The Australian Council of Trade Unions, federal Labor and leading Greens have all adopted NationBuilder platforms to power their online campaigns this year, despite persistent concerns over the company’s progressive credentials.

The Los Angeles-based campaigning solution bills itself as a “non-partisan” “community organising system” and rolls content management, a donation platform and volunteer administration into one glitzy package.

The federal ALP’s NationBuilder site popped up in early April, with Throsby Labor MP Stephen Jones’ personal site also using the technology. Greens Senate hopeful Simon Sheikh and federal Greens including Melbourne MP Adam Bandt have also launched NationBuilder sites. A senior California-based organiser from NationBuilder, Joe Conte, is currently in Australia assisting the ACTU with its website build.

But NationBuilder, which claims to be “fiercely committed to helping our customers do the thing they’re trying to do in the world”, has courted controversy in left-wing circles. Last year, the company signed an exclusive deal with the Republican State Leadership Committee, the secretive group active in 46 jurisdictions that helps to “flip” state houses on the cusp of GOP control. Its major achievements included the election of far-right Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, the notorious union smasher who is agitating to introduce forced trans-v-ginal ultrasounds.

Progressive digital campaigns specialist Alex White, who has written a book on online union activism and called out NationBuilder last year over the RSLC deal, says progressives are unwittingly helping their political enemies every time they sign a NationBuilder contract.

“The unions, Labor and the Greens … whenever they do a NationBuilder they’re empowering billionaire Republicans with conservative aims,” he told Crikey. “Each project directly benefits the GOP — in politics, which side you’re on matters.”

White noted that multibillionaire Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has recently partnered with NationBuilder founder Joe Green to launch his controversial FWD.us political action committee, which is pressing for 457-style visas for immigrants and is lobbying hard to build the proposed Keystone XL gas pipeline. FWD.us’ brainstrust includes Google overlord Eric Schmidt, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman and venture capitalists John Doerr and Jim Breyer.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee head Jason Rosenbaum told techPresident last year that:

“… progressives should think carefully about who they’re helping when they use NationBuilder — every dollar you spend directly aids your opponents … The [RSLC] are the folks who helped pass Scott Walker’s agenda … who want to disenfranchise the minorities, who want to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Helping them win elections is pretty evil.”

Raven Brooks, executive director of Netroots nation, has called for a NationBuilder boycott. But a NationBuilder spokesman, David Mack, alerted Crikey to numerous progressive campaigns powered by the technology, including Eric Garcetti’s bid for Los Angeles mayor, California Democrat Eric Swalwell’s congressional bid, anti-GMO campaigns and its use by leftist radicals Rootstrikers.

“To be clear, NationBuilder is a non-partisan platform used by causes, organizations and parties of all kinds. Plenty of Democrats and non-aligned folks use NationBuilder every day, so we’d want to make sure folks understand that,” Mack said.

Last March, Crikey revealed Labor was in talks with rival operation Blue State Digital — the technology Barack Obama used to seize the US Presidency in 2008 and 2012. But it appears that the ALP baulked at the price of BSD, which has a licence to operate locally. BSD is currently used by a range of Australian labour movement clients including the Australian Nursing Federation.

Peter Fray

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