ITHACA, NY – In the modern political landscape, there are a lot of sure things. For example, the odds of New York voting Republican in the Presidential election are almost nil. The same goes for seats in Congress — thanks to demographics and gerrymandering, some districts are basically forgone conclusions.
“If you’re in one of this districts, it’s easy to see the political process as somewhat alienating,” says Aaron Schifrin, co-founder of the a new service called Swingdonor. Schifrin says that while monied interests on both sides of the aisle have been able to funnel money into the races that are competitive, for the average person it’s difficult to know if your donation will actually have an impact.
With Swingdonor, Schifrin and co-founders Austin Gage and James Underberg, all Cornell alums, are hoping to even the scales by matching donors with ideologically matching candidates in other districts. They believe will allow individual small donors to collectively make an impact in important races where they would normally be overshadowed by bigger donators.
The website is straightforward: users take a ten-question quiz and are then matched with a candidate in a “swing district” who best represents the user’s viewpoints on the issues most important to them. Swingdonor then facilitates a donation, and users can choose to leave a tip to support the site if they so choose.
“It’s a personal political concierge, in effect,” says Schifrin.
Starting out and moving forward
Schifrin and Gage were roommates in their freshman year at Cornell, and met Underberg shortly after. While they now are spread across the country — on both coasts and in Washington D.C. — the idea had been floating around since their early days in Ithaca.
“I saw firsthand the corrupting role that big money had in politics and the consequences of it,” says Underberg, who has worked in Washington D.C. and for Governor Cuomo’s office in New York. “I was extremely disillusioned by how things were working in D.C. — or not working.”
The site has been up and running for two weeks, and the team says that they’ve been gathering momentum and getting positive feedback.
While the presidential election has drawn a lot of attention to politics this year, Schifrin says it’s a double-edged sword. While people may be paying more attention, that attention is focused on the presidential races and less on the downballot races. The Swingdonor team believes that partnering with advocacy groups will help keep people motivated to contribute to important races.”
“In some ways we’re excited about the opportunity to continue the experiment in a year where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s personal flaws aren’t being covered 24/7 and there’s a little more time for substance,” says Schifrin.
While the platform is non-partisan, the team says they were impressed by Bernie Sanders grassroots fundraising through small donors, and Swingdonor aims to replicate that at a congressional level. Given Ithaca’s reputation as “Bernie Sanders country,” it only makes sense that an idea aimed at counteracting big money in politics would get its start here.
“It gives you a really meaningful opportunity for political expression looking across the races and across the country, at people who will impact federal policy,” Schifrin says. “As a hotbed of Bernie Sanders activism, if people are looking for a way to carry that ethos, this provides a great opportunity.”