If you've never heard of CMDI, that's the way John Simms always wanted it. Despite this low profile, though, CMDI claims to have processed $1.3 billion in political contributions in the 2007-2008 election cycle.
A veteran campaigner who served a stint as the executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party ("after Haley Barbour," he explains) in the 1970s, Simms says his work in political consulting got serious at around the same time as the first wave of innovation in personal computing, in the 80s.
His software work began with voter databases, trying to mimick the kinds of data marketers were using in the private sector and using laser printing — also a new and different thing at the time — to send out personalized direct mail, he says.
Over time, CMDI's focus started to skew towards donor management databases and fundraising. In the 1990s, the company launched fundraising software for the Republican National Committee, and established itself as a vendor for Republican presidential campaigns.
"We've penetrated the national market very successfully, we do this work for the RNC, the senatorial committee and the congressional committee," says Simms.
But the way CMDI's software worked until now — a lightweight client on the customer's computer, a dedicated server doing all the heavy lifting — made the costs prohibitive for smaller clients, like state parties and statehouse candidates, Simms said.
The advent of cloud computing has changed this. Now that it's easier and faster to move data securely back and forth over the Internet, and to have web-based applications doing more complex and mission critical tasks, CMDI is launching a web-based version of its donor management software.
CMDI also wants to provide software to professional fundraisers, people who offer their services for hire to campaigns who need a rainmaker.
CMDI's client-server software, Dexter, provides a constituent relationship management database for managing donors and tracking donations. The web-based version, Crimson, which has not yet been released, does the same things and is based on the same SQL database design, Simms says. Dexter was built for the Bush-Cheney '04 presidential campaign, and received upgrades for each election cycle.
"It's the place that their fundraising starts and ends," Simms says of the system. "They go to the system to do their selections for all their fundraising, marketing across different channels."
Then, after the donation is made, the data goes back into Dexter to keep a record of the transaction. The system offers analytics to allow a campaign or a fundraiser to track donations and generate lists of donors who might be likely to give again for the same campaign, and can store images of checks for compliance purposes, says Simms.
CMDI also offers caging and credit card processing for clients, database management and list merging services, and list processing — the company checks lists against the postal service's change of address database.
Clients can also use CMDI to file their Federal Election Commission compliance reports, Simms says.
"We're building into Crimson a knowledgebase and online chat capability which we're going to offer to the compliance specialists around the country so that they can maintain their own proprietary base of information about how they can best perform compliance tasks," Simms adds, "and they can provide that information to their Crimson clients directly over our platform."
Donations — whether they're processed through CMDI or elsewhere — can come in through fundraising widgets the platform itself generates (built in Silverlight), or through other services via an API. Bundler activity is trackable through the system, right down to fundraiser ID codes embedded in fundraising widgets, says Simms. He says Dexter and Crimson allow for detailed data entry, and has tools both for novices and for database pros who want the ability to use batch commands.
Dexter and Crimson also come with their own e-mail blast system.
Crimson, built in Silverlight, should be ready and affordable for state candidates in 2012, Simms says. It's not clear if Crimson will be ready before then.
"When you subscribe to the Crimson system and go online ... you'll have in that pack most of the things you'll need to begin accepting gifts," Simms says. "You'll have a handful of widgets that are available to you immediately to deploy to do online registrations to take gifts and those are transportable through social networks."
Simms describes CMDI's role in a campaign as the back-end of everything a Republican candidate does. He says the company is building its next-generation software to be easy for designers and developers to work with.
"We do not expect to be nor do we want to be the web developers for a campaign," Simms says. "We want our systems to communicate with what they do online ... all these sources of information are not siloed in a way that diminishes their value, and that's a position that few in the marketplace really take today."
That's not true anymore. Many of the vendors we spoke to for the guide at least said that they now take the same view.
Campaigns aren't CMDI's only target — the company wants to be the software choice for political rainmakers, too.
Simms described setting up Crimson such that professional fundraisers can maintain their own database of contacts and elect which data to share with client campaigns that also use the software.
"Many of them —" Simms is talking about fundraisers — "complain that they don't have a place to maintain their own lists of prospects that they use time and time again."
CMDI was the compliance back-end provider for Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)'s special election campaign in early 2010, Simms says. The Brown campaign used Engage's iContribute software to collect the donations, but CMDI provided the systems and consulting to file their reports. CMDI received data from iContribute in real time, Simms says.
Monthly fees plus a charge for e-mails over a set number, and charges based on percentage of funds raised if the client uses CMDI for cor credit card clearing/processing
Sen. Scott Brown; Marco Rubio; Carly Fiorina