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Political Consultant Sells Software to Cut Campaign Red Tape

For any political campaign, tracking contributions and donors should be a priority, but for a long time, this essential activity was done using the same methodology as Bartleby the scrivener, copying figures with a pen.

Ben Katz, a longtime political consultant in San Diego, figured there had to be a better way.

In 1999, frustrated by the lack of any standardized software to track political contributions, he set about to develop the software on his own.

“There were almost no tools for this sort of thing, let alone well-designed tools,” said the 31-year-old native of Oakland.

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While forms existed to report contributions to the appropriate state agency for California political seats, the reporting was haphazard, often done by different people, and a single person usually controlled data, Katz said.

“It seemed like everybody was working on islands,” he said. “There were problems with information gaps, and with the inability to share the information.”

Joining forces with partner Mark Van Drunen, Katz formed CompleteCampaigns.com, a San Diego-based firm providing Web-based software that allows real-time sharing of information among political campaign workers.

Katz said he and his partner invested about $250,000 into developing the product. He also enlisted the technical expertise of locally based Web development firm Quexion LLC.

“The most important single critical feature of the software is the government compliance reporting aspect, where the money is coming from and where it’s going,” he said.

Since its introduction in 2000, CompleteCampaigns’ flagship product, called BackOffice, has proved to be an effective and widely used program.

Recently, the Personal Democracy Forum, a media organization focused on the intersection of technology and politics, recognized CompleteCampaigns as the No. 1 software as a service, and the No. 1 overall software.

About 200 campaigns responded to the survey, which ranked CompleteCampaigns above such firms as Convio, Capital Advantage, Plus Three, and San Diego-based Kintera Inc.

Katz said as of the end of last year, he had some 1,000 clients in 42 states.

“They run the gamut of candidates for city council or school board seats to the U.S. Senate. We’ve even worked with a few presidential candidates, but for people you’ve never heard of,” he said, recalling several obscure candidates in a couple of states.


Clients Include Area Politicians

Locally, Katz said among the first users of BackOffice were U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, and former San Diego City Councilman Michael Zucchet.

Aimee Remanick, a director for the political consulting firm of Tom Shepard & Associates Inc. in San Diego, said the firm has probably used CompleteCampaigns software for about four years.

The program allows various workers, including hired consultants such as Shepard’s firm, to easily access information pertaining to fund raising, contributions, the paying of bills, and the availability of cash on hand, Remanick said.

“Obviously, in a campaign, that’s very important to know where you’re at,” she said. “It’s important for a campaign to stay on target and this software allows us to do that quickly and easily.”

Besides the BackOffice product, Shepard also employed CompleteCampaigns’ products dealing with managing a candidate’s Web site, and one that can process donations as well, Remanick said.

The firm used Katz’s software to keep abreast of contributions made to Mayor Jerry Sanders in his successful campaign of 2005.


Range Of Services

Depending on the size of the campaign and the various applications for the software, fees charged for campaign services could range from about $150 to several thousands of dollars, Katz said.

While he didn’t disclose exact figures, Katz said company revenue last year was “just under $2 million,” and we’ve doubled in revenue just about every year.

No matter how good Katz’s software, anything can happen in an election and he’s always scurrying for new clients.

“On Election Day, you’re either a winner, or you’re fired,” he said. “We lose about half our clients every other year.”

The more likely clients are the challengers, not incumbents, he said. “The incumbents usually have a patchwork of systems that may be taped together. It doesn’t usually work too well, but it works.”

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