It was such a thrill to see someone tweeting this week that they were "going gaga" over my new website, Crowdpac.com, while someone else described it as "an INCREDIBLE resource" for the upcoming elections. That means a lot to our small start-up team, because we have a big aim: to level the playing field in American politics and put power back where it belongs -- in the hands of the people.
Of course, in theory, that's what elections are for. But in reality? The rich, the powerful, the special interests -- they don't just vote. They're intimately involved in the whole political process. They pay advisors to identify, fund, and train the candidates that most agree with them. They influence elections all over the country. They hire hefty teams in Washington to sway legislation and votes in Congress. They conspire to gerrymander districts so that favored incumbents stay in office. And recent Supreme Court decisions have given the big donors another leg up.
All this means that more and more politicians are beholden to a tiny number of rich donors, instead of being accountable to their constituents. I was shocked to discover, for example, that Ro Khanna, running for Congress in California's 17th District and who presents himself as a modern, tech-savvy, new kind of candidate, is actually No.2 on Crowdpac's 'Fat Cats' list. Of the 1200 or so candidates running for Congress, Khanna raises more of his money from big donors than nearly every other candidate.
Crowdpac is designed to fix this. What if every American could determine within seconds which candidates most agree with them and will pursue an agenda they care about? What if every American could see which of their favored candidates were most at risk of losing their races? What if every American could find campaigns around the country where their donation would have a real effect? In other words, what if you could engage in politics the way the big players do? Imagine if the best candidate -- the one that stands for what the people want -- could actually win. Don't you want that power back?
That's what I mean by a level playing field: giving every American access to the same political tools that the insiders have monopolized. Learning about the candidates on your local ballot and supporting those across the country that match your priorities. This knowledge is real power once you realize that your dollars could make a difference. A whole industry has been built in Washington, hoarding information to keep politics in the hands of the professionals. Now we're opening it up to the rest of us. As someone tweeted about our site: "Data visuals are gorgeous. Idea is so smart. Now middle-class can play the 'influence elections' game too."
So: we can wallow in our distaste for the role of money in politics, and leave it all to the big donors and special interests who have co-opted the system. Or we can co-opt the system ourselves -- by organizing, mobilizing, getting together. Please join me: let's beat the big donors at their own game.
Steve Hilton is co-founder and CEO of Crowdpac and a visiting professor at Stanford University. He was previously Senior Advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron