In February of 2012, I interviewed Lon Johnson who was running to be the Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP). During that interview, Johnson talked about the importance of Democrats competing in every single race across the state. “I think we need to have more people fighting for every seat,” he said. “We give no quarter. We make the Republicans duke it out in every single race.” Part of his vision for doing that was “Technology, technology, technology.”
Johnson put it this way at the time:
When I went down to the Obama campaign to visit my wife, it was a bunch of people that were not the “ward heeler” types. There’s a whole new way to understand what our message should be, how to deliver that message, and how people communicate with each other and we’ve got to go in and give people the tools to do that.
Two years later, as the Chair of the MDP, Lon Johnson is making good on that promise. The MDP has formed a partnership with with Ruck.us, a website development company and now offer free websites for every single Democratic candidate and local Democratic organization in the state. Josh Pugh, the MDP’s Communication Director explained it to me:
The MDP has partnered with Ruck.us to provide websites free of charge to every Democratic candidate and local Democratic organization in the state. We’ve worked with Ruck.us to provide our candidates and activists with a number of tools that are only available to Michigan. These sites even include a built-in tool to accept online contributions. The only thing we ask in return is that Ruck.us get a small percentage of contributions accepted through the site – even that percentage is lower than what they typically offer candidates and committees, because of our partnership.
We have 4,500 Democratic elected officials in the state and thousands of candidates running for offices at every level, every year, and fewer than 500 of them have any online presence. It’s time for us to bring 21st century tools to every Democrat in Michigan, so we can build a stronger party into the future.
I contacted Nathan Daschle, the former Executive Director of the Democratic Governors Association and current CEO of Ruck.us, to learn more. He told me that Ruck.us is an super-simple political website builder to make it easy for candidates and organizations to quickly have an online presence. “After spending months looking at the best political websites around the country,” Daschle said, “We built a template that allows any candidate to ‘drag and drop’ info into preset fields and have a attractive, functional, and professional website in minutes. The goal is to make building and maintaining a digital presence as cheap and easy as possible.”
Daschle told me that their sites include features like social media integration, event management, email collection, “ask me a question,” analytics, and donation processing. “Its free to set up,” he said, “But we charge a flat fee for donation processing. Candidates who sign up through the Michigan Democratic Party get a discounted fee.”
At the end of July, Ruck.us will release an organizational template. This will allow county parties, clubs, non-profits, labor unions, and other groups to similarly build their own custom website in minutes.
I asked Daschle how far along they are with the process. “Starting in June 2014, Ruck.us and the MDP partnered on an effort to improve the online presence of the MDP’s party structure and candidates,” he told me. “Through this partnership, we have reached out to all of the County parties, as well as to about 50 candidates who don’t yet have websites. We have made contact with 38 of these candidates, 36 of whom have already created websites on Ruck.us. In addition, a dozen local parties and clubs have pre-sent information so we can deliver them a website in late July. Overall, I am really happy with the reaction people have had to our partnership with MDP, and I am hopeful that we can drastically improve the party’s digital capabilities.”
During his campaign for Chair, Lon Johnson spoke frequently about creating a “Campaign in a Box” to help new candidates get started and this effort is part of creating that capacity. If you are a Democratic Party organization or a Democratic candidate for office and are in need of a website, contact the MDP at [email protected] or via their website to get started today.