Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Big-Dollar Dem Funders Step Into the Angel Business

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, June 3 2010

A certain subset of the Democracy Alliance -- that network of high-dollar investors on the political left whose founding five years ago as a challenge to the right's political infrastructure was memorably profiled in New York Times Magazine's Matt Bai's book "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics" -- has spun off a project aimed at providing seed money and a bit of advice to the small startups and bright ideas that they noticed were falling under the Democracy Alliance radar. "There is a hole in the movement," Matt Ewing, the director of the new project, called New Media Ventures, said during a coffee break at our 2010 Personal Democracy Forum this morning. James Rucker, who directs the well-known mini-movement called Color of Change, put it thus: "You can't be some scrappy, two-person project that needs $50,000 and engage with Democracy Alliance."

Fifty-thousand to $100,000 are the funding levels are mentioned as about what New Media Ventures (NMV) is looking to provide to progressives who otherwise have little more than a hope and something of a plan, though both Ewing and Rucker admit that NVM is itself something of a start-up, and a bit rough around the edges. New Media Ventures, say those involved, draws inspiration from Silicon Valley, and in particular a funding ecosystem that relies upon angel investors. Software entrepreneur Mike Mathieu is a member of NVM's at-launch advisory board, for example, and Rucker is himself both a software entrepreneur and a MoveOn alum. That second bit of biography is particularly relevant, because MoveOn serves as something of an inspiration too. (Ewing once directed MoveOn's network of volunteers.) Luck, says Rucker, has driven the development of the institutional left in recent years; MoveOn was more or less a lark, yet it itself has spawned some of the more promising organizations in progressivism: Ruckers' Color of Change, Moms Rising, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, to name a few. The idea is to make the odds more favorable by making a deliberate effort to fund emerging ideas.

The story of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) is an instructive example. I have a distinct memory of listening to MoveOn vet Adam Green describe the plan for a new organization that he would co-found with Stephanie Taylor, a labor organizer among other things, and Aaron Swartz, a writer, activist, and one of the early leaders of Reddit. The PCCC would user what its founders had learned at MoveOn, in labor, in the tech world to challenge the Democratic establishment. (It's not unintentional that PCCC sounds remarkably close to "DCCC," or the wing of the Democratic establishment officially responsible for getting Democrats elected to Congress). "Cute," I thought, and thought not much more of it. A year or so later, and the PCCC may well help determine who might be the next senator from Arkansas, or at least who the Democratic nominee for the seat will be.

Big-dollar Democrat funders have demonstrated similar vision. At least that's the negative stereotype, and it's one that Democracy Alliance hasn't escaped. If, on the one hand, suggests Ewing, you have former White House chief of staff John Podesta, looking for money for his Center for American Progress, and on the other hand you have "two 25 year olds in the garage with a bright idea," who are you going to fund? (In case you're scratching your head, the answer has been, generally speaking, Podesta.) That's a question, though, that angel investors in the technology world have demonstrated that they're willing to entertain. Ewing says that New Media Ventures will be on the look-out for "riskier, edgier" projects -- i.e., ones not necessarily led by folks who have West Wing experience on their resumes. NVM will pair investors from the broader Democracy Alliance network who have a higher risk tolerance with worthy projects that have a plan for creating serious progressive political change. That might be the next ActBlue or Huffington Post, says Ewing. If New Media Ventures had been around a few years back, suggests Rucker, that might have been an organization that grew out of the massive 2006 immigration protests, a burst of political fervor that, says Rucker, went largely wasted as raw material for building the progressive firmament.

Ewing predicts that the New Media Ventures donors will fund their first projects by early fall, and those bright folks with smart, big ideas can apply online. "Some of them will fail," says Ewing, of the projects that will get seed money from the project, "and some of them will become the next MoveOn."

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Civic Hackers Call on de Blasio to Fill Technology Vacancies

New York City technology advocates on Wednesday called on the de Blasio administration to fill vacancies in top technology policy positions, expressing some frustration at the lack of a leadership team to implement a cohesive technology strategy for the city. GO

China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.

GO

wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

More