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Don't Get In The Van! Progressives Need An Alternative-- Pronto!

Said the spider to the fly

I get a lot of crap spam every morning. This morning, I went into my spam folder and found an especially repulsive one. The subject line was "Hanging on for Life" and the header was "Jon Ossoff is pleading with Howie." It was sent by an outfit called the National Democratic Training Committee which was founded in 2016 by Democratic Party operative Kelly Dietrich, in coordination with NGP Van and failed DCCC chair Cheri Bustos. Let me come back to that in a moment. Since it was all about fundraising, I want to remind you that all the losing Schumer-backed candidates for the Senate out-raised their opponents, quite massively, this cycle. Basically, the money didn't do them any good. These numbers are as of October 14 FEC reports:

  • Alaska- Al Gross (41.0%)- $16,812,922, Dan Sullivan- $9,656,005

  • Iowa- Theresa Greenfield (45.2%)- $47,004,937, Joni Ernst- $23,536,707

  • Kansas (41.6%)- Barbara Bollier- $24,265,420, Roger Marshall- $5,926,110

  • Kentucky (38.2%)- Amy McGrath- $88,098,919, Mitch McConnell- $55,500,677

  • Maine- Sara Gideon (42.7%)- $68,577,474, Susan Collins- $26,511,555

  • Montana- Steve Bullock (45.0%)- $42,773,128, Steven Daines- $27,017,875

  • North Carolina- Cal Cunningham (47.0%)- $46,795,495, Thom Tillis- $21,474,728

  • South Carolina- Jaime Harrison (44.2%)- $107,568,737, Lindsey Graham- $72,690,495

For years I've been hearing a barrage of complaints about the parent organization, NGP Van. They are a monopoly. (The DNC, DSCC, DCCC and the state parties are constantly trying the blackball Target Smart, the closest thing there is to competition.) They are arbitrary about who gets their data-- usually state party chairs (or Democratic governors) decide. They are extremely hostile to progressives primarying incumbents. [This is from a letter their Votebuilder subsidiary sent to Illinois progressive congressional candidate Rachel Ventura this year: "Your request for Votebuilder for Illinois' 11th Congressional District through the Democratic Party of Illinois has been denied due to our regulations that we don’t issue subscriptions to candidates challenging an incumbent."] Their data is uber-over-priced, way more expensive than the GOP charges its candidates. The data is stale to the point of uselessness. The Van itself is inflexible, especially when it comes to non-federal races,w here they don't even try.

It gets worse. In a race between Blue America-endorsed progressive Democrat, John Laesch and Republican Richard Irvin for the hotly contested Aurora Mayoral race in Illinois’ second-largest city, the Illinois Dems are openly supporting the Republican. Irvin has run for office multiple times and between 2005-2019 his campaigns were heavily supported by Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tom Cross who has donated more than $26,000 to Irvin. House Republicans donated $6,700, the Young Republicans donated $400 and Republican DuPage County Executive, Dan Cronin recently donated $3,500 to Irvin. Over the years, Irvin has clearly defined himself by openly opposing the permitting of a Planned Parenthood women’s healthcare facility and saying that “Planned Parenthood is bad for Aurora. He cut funding for the Aurora Pride Parade and forced LGBTQ activists to raise money to hold a public event after their historic efforts to hold the inaugural parade in 2017. Even though he is an African American candidate, during his three years in office he has failed to partner with the progressive-minded Kane County Sheriff’s office in pioneering efforts to reduce recidivism rates through addiction counseling, job training and mental health services. Like many Republicans, Irvin has plunged the city in deep debt and wasted millions of dollars in failed, taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts and public-private partnerships. What we are seeing in Aurora, Illinois mirrors what is happening on the national level. Democratic leaders are merging with Republican candidates and lawmakers to solidify the corporate, "business as usual" party.

Whoever wrote this e-mail, presumably Mothership, wasn't trying either... unless they were trying to turn off potential contributors.

One of the latest candidates who noticed what rip-off artists they were this cycle is Adam Christensen (FL-03), who was basically ignored by the DCCC and the Florida Democratic Party. This morning he told me that "Of all of the scams I ran into while running for office NGP VAN is by far the worst. First of all it is an outdated, clunky, practically unusable piece of software that feels like it was made 15 years ago (it was). Second, it has a monopoly over the Democratic Party despite it being vastly inferior to every other product on the market. Third, it is the main reason that Democrats in Florida got absolutely hammered this past year." And he was just getting started!

My first experience with NGP Van was shortly after signing a contract with them. I was Iowa halfway through our election cycle sitting next to my grandmothers deathbed (she would pass away a few hours later) when I got a frantic call from my treasurer. NGP VAN had just sent us a bill (11 days after signing) for $1,600. 11 days before we had paid over $1,000 for access. They claimed that despite only having VAN for 11 days we were required to pay for the whole month. This was my first experience, yelling at a salesman from NGP VAN when I should have been with my family celebrating the life of my grandmother who was hours from passing.
The follow up experiences were just as pleasant. After attempting to get out of our contract (which we did) we were forced to buy "Vote Builder" from the Florida Democratic Party. This was an extension of NGP Van and is the standard software for voter outreach in the Democratic Party. After using their mobile app and data for social media targeting, it became clear that the software and data itself are practically useless. We found that in rural areas the data the Democratic Party was using was 80% incorrect. We would attempt to pull a list to text voters and only 20% of the numbers would work. We would pull lists to use for Facebook ads and digital advertising and our engagement would fall off a cliff. What we found was that not using the Democratic data was far superior to using it. We also decided to try a different approach. We bought $9K worth of Republican data (outside the party) for Republican voters in Clay county. It was so vastly superior that using the same techniques we saw a 7% jump in over every other Dem that has ever run in that district. A week before the election the Florida Democratic Party and NGP VAN refused to allow us to use our own data for contacting voters. They breached their contract with our campaign and stopped us from reaching out to Republican voters (with data WE owned) claiming that it would hurt the party. We were running in an R+9 district; without persuading Republicans we knew we would lose.
After testing multiple scenarios it became clear that not only was NGP VAN a horrible company with terrible software, but because of how outdated and ossified they are Republican candidates were able to spend $1 for every $3 that democrats spent and get the same marketing effect. NGP VAN is quickly killing the Democratic party and unless someone breaks their monopoly Democrats (especially in Florida) will continue to lose and "no one will know why."

As for what they train candidates to do... sit on the phone raising money that goes to into the consultant/party hack revolting poor-- a disgusting scam that accomplishes two things: makes sure Democrats lose elections and make the consultant/party hack class incredibly wealthy. Suggestion: never give a penny to any of these organizational rip-offs. Always contribute directly to candidates. If you want to give to Ossoff or to Ralph Warnock, do it here or on their own campaign websites. Contributing through the DNC, DSCC, DCCC or any of their affiliated organizations means accepting that you're being scammed-- and helping waste money that could be best used by candidates.

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