RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you're creating a dream juicer or making a film, there are plenty of places to raise money. Think Kickstarter - right? But if you are thinking of running for office, there hasn't been a single place online where you could test the campaign financing waters - until now. NPR's Aarti Shahani takes a look at the first crowdfunding platform for potential candidates.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Regina Bateson had a good life. She was a political science professor at MIT, on track to get tenure. She was a mom, just had twins in fact. And then the November 2016 election happened. Bateson recalls lying on a rug, infants in her arms and crying.
REGINA BATESON: You know, thinking about how what had just happened - about how Donald Trump's victory was going to affect the way they were going to grow up. So I was...
SHAHANI: What do you mean by that?
BATESON: Oh, you know, I have three boys, actually. They're all little boys. And I don't want them to grow up in a world where bullying is the norm.
SHAHANI: That night, she was in shock. Then over the coming days and weeks, that feeling evolved to curiosity. She took a good long look around. And she told herself...
BATESON: This is a time when we all have to stand up and have the biggest impact that we each can. We each need to do the biggest thing that we can.
SHAHANI: The biggest thing - it's a thought a lot of people are having. Bateson started eyeing politics back home. She's a Democrat from California 4, a stunningly beautiful district that includes Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. It's solidly Republican, but she's convinced the incumbent, Republican Tom McClintock, is dramatically out of touch with his constituents. For example, they are very environmentalist, and he is not.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TOM MCCLINTOCK: The climate changes rather dramatically over the millennia.
SHAHANI: This is him denying climate change at a town hall meeting in April.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MCCLINTOCK: There is a great debate right now over the...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, there isn't.
SHAHANI: In 2008, McClintock won office by a tiny margin, but he's been winning with landslides ever since. Bateson has a theory about why. The Democrats who've tried to unseat him have raised roughly $10,000 to $100,000. And that is the problem. It's chump change.
BATESON: And that was where the Internet does begin to factor into the story.
SHAHANI: Bateson wanted to find ways to raise money for Democrats in her district, so she Googled terms like Kickstarter politics. And she got back a site called crowdpac.com. Like other sites, Crowdpac, which is nonpartisan, ranks political campaigns and lets you donate. Unlike others, Crowdpac also lets you explore the idea of running for office without having to commit.
BATESON: So I do remember that they used the word explore. You know, if you're exploring running for office, you should make a site. And you should see how it turns out - you know, see what you think, maybe share it with some people for feedback.
SHAHANI: The night of that town hall, Regina Bateson made a page for herself. It went viral in her district. She got $4,000 in pledges by Day 1 and in just over a month, $20,000. And so the former MIT professor decided to leave her job and become candidate Bateson.
BATESON: If somebody had said to me, you know, you need to make a decision today that you're definitively, definitely running, I would've said no.
SHAHANI: She and her family have moved back to District 4, and she's just wrapped up a campaign event.
BATESON: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You're exactly what we need. And there are a lot of people - I don't know if you've been in contact...
SHAHANI: Around the country, a handful of political newbies are doing what Bateson did, including Republicans, third-party hopefuls and even other Democrats in her district. These campaigns, which started on a tech platform that lets people explore first, commit later, are testing if the Internet can bring new blood into the tired business of politics.
Aarti Shahani, NPR News, Granite Bay, Calif.
(SOUNDBITE OF FREE THE ROBOTS' "GRANITE ROCK")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.