Paul Spencer, a congressional candidate in Little Rock, Arkansas, has never worked in a technology company. He does not represent problems of the technological industry. He does not even own a laptop or a smartphone. He usually dictates tweets on the official Twitter account of his campaign; he will occasionally write them on a campaign employee's computer. Sometime last year, he was tagged in a tweet with someone under the control of @Pinboard, telling Spencer he could raise money for him.
"I do not know who this @Pinboard guy is," he told his team. The campaign ignored the tweet for a couple of days before someone decided they could also send a message. "We like to say it's the most lucrative DM we've sent," Reed Brewer, spokesman for the Spencer campaign, told me.
Spencer was being invited to be a beneficiary of Great Slate, a fundraising campaign that raised almost one million dollars in 2017, mainly through Twitter, for eight seemingly random candidates from Congress across the country. The Great Slate does not have flashy slogans or slippery logos: just a bare-bones website, a donation button and lots of jokes on Twitter. It is not being administered by the candidates, a PAC or the Campaign Committee of the Democratic Congress (DCCC). Fundraising is driven almost entirely by grassroots technology workers, some working for large companies like Google, who live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"It's the most lucrative DM we've sent."
The candidates they have chosen often are thousands of kilometers away, and most do not even talk about specific topics of the technology industry. None of the candidates are technology workers: they include school teachers, veterans and a nurse. They are running in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Maine, Iowa, New Mexico and more rural areas of California.
What they have in common is that they are progressive candidates who run in districts of less affluent republican tendencies, often rural, who have problems raising money locally. And now, the funds have reached them, without them asking for it.
Maciej Ceglowski, who runs a grassroots organization called Tech Solidarity that seeks to connect technology workers with their communities, improvised the Great Slate after meeting Jess King, a candidate who ran for office in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Ceglowski was impressed by King's approach: a populist campaign focused on door-to-door field work and aimed at expanding voters.
After successfully raising money for her technology community campaign, she began looking through the FEC archives for other candidates like her in districts with similar political inclinations. Ceglowski, who is perhaps best known for creating the bookmarking site, originally launched individual candidates for technology workers. Many in the community know Ceglowski personally or are familiar with him through his extravagant Internet presence, and it became clear that donors preferred to give money in all areas to all their selections. They were willing to trust the candidates with whom they had met and personally elected, and thus the Great Slate was born.
The Great Slate transfers money to candidates through ActBlue, a campaign payment processing service affiliated with Democrats. Campaign funding laws mean that when you make a donation to the Great Slate ActBlue page, you are asked to enter amounts separately for each individual campaign. Ceglowski has no control over how the funds are divided. But the donors we spoke with tended to donate equitably to the candidates, seeing Great Slate as a bigger cause than just individual candidates.
The average technical worker is a "NPR listener"
"There are many people who work in technology who have a very progressive mentality, who believe in a solid social security network, who have very different political beliefs [from the libertarians] and who have no face when we talk about the technology industry," says Ceglowski.
This is not surprising, says Ceglowski. He says that the average technical worker is an "NPR listener" and that the "strange libertarian" ideology is represented mainly on the side of the venture capitalist. (Peter Thiel, the face of techno-libertarianism in Silicon Valley, supported Trump in the last elections). "When you look at the auto workers and the airline industry, you do not just hear the owners of the companies," says Ceglowski. "The workers have their own voice and, sometimes, they agree on the problems and, sometimes, they are diametrically opposed".
The project, says Ceglowski, has been driven by technology workers who are fed up with the Republican-led government. In late 2016 and early 2017, technology workers began to sign the Never Again pledge, promising never to build technology that would help the Trump administration create a Muslim registry. The creation of Tech Solidarity, a grassroots organization that works against Trump, overlapped with the promise. By the end of 2017, Tech Solidarity was organized around Great Slate.
"Everyone is really tired of the Trump show and the feeling of having no agency and nothing you can do," Ceglowski said. "We all repeat that our votes matter and that we are all going to the polls, but whether or not I vote, Nancy Pelosi [who represents San Francisco] will win either one hundred thousand votes or one hundred thousand one." Donors of the Great Slate, he says, would probably donate to the Democratic Party or the ACLU if not to the Big Board. It is just another beneficiary of anti Trump anger.
But the success of Great Slate has come as a surprise to candidates at the receiving end of generosity. Mad Hildebrandt, who was inspired by the March of Women to run for the second district of New Mexico, said she was "a little hesitant" when she first received an email from Ceglowski. "But my son is an engineer, my son-in-law is a software engineer, that's how they would do it," he laughed.
"It sounds really bleak for the candidates."
"It sounds really bleak for candidates," says Ceglowski. When a "random computer guy appears out of nowhere" and begins to promise them free money, the candidates react with understandable distrust. "I would say that his first impression of me is not very positive."
It does not help that Ceglowski insists on giving information to candidates about the security of information. He carries the YubiKeys (hardware authentication devices that are the gold standard of two-factor authentication) for meetings with those who are running for public office. Strengthening security practices in political campaigns is important, especially considering the email hacking that dominated the 2016 cycle, but a stranger who appears to explain two factor authentication is probably a bit unpleasant. After raising nearly a million dollars combined last quarter, "they are being much nicer to me," Ceglowski says.
"I think that Great Slate is a new and surprising thing that is happening," Hildebrandt said. "It's part of Blue Wave, it really is what it is."
The money raised by Great Slate changed the game for the candidates we talked to.
Hildebrandt has just opened another field office with the help of those funds, which will help your campaign do more footwork in the area. Your district in New Mexico is expanding and includes sparsely populated rural areas; A lot of the money from her campaign, she says, goes to the cost of just driving.
"It's been a gift from heaven," says Paul Spencer of Little Rock. As a campaign financial reformer, Spencer does not accept PAC money. This left their campaign so limited in money that they only had the money to boost some publications on Facebook. After the Great Slate fundraiser, they now have yard signs, billboards and additional staff. Being able to wake up every morning with money in your ActBlue account means that Spencer spends less time planning events to raise funds in people's homes or in phone calls with potential donors, and more time going door-to-door and celebrating town halls, which is exactly what Spencer would prefer to be doing. "Fundraising is the dumbest thing in the universe," he told me.
"Fundraising is the dumbest thing in the universe."
Because the candidates for the Spencer district generally come from the most affluent neighborhoods, they raise funds in those same neighborhoods. As a result, large sections of the district, particularly neighborhoods that are predominantly people of color, do not have their interests represented. The district may bow to Republicans in elections, but Spencer's theory is that he does not have to be "Republican" to win.
Great Slate candidates are progressive, but there is no ideological fire test. Some advocate for universal health care, others are driven by immigration reform and the welfare of DACA beneficiaries. There are Catholics on the board, which raises some questions about how those candidates will address reproductive problems. (Spencer himself is a devout Catholic, but a campaign spokesman told me he was opposed to any restrictions on a woman's right to choose or her ability to obtain contraceptives). Ceglowski says he was looking for viable candidates who would focus on opening local offices, canvassing, knocking on doors, and expanding the voter base – building grassroots structures that, even if they did not eventually win, would become resources for future elections.
Ceglowski chose candidates in Republican and economically tense districts that he thought had the opportunity to change in favor of a local and progressive populist candidate. All candidates, he says, are "outsiders." They are not professional politicians; They have day jobs. According to Ceglowski, they are not "Harvard lawyers" or "Stanford graduates," and they do not have wealthy friends Rolodexes to turn to. (One of the candidates is a lawyer with a UC Davis degree, presumably this does not count).
Ceglowski believes that these candidates are being ignored by the policies of DCCC. To get support from the DCCC, "you're supposed to have a Rolodex that can raise a quarter of a million dollars," says Ceglowski, "and they actually accompany you through your list of potential donors, and you're not a viable candidate if you do not You can prove to them that you can raise so much money. " In the last two months of the elections, all that money is invested in advertising and consultants. But to raise that kind of money, candidates have to spend their time raising funds by phone, instead of going out and connecting with voters. This approach, says Ceglowski, does not work in rural districts where money is not there.
When I asked DCCC if this was, in fact, their policy, spokesman Tyler Law told me by email: "Although we are certainly encouraged by an increase in base dollar donations to Democrats in this cycle, it is also important that the candidates are mobilizing the base, building coalitions with progressive allies in the field and building robust campaign infrastructures. "
Robust campaign infrastructures need money. Ceglowski and the DCCC are, at least, in agreement about that. So, the Great Board, in other words, is a logical proposition, an invitation to the experts in leftist tendencies to invest in candidates who otherwise would not have an opportunity. It is a proposal that progressives in Silicon Valley have received enthusiastically, particularly those who are bothered by how their industry is represented by people like Eric S. Raymond, Peter Thiel and, more recently, James Damore.
Ceglowski chose candidates in Republican and economically tense districts that he thought had the opportunity to change in favor of a progressive local populist candidate.
In the first quarter of 2018 alone, Great Slate has raised more than $ 140,000, mostly by word of mouth online. The donors I spoke with seemed to donate mostly in hundreds, sometimes less. Much of that was driven by the promise of security researcher Thomas Ptacek to stop tweeting about Eric S. Raymond, a notorious figure in the open source community whose strange and abundant ramblings on everything, including race and sex, could considered early precursors of the current -right strains in the technological community.
Raymond, popularly known as ESR, is an "open source philosophical leader" who has been ridiculed for his controversial views: statements such as "Gays experimented with unbridled promiscuity in the 1970s and got AIDS as a consequence" or "Police that he reacts to a random black man who behaves suspiciously and who could be in the critical age range as if it were a near-fatal lethal threat, is being rational, not racist. "
"I've been torturing Twitter with quotes from Eric S. Raymond for years," says Thomas Ptacek. "Every time I do it, 20 people beg me to stop." So Ptacek kept his followers hostage: pay, or the ESR quotes would keep coming. It is estimated that Ptacek has driven around $ 30,000, just by threatening to publish dazzling screenshots.
"ESR is a talentless hacking whose reputation is completely based on self-promotion and the right place at the right time." His attempts to define the culture that gave him everything he has have been disgusting, "says Matthew Garrett, an engineer security on Google that donated to Great Slate. "So, I'm excited about the performative association of these things in a way that also says fuck your political views? Yes yes, I am."
Many of the donors I spoke with were long-time critics of ESR who had fun with the ESR boost, but they were all serious about the basic mission of Great Slate. "These two things do not seem related, but somehow they are," said donor Kate McKinley, an information security professional in San Francisco. The ESR unit is a reflection of the cultural warfare within technology, an insular battle that means little to the candidates who are now reaping huge profits from it.
In interviews, Silicon Valley donors and national campaigns sounded as if they came from two different planets. Hildebrandt, who was previously in the Coast Guard, told me how his district was very populated by veterans, not because of a military base, but because of simple demographics: the military is often seen as the only way for the children of the working class . Paul Spencer told me about the lack of access to the internet in Arkansas and the desperate need for broadband. These are communities that could not be further from an archaic and long Internet career with some kind of open source blog.
Although they may find it disconcerting, the candidates have a lot of good will towards the Great Board: Spencer called the technicians behind the effort "civic." In the Spencer district, the median income is 39,000, which is even richer than the rest of the state. But while Great Slate donors may belong to income groups several steps above their constituents, they are "thousandaires", not plutocrats, and the money they send comes without any commitment. Working with Great Slate brings daily surprises. "You never know when there's going to be an influx of money to be honest," said Brewer, Spencer's campaign spokesman. "Sometimes it's driven by a tweetstorm that says someone I've never met."
Although they may find it disconcerting, candidates have a lot of good will towards the Great Board
Technological workers who are helping buy these campaigns, office chairs and gas money may be far from their local concerns, but they also identify with Blue Wave.
Ceglowski is not a typical political organizer, and none of the donors I spoke with fit the profile of a dedicated Democratic political donor. Garrett told me that giving progressive candidates seemed obvious to him, since he supported progressive causes, but he acknowledged that these eight campaigns were the only ones he had donated so far.
"I have no idea what works and why it works, sometimes the money only comes in, sometimes what I think works has no impact, I'm completely in the dark about what I'm doing," Ceglowski says.
In the end, everyone involved only does what they know best, even though the result is something that nobody has seen before. "I do not think it's particularly strange," Spencer said. "I think it's extraordinary, Great Slate is not the ordinary way to do something, but it may become the ordinary way of doing things." And, after all, even if The Great Slate is strange, it will not be the strangest story of the 2018 election.
As the midterm exams increase, the Big Board is having unexpected success. Jess King, the candidate who inspired Ceglowski to form the Great Slate in the first place, won the Democratic endorsement last week.