Though politics was outside his initial business model, Scott Detweiler says he saw an opportunity there that he couldn't resist.
Detweiler said he had his company, Maelstrom Solutions, build a campaign website for a city council run at the request of a friend. He says that when he looked at the donation management software that campaign was using, in 2004, he was astonished.
"Really? This is it? This is what the space is using for donation management?" He recalls thinking.
Perceiving a weakness, Detweiler — whose software company is primarily concerned with solving problems like how to track the Kennedy Space Center's workplace accidents worldwide, and how much resulting insurance claims cost — put a small team of developers to work on a new set of software to compete with what political campaigns and advocates already had to work with. Four or five months later, he says, he had the software that eventually became YourPatriot, the campaign backend technology Maelstrom now sells to organizations and conservative candidates for political office (he serves Blue Dog Democrats too, he says).
Detweiler's company focuses on automation, ease-of-use, and cost effectiveness.
"Our goal is to try and keep the product inexpensive," he says.
"We're software people first," Maelstrom's founder explains. "We're not political-minded."
YourPatriot is designed to be the back end of an online campaign, Detweiler says. It allows campaign staff to farm tasks out to volunteers and keep track of their progress, collect online donations, allow for the management of events and an organization's members, send bulk e-mail and analyze statistics like click-through rates, send out follow-up polls, draw Leesburg grids — charts showing the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate and his opponents — and handle charity auctions.
Detweiler says YourPatriot doesn't really integrate with many other systems, but it shouldn't have to — the software, accessible from a web dashboard, is designed to handle it all, including constituent relationship management. That said, says Detweiler, you can export anything to Excel at any time — and the company will write custom interfaces, too, to make sure data can get from one system to another.
YourPatriot can crank out a personalized donation page keyed to each volunteer, so that when a volunteer drums up money for the campaign by e-mailing friends, for example, the donations are recorded as having been raised by that person, Detweiler says. A leaderboard feature shows which volunteers have been the most productive for a campaign.
For lists of people, such as recipients of e-mails, event invites, and fundraising asks, YourPatriot allows a user to cut out a list segment by picking criteria from drop-down menus.
YourPatriot doesn't generate compliance reports in every state. That said, Detweiler says it comes close, generating most of what a campaign needs to report and exporting it as Excel spreadsheets. And its online fundraising functionality allows money to be split up into different accounts, in most cases does not require the campaign to set up a merchant account ID, and still shows up on donors' credit card statements as a transaction with the campaign, not with YourPatriot or another generic entity.
Maelstrom Solutions recently decided to get into FEC compliance, and plans to launch actual compliance reporting features in the near future.
Another recently added feature allows PACs to operate fiscal conduits for online contributions. It requires some legal acrobatics, because election law varies from state to state, but the gist of it is this: Donors can give money to a separate entity designated as a conduit, and indicate which campaigns that conduit can go to with the donors' money. The PAC then figures out, based on which donors want to give to which candidates and what fundraising limits apply where, how to most efficiently match donors with recipients.
Donations can also be tracked by which ask raised the money, Detweiler said. For example, a candidate could send out issue-based appeals centered around health care and gun control, and see which one attracts the most interest — and dollars.
The software makes use of what Detweiler calls "roll-your-own" security: As an example, he said that some clients who process a lot of donations in check form have special permissions set up for people at their third-party caging firm, with one set of permissions for the staff and an extra level for supervisors. While the staff would need to be able to check a donor's previous donations and make sure the transaction is processed, a supervisor might need the ability to redistribute a donation if the designated account has already met its goal, such as switching from a primary election fund to the general election account, or return the donation if it brings the donor over a donation limit.
Asked what sets YourPatriot apart, Detweiler said he felt its ability to do post-event follow-up surveys was one distinguishing feature.
Maelstrom Solutions has also repackaged Tsunami, its content management system, into Ideal Campaign, a web solution for political campaigns and advocacy organizations. Ideal is sold at two levels, a cheaper, standard package, and a "Pro" package that includes greater integration with social media like Facebook and Twitter.
- Steve Lonegan, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor of New Jersey in 2009, used YourPatriot and Maelstrom's content management system, Ideal Campaign
- After Lonegan lost to Chris Christie, Detweiler says, the Christie campaign approached them and became clients, using YourPatriot for its website.
Detweiler's Maelstrom Solutions is a software company with a political product, not a political firm with a software product. Patriot is designed to be set up without a whole lot of help from Maelstrom; there are no sales staff involved in a sale, Detweiler says. (Although clients do deal with him personally.) Potential clients apply to use the software through an online form and are approved or turned away (he only serves conservatives, like Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats, for example) usually within a day. Although he offers technical support, Detweiler says the sales and support sides of his operation are small because YourPatriot works out of the box and does what it's supposed to do without much nudging.
YourPatriot.com costs $150 to set up, paid after it's active, and then $50/mo. plus 5 percent of online donations. Bulk mail comes at an additional fee based on the number of recipients. Ideal Campaign, the website side of Maelstrom's political software, costs $2,500 or $3,500 to set up and $40/mo. thereafter.; student organizations get YourPatriot.com at half price.
Presidential hopefuls Tommy Thompson and Duncan Hunter; Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wi.); Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.)