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If you exercise in New Balance shoes, wipe with Angel Soft toilet paper and voted for Hillary Clinton, you are not going to like what I’m about to tell you. The same goes if you rock out with Spotify, sprinkle Penzeys spices on your food and voted for Donald Trump.
According to Goods Unite Us, a Madison-based startup taking aim at corporate money in politics, allegiance to — or ignorance about — your favorite products could diminish your power at the polls.
Frustrated with the results of the 2016 presidential election, Brian Potts, a lawyer with the firm Perkins Coie LLP, came up with the idea of launching a shopping website. His wife and co-founder Abigail Wuest, a lawyer and former Dane County Board supervisor, was particularly disturbed by the overwhelming influence of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which deregulated political advertising. Wuest serves as the company’s CEO, while Amy Jo Miller, the chief operating officer and third co-founder, lends her entrepreneurial experience as the company positions itself for significant growth.
So far Goods Unite Us has vetted more than 4,000 brands and companies by looking into the political leanings of the companies, parent companies and senior employees behind those products. Search by product, brand or category (clothing, home goods, sports teams, banks, restaurants, universities, etc.) and a Goods Score, calculated on a scale of -100 to 100, tells you whether your purchases support the campaign finance policies as supported by Democrats or Republicans.
According to the Goods Unite Us website, “The Goods Score is calculated based on how much total money is donated to both parties (the more that’s donated, the lower the score) and what percentage is donated to progressive candidates and PACs (the higher the percentage, the higher the score). So, for example, a company or brand that is progressive-leaning but donates a lot of money to both parties will score lower than a company that is progressive-leaning but does not donate a lot of money to either party.”
Some of the highest Goods Scores belong to the aforementioned Spotify and Penzeys Spices. Among the lowest-scoring companies are New Balance and Angel Soft.
“Companies give $5 to $7 billion to the federal election cycle. Compare that to the profit of companies in the U.S. at $200 billion a year,” says Potts. “If you start impacting that profit even a little bit, they’re going to say, ‘Wait, I’m not doing that.’”
After launching the company as an Amazon affiliate, hiring a researcher to vet brands and companies and finding a web developer to create the platform, the founders soon realized that a goldmine of data lay before them and their customers. Of the 4,000 companies rated thus far, 93 percent make political donations.
Like a lot of early-stage startups, Goods Unite Us pivoted, taking a more nonpartisan tack by offering a “Shop DEM Free” and “Shop GOP Free” experience. The revenue model shifted as well. The company is raising venture capital to increase user acquisition and attract vetted brands to the platform as customers. To date it has raised $325,000 of its $500,000 early-stage investment round and is plugging into other VC opportunities by participating in the remote global incubator The Batchery based in Silicon Valley.
A common question the founders field is whether Goods Unite Us is doing more dividing than uniting. “The company is really aimed at trying to unify people around getting money out of politics,” says Wuest. “Ultimately, getting all of that information into the hands of the consumer will help defuse polarization by allowing people to feel better represented because a lot of polarization comes from people feeling angry about the political process.”
A new feature launched in late May. “Rate Yourself” offers users a personalized Goods Score, and the opportunity to improve one’s rating through more informed purchasing decisions.
“The idea is you start making your consumerism fit your politics,” says Wuest. “If we’re going to have money in politics for a while, which it appears we will, we need to start learning how to live with it and protect our democratic process.”
Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.
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