Aristotle is synonymous with politics inside the Beltway: The political technology firm, which started out selling software, has provided voter data to most of the presidential campaigns that have been mounted since it was founded in the mid-1980s.
But as the game of politics has changed, so has Aristotle. The consulting institution offers sophisticated campaign management software targeted to the biggest, most demanding campaigns. And, with the acquisition of Ben Katz's Complete Campaigns in 2008, Aristotle absorbed a more affordable and user-friendly set of tools for smaller campaigns, too.
"We've always thought of ourselves as a back-office technology firm," said Brian Williams, Aristotle's vice president of product strategy and design. "We're not really building websites or anything like that."
So Aristotle, he says, focuses on six things he figures the company does very well: Database software, data warehousing (Aristotle's copious amount of voter data is another primary stock in trade), software for political action committees, grassroots organizations and associations, international consulting, compliance reporting and providing data analysis tools.
And it doesn't seem like the firm is seeking to move beyond that. To compete in an age where the only technology that will see use is technology that a developer can repurpose at will, Williams says, Aristotle is making a deliberate effort to expose as much of its database framework as possible through an API.
"The sum of the parts is greater than the whole in that respect, and that's really the approach that we're taking," he said. "It's all about this ecosystem of political technology and having it all talk together. And that's where Aristotle puts its flag in the ground and says, 'hey, we are the most open.'"
Aristotle's flagship software offering is Aristotle 360, a complex relationship management system provided as a service and hosted on the company's own servers.
Aristotle 360 allows a campaign team to track its donors, volunteers and supporters, as well as track the progress of fundraising, get-out-the-vote, e-mail broadcasts and other efforts, through a customizable online dashboard. The same product can merge Aristotle's national voter records with a campaign's own data, and allows for lookups of specific voters, and process some campaign- or PAC-specific transactions like check requests; track and help to manage compliance reporting; and allow for online fundraising. Aristotle also has a constituent service suite for elected officials.
One of 360's unique features is a visual relationship map which, Williams says, allows campaigns to more easily see who they might want to target for an ask and who might be the best person to do the asking. Say a Democratic candidate is using 360 and trolls the relationship map; the candidate's team might be able to identify that a historically generous Democratic donor lives next door to one of the candidate's supporters.
Aristotle 360 also has an "action center" application to create an advocacy page where supporters can send letters or be prompted to call their elected officials.
Aristotle software also does fundraising compliance. The company guarantees that its software is current with compliance requirements in all 50 states and at the federal level.
Aristotle 360 and its companion applications are targeted towards large-scale campaigns, centered around a constituent relationship management database that's supposed to be able to automatically use Aristotle's external data to leverage a campaign's existing information about present and potential donors.
BackOffice — formerly the province of Aristotle's acquisition, Complete Campaigns — is more straightforward, Williams says. It's built to handle more standard demands of a campaign, he says. Both 360 and BackOffice can generate walk lists and track e-mail interactions with donors, as well as generate compliance reports like state elections commission filings. Both can also generate an online donation form for a front-facing web page, pass along the donation information for processing, and report the information to their central databases for tracking.
- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal used Aristotle 360 for his 2007 campaign
- Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd also used Aristotle 360 for his 2008 presidential campaign.
Aristotle boasts that its data offerings are ubiquitous in the political world, but the company's reach extends far beyond American political campaigns. It has software tailored to the needs of political action committees and grassroots organizations, and also provides technology and does consulting work around the world.
Aristotle is a company that knows what it wants to sell you. Rather than try to be a one-stop shop, the company is designing its software to play well with the products of other vendors. In late 2009, the company planned to hold a developer contest to show off the flexibility of new APIs — application programming interfaces, which allow third-party developers to build applications that interact with data stored in Aristotle-built systems — with thousands of dollars in prizes for the most impressive work.
For campaigns and party commiteees, Aristotle 360 costs $1,200/month; Complete Campaigns Back Office, $800/month; Back Office and Voter Manager, for state and local campaigns, $200/month; for advocacy groups and PACs, Grassroots 360 is priced according to organization size.
Republican Party of Texas; Republican Party of Michigan; National Association of Realtors