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.

Mr. Romney raised $6.5 million that day, at the time an unprecedented sum and an early validation for a candidate who ended up being the last survivor among the challengers to eventual 2008 GOP nominee Sen. John McCain.

Erik Nilsson, who developed Mr. Romney’s network, has since refined the technology. His software’s name derives from the tendency for big-time fundraisers to dress in blue suits.

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