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Mar 22, 2012

ALP eyes Obama's tech bandwagon to beat Abbott

A source inside the ALP's national office told Crikey this morning that the Blue State Digital campaign tools forged in the fire of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential tilt will be closely considered by Labor to extract micro-donations and online participation from a cynical populace.


The ALP is considering jumping on the campaign technology that helped Barack Obama win the White House in its bid to beat off Tony Abbott in 2013.

A source inside Labor’s national office told Crikey this morning that the Blue State Digital campaign tools forged in the fire of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential tilt will be closely considered by Labor to extract micro-donations and online participation from a cynical populace.

Crikey can reveal that former Democratic strategist and Bruce Hawker business partner Michael Allen has recently secured the rights to distribute the BSD toolkit in Australia — regarded as the “killer app” for snapping the centre-left out of their collective torpor to round behind a candidate or cause.

The slick software allows mass emailing, community “outreach” tools and event planning tools to convince voters to stump up some of their hard earned. It has been extensively used by US unions and not-for-profit organisations like Wal-Mart Watch, the Alliance for Climate Protection and the Communications Workers of America in addition to the DNC.

In 2008, Obama –using BSD — managed to corral over $200 million in donations and 1 million Facebook friends. The technology was recently employed in Dilma Rousseff’s triumphant campaign for the Brazilian presidency and is being used by Obama again this year.

In 2009, BSD founder Ben Self consulted with then-PM Kevin Rudd on how to best harness social networking.

And in 2010, Allen was a key player — alongside Hawker — in designing the party’s campaign website buttressed by initiatives like an “ideas incubator” and Twitter and Facebook links.  He now heads up public affairs firm Bureau Publica with former ABC tech head Jason Coghlan. He confirmed to Crikey that he had been in talks with the ALP about 2013.

In a press release to be distributed later this afternoon, Allen says that BSD proved that a lack of big money was no  longer a barrier for enduring political support. The new tools up the ante in the web war for political eyeballs.

“Before Barack Obama’s run in ‘08 it was accepted that you could not attempt a serious run for President without enormous financial backing and deeply entrenched structural support.”

“The Obama campaign was able to turn that view on its head by proving that the rules have now changed — provided that you have the right tools.”

Allen is a veteran of numerous US Democratic tilts, working as an aide to three centre-left hopefuls in Colorado in 2002-03 before moving inside the DC Beltway to join blue chip consultants MSHC Partners.

In a possible pointer to the treatment set to be dished out to Julia Gillard, Blue State Digital says the Rousseff campaign tools helped to “humanize” the candidate by providing “supporters with opportunities to interact with her: to share their ideas, their stories, and their hopes for the future. By surfacing these voices online, Blue State Digital helped foster…direct, grassroots participation in government.”

BSD tallies with recommendation 5 of the Bracks-Carr-Faulkner review that demands Labor “explicitly adopt a community-organising model which aims to empower and equip members to work in their local communities on campaigns, to build stronger community connections and to recruit members.”

The first cab off the rank for BSD locally is the federal office of the Australian Nursing Federation, who is looking to mobilise its army of 215,000 members — and concerned members of the community — in the lead up to next year’s federal poll.

“It will let us develop campaigns that have strong member and community involvement and action. We anticipate all of our community campaigns will use the software,” ANF Political Director Sue Bellino told Crikey.

The software would replace the ANF’s current website later this year, Bellino said.

Currently, there is a dearth of professional campaign tools employed in Australia. The most prominent “grassroots” organisation, GetUp, lacks the more streamlined web approach now dominant in the US and Europe. While GetUp claims to have “597,400 members”, many of these have simply signed an online petition and are far from active. Competing US software utilised by the other side of politics includes the Nation Builder “community organizing system” employed in numerous GOP campaigns.

Social movements in Australia are generally in decline, with the heft and solidarity of the industrial labour movement unable to be replicated by the diverse bunch of New Social Movements that started cropping up in the late 1970s. This broader hollowing out has been blamed by some commentators as the real reason behind Labor’s terminal unpopularity at the polls.


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18 thoughts on “ALP eyes Obama’s tech bandwagon to beat Abbott

  1. wilful

    Dear Crikey editors, please don’t use the term “Bama” to refer to Obama. It’s a silly little unnecessary affectation that gets in the way of communication.



  2. Gavin Moodie

    Another possible application is the ACTU’s your rights at work campaign, altho the comrades seem to have spent a bit rebuilding the campaign site.

  3. Bohemian

    Including the bogus online voting machines where you program in the result you want?

  4. Limited News

    Obama’s success online was probably because his Wall Street sponsors were able to cloak contributions as coming from disparate individuals – though not to hide the source of donations, rather to create a PR phenomenon. So it won’t necessarily work for the ALP.

  5. SusieQ

    Perhaps they wouldn’t need such sophisticated tools if they governed properly (that goes for all political parties…..).

  6. klewso

    Straight to “Step 3”?
    Surely the first step is “Have a G.W. Bush for eight years”?
    And “Step 2 : Run a Palin-drone as back-up/second string opposition kwarter-back (in case of emergency) for the opposition side!”?

  7. John64

    All they need now is the Obama – then they might actually have a chance.

  8. Suzanne Blake

    @ Bohemian

    “Including the bogus online voting machines where you program in the result you want?”

    If Bruce Hawker is involved there will surely be trickery.

    People have turned off dishonest Gillard, so unless a white knight rides in, they are terminal, like Bligh

  9. AR

    The disappointment of the Obama election was that, having garnered the individual support of vast numbers, won in a landslide with a huge, unquestioned mandate and control of BOTH Houses (after the vexatious legal challenges), he then reverted to the status quo of DC.
    For some bizarre reason, he tried to “reach across the aisle” to Repugs who loathed his very existence & all his supporters stood for, equity, decent welfare, universal health care, cessation of foreign adventures etc ad nauseam. Surprise, surprise (NOT!) he was spurned – the more he compromised the more the Repugs shifted their demands to the extremes, and STILL he tried to treat them as if they were semi sentient, decent human beings. Bad move.
    So, despite such whizzgamee stuff, the current federal goverment should just try to legislate for the common weal (I know, I know, a weird concept), use the next 15-18 months to show what a real Labor government can/should/ought to do and trust to the latent good sense of the electorate.
    It rejected mad John Hewson as the feral abacus he was (though, like Frazer, out of the spotlight he has found a worthwhile purpose) and elected the Rodent, not out of love or even respect but because of the paltry alternative.
    When paltry, unprincipled, visionless and unethical alternatives are imagined, can there be a worse prospect than the MM & his unlovely cohort?

  10. Tom McLoughlin

    #1 – oh right MM refers to mad monk. Tsk tsk.

    #2 – oh right, that would be the software and web based tools that Bob Carr suggested was irrelevant to politics in 2006 given ‘the web has no impact on mainstream politics’ in a joint live interview on abc with Gore Vidal .

    Onya Skinny, put that down to another thought of private citizen aka ancient history.

  11. Tim H

    “regarded as the “killer app” for snapping the centre-left out of their collective torpor to round behind a candidate or cause”

    Really? This article reads a bit like a rehash of a corporate press release by the mainstream media. Disappointing from Crikey and Andrew C.

    The software is only a tool. As pointed out by others above the torpid centre-left are aroused by GWBushx8years+ObamaCharisma, not by a piece of software. I even considered donating at the time but I wouldn’t go near this lot.

    I’m sure there are plenty of campaigns post-Obama that have used the same or similar software but without the stunning results. Of course BSD won’t tell you about those.

    To make the most of these tools you have to already have a participatory ethos in your party, something the ALP doesn’t get.

    Also note that the original Howard Dean software was forked into a free, open source package called CiviCRM which, combined with Drupal (also open source) is powering more political campaigns without the overhead of expensive political consultants like Hawker and Allen. Trust the ALP to consider an outdated software model.

  12. Venise Alstergren

    FIONA REYNOLDS: Ahem…A gentle hint. Usually news publications use a specialist to write their headlines. It’s quite possible Andrew Crook had no idea what the headline was going to be.

  13. Schnappi

    We no longer have to worry about tiny tony being pm,he has put a marker on the pms head and one on albanese,why albo,all we need is a nut like abbott to do away with the pm and albo bingo tiny tony has his daily called for election.

  14. Bohemian

    Forget all this crowdfunding BS. That is for the little guys who need half a million. Last time around, I believe Obama received by far the most in campaign funding from good old Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and the rest of Wall Street Boyz. Who do you think he owes? Joe Sixpack who contributed five bucks? Romney and everyone else have the same contributor profile except for Ron Paul and a coupla others who by now have probably lost their nominations anyway a la Dennis Kucinich.

    These days they have what are called Super Pacs which are apparently independent of the candidates but work for their re-election and you can drop as much as you want into these guys because funding it is not identified to any particular candidate as best I understand.

    Anyway, the whole thing is a giant hoax and Australia being a little behind the giant scam that is USA 2012 is working off the 1996 script.

    If you want to control the Congress and the Senate, you make sure that the cost for any candidate funding his election is beyond the reach of all but you and your insider buddies and bingo you have the illusion of democracy controlled by the guys who print the money. Lol.

    Then you get your six buddies who control media and their shill academic gallery along with the other talking heads whose mortgages and kids school fees keep them in line as well as all the other carnies on the payroll to blink and prognosticate and the public might be fooled one more time into believing that these guys give a $%$#@. That the punches aren’t pulled and the blood is real.

    Fortunately less and less people are falling for the same old sideshow tricks and given 20 more years, maybe a quarter will have woken up to why they never seem to be able to get ahead and every time they look like they could break the financial yoke, something goes wrong and they slide back into sweet oblivion once again.

  15. teambob

    Political parties live and die by people. It takes people power to invigorate a party and win an election. This technology should be a great help in reaching and interacting with members and voters, but it cannot replace the need for people power.

  16. Claire

    Do i get my micro donation back if the party I elect abandon the policies they voted for? I could agree to that.


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