How software made a political party easily scalable

Or, more exactly, human naiveté about software.

How software made a political party easily scalable /img/piu-europa.jpg

+Europa is an italian political party. During its last national assembly, says an italian newspaper, it had to face an elephant present in its room since its birth: the extreme permeability of +Europa to attempts to take control of it, thanks also to an American software.

NationBuilder, used for subscription of party members and processing the related payments, does not allow tracing of credit or debit cards: this makes it impossible to verify if subscriptions are compliant with the Statute of the party.

Concretely, the problem is that, while to become a +Europa member you must provide your full name, it is not possible to verify if the 50 euros subscription fee came out of your own pocket, as explicitly required by the Statute, or if it was “kindly offered” by someone else, maybe to hundreds of people.

Besides, by encrypting the payment data, NationBuilder also gives substantial anonymity to the party’s financiers: this circumvents the italian law that mandates transparency on contributions exceeding 500 euros.

In the case of + Europe, this would affect 73% of registrations. In general, while the “permanent” members since 2018, when the party was born, are just 376 +Europa has seen, right before its congresses, a few thousand “members” appear and disappear within a few days, that is just long enough to make whoever made them subscribe happy. More in detail, it seems that “90% of those who flocked to the last congress did not register the following year. 80% of the thousands of card holders who signed up for the congress that is due to be held this year were not registered the previous year”.

Of course, stuff like this has always happened, well before computers, in many, if not all political parties everywhere. The problem with any software like NationBuilder (or, more precisely, with the mentality that adopts it uncritically) is that it makes both much easier to register, and almost impossible to verify if (and how many of) subscriptions have been paid for by the same person. This lack of payment traceability also is “a formidable aid to covert financing or even money laundering”.

The problem is not just +Europe

NationBuilder develops products for political campaigns around the world. From 2019, it is directly Alde - Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the third largest group in the European Parliament - to make NationBuilder freely available to its affiliates in various countries, that at the moment include +Europa and two other italian parties, “Azione!” and “Italia Viva”.

What about YOUR parties, and country?

If you know of other political parties, everywhere, in a situation similar to that of +Europa, please let me know!