Close allies of former President Barack Obama quietly launched a new technology startup on Monday to further their ambitions of helping liberal candidates win political races across the country after waves of losses during the Obama years.
The latest move is called “Higher Ground Labs” and is being launched by a handful of Obama acolytes including the ex-president’s 2012 online organizing director Betsy Hoover and Organizing for Action Executive Director Jon Carson, as well as former executives from Tumblr and Google.
Higher Ground hopes to double down on Democratic reliance on technology to organize activists and track voting trends, by focusing on lower-profile races, from governors to town mayors. The group reportedly already has taken in $1 million in new donations.
Higher Ground is seeking tech entrepreneurs on its website, “Are you building a new tool or product to meet a challenge confronting progressive campaigns? Apply for our accelerator program!”
Max Wood, developer of “Deck Apps,” is one such entrepreneur. According to his website, “Deck is a predictive modeling tool used by progressive campaigns and causes to better understand how many votes it will take to win an election and where those votes are most likely to come from.” Wood said Higher Ground is helping him “change the way we organize so we can find new ways of winning,” claiming “there’s a real risk we could end up losing the thread on this movement.”
They’ve got their work cut out for them. Since 2009, Democrats have lost control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, along with 900 state legislative seats. The GOP now holds 32 state houses and 33 governorships – more than 60 percent of state-level political power.
"As a lifelong campaigner, it is clear that we could be scaling faster and innovating in smarter ways,” said Hoover, a Higher Ground Labs co-founder. “As Democrats, our organizing needs to evolve.”
Higher Ground Labs is yet another component in an emerging strategy by ex-President Obama to continue his advocacy, with funding from wealthy scions of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. When laying out his vision for his post-presidential activism, Obama said last October that he wanted to create a “platform where young activists can get trained and learn from each other.” He also gave an overview last week for his presidential center in Chicago, which he envisions in part as a “campus” for training future political leaders.
Much of the reported work so far has involved raising large sums of money with long-time Obama bundlers like Marty Nesbitt, founder of Chicago-based “Parking Spot” who is now raising millions of dollars of donations for the new Obama presidential library in Chicago.
A leftist online publication called “Jacobin Mag” reported the following reply when it pressed the Barack Obama Foundation for answers on whether the president is getting paid by corporate America to ease off progressive policies: “The Obama Foundation will focus on developing the next generation of citizens — and what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century. More than a library, or a museum, the Obama Presidential Center will be a place that brings people together and inspires individuals and communities to take on big challenges.”
Meanwhile, Obama’s nonprofit community organizing project, Organizing for Action, is “bringing in thousands of new people who have never been engaged before, connecting them to a nationwide grassroots network, providing them with cost-free training, and empowering them to apply those skills to make change in their communities," according to OFA communications director Jesse Lehrich.