Democracy Engine

Company Name: 
Democracy Engine
About the Company: 

This is an archive from 2010. Check out our updated look at this company from August 2012.

Jonathan Zucker wanted to take part of ActBlue's basic concept — distributing the task of fundraising for a candidate or cause across an entire constituency, not just staff and a small knot of the most dedicated volunteers — and change it so it could be applied by any organization with progressive goals.

The result is Democracy Engine, a web-based application that allows individual organizations to put forward slates of candidates, non-profit organizations, PACs — just about any group that can accept donations — for supporters to champion.

As a company and as a product, Democracy Engine is built on Zucker's campaign finance law expertise and the tech savvy of his partner, Erik Pennebaker, who built a fundraising system for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid that he describes on the company website as the core of her online fundraising. Zucker was national director of operations for finance at the Democratic National Committee during the 2004 presidential campaign. And if Democracy Engine behaves a little bit like ActBlue, that's because Zucker was a board member and employee there, first as chief operating officer and counsel, then as its executive director, before severing ties with the organization in 2009 to strike out on his own.

Campaign finance law in America is often Byzantine. Campaign consultants who work in multiple states will bemoan, repeatedly and at length, what some of them consider to be unnecessarily complicated and specific regulations — in New Jersey and New York, for example — that limit how much interaction national parties can have with local campaigns, place caps on contributions for various types of contributors, and generally make it harder to move money around.

Democracy Engine tapdances around this in some ways and approaches it head-on in others. Zucker has created multiple entities of different types to handle interaction between donors and recipients, depending on where it's coming from and where it's going in an effort to stay within the law while simultaneously handling transactions of so many different kinds.

Software Summary: 

Democracy Engine allows large organizations — any entity that's allowed to advocate for a candidate or cause — to create fundraising pages to raise money for its slate of worthy recipients.

There are a few of twists here. Unlike ActBlue, this is a service that an organization pays to use; the client retains control over who can and can't be listed on a given fundraising page. This is not really a "distributed fundraising" tool, either. While Zucker says he may build in the ability to create personal fundraising pages later on, for now, the only chances to donate are those created directly by the organization that's buying access to Democracy Engine.

Zucker and his staff have a master database of charities, candidates and other organizations that are eligible to receive money. This list is limited to organizations that fit with Democracy Engine's particular progressive bent. The purchase price for the software includes access to some portion of that list, which the client can then add or remove from any number of fundraising pages.

As a client, what your users will see is the page you've created, which can be styled in CSS, including details on the particular call to action, a list of recipients for donations, and the chance to choose which amounts go to which recipients. The donor can also elect to "tip" a final organization of your choosing — like, oh, say, yours.

Then, when the donor clicks through to fill out payment information, they see a form to fill out with their name, credit card information, and so on. That master database of charities and candidates that Democracy Engine uses also keeps track of which compliance information each recipient needs; which fields populate the payment page depends on which candidate or cause is getting money.

The administrative section allows clients to manage multiple donation pages, add or remove recipients from their list of available targets, and track which recipients are getting money — from which pages.

For larger organizations, Democracy Engine supports permissions and divisions. This would be useful, for example, for a national organization with chapters in each state: The national organization's administrator can set up accounts for people at each chapter, with permissions to view and modify only pages and donation recipients for their chapter, as well as national staff accounts that can change the lists of recipients available to each chapter and follow donation rates for recipients across multiple chapters.

All of this functionality and potential usefulness is, at the time of this writing, still just potential: Democracy Engine is brand new and yet to be used by anybody.

Client Quick-Take: 

N/A — There aren't any clients yet.

Client Close-Up: 

N/A — There aren't any clients yet.

Quick Facts


Negotiable; Nobody had signed a contract yet when we spoke to Zucker in February 2010.

Example Clients: 


Year Founded: 
4 full-time
Civic Hall
Personal Democracy Media presents Civic Hall, a one-of-a-kind community center for the world’s civic innovators. Located in the heart of New York City, Civic Hall is your home for civic tech.


Sign up for email updates from Personal Democracy Media and Civic Hall.