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September 3rd, 2013
 

Iowa native Barth, GOP tech pioneer, focuses on political data

ORLANDO—In 1999, when Decorah native Chad Barth first started working in politics as a staffer for the Republican Party of Iowa, politics was decidedly low-tech. RPI housed its voter file in a massive Gateway computer tower. The party’s Geovoter program took 20 minutes to process a precinct walk list as the hard drive loudly cranked.

A lot has changed since then, and for nearly 15 years, Barth has been on the front lines in the Republican Party’s effort to use technology and data as force multipliers for their ground game.

After working for RPI and the Republican National Committee for 12 years, Barth decided to take a break from politics by accepting a position as the D.C. marketing manager for Eventbrite.

“The idea was to not go back into politics,” Barth said. “It was supposed to be a break from the norm.”

That didn’t last long. After six months, Barth joined the company’s politics and government team to work with state and county parties as well as other political organizations to sell tickets online to fundraising events and provide a registration platform for state conventions. Barth’s underlying goal is to help political organizations understand how to collect more data from people coming to their events.

rightonline2“More people are finding out about events through social sharing, and these people may never be on an RPI fundraising list or a John Smith for Congress fundraising list,” he said in an interview with TheIowaRepublican.com at RightOnline, a conference featuring training for center-right activists hosted by Americans for Prosperity. “So the power of social sharing is bringing new people into the process.”

For example, someone on Facebook is more likely to attend a political event if they know one of their friends is also planning to attend. Speaking at a RightOnline panel, Barth cited a Facebook study that showed that a person has an average of 262 Facebook friends and content posted by a person can reach about 68,000 people (friends and friends of friends).

Eventbrite, which launched in 2006, has now grown to about 300 employees. Part of its strength in helping campaigns and parties with data, Barth says, is that is draws from a broader range of experiences than most political companies.

“If you look at a lot of companies in politics, they’re building a platform specifically focused on politics,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about whether my product lives or dies based on an election. But when we as a company start developing new tools, I think about how I could put that into a political campaign apparatus.”

For example, Tough Mudder, a well-known endurance event, recently switched to the Eventbrite platform. Eventbrite developed improvements for them and other event organizers, such as the ability to accept credit cards on-site via an iPad and the ability to collect certain data on participants. Barth realized the modification would also be useful in a political context because campaigns often need to accept payments at fundraisers and collect customized data on attendees to comply with campaign finance laws.

Eventbrite takes a small cut of ticket fees for paid fundraisers and events, but its service is free if the event is no cost. That makes it attractive to state parties and political campaigns. Last cycle, 13 state GOP parties used Eventbrite for their conventions, including Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The 2012 campaigns of Mitt Romney and Ron Paul also used the platform.

“Eventbrite is about bringing people together around their interests and passions,” said Kevin Hartz, the CEO of Eventbrite. “We had over 7,000 political events on Eventbrite last year to rally constituents on every point of the political spectrum. It’s not easy breaking into the political scene, and I give a lot of credit to Chad Barth in helping us become a trusted partner in this passionate community, and for helping the Romney campaign use Eventbrite to rally over a million people at 235 events in a very short period.”

The Republican Party of Iowa has used Eventbrite for many of their events as well.

“It’s a new tool that’s just a no brainer,” Barth said. “Everything a campaign does is about interacting with people. If we can help empower campaigns to know more about people coming to their events for free, that’s our goal.”

Barth’s first campaign experience was volunteering as a precinct captain for Lamar Alexander during the 1996 caucus cycle. He wore a plaid shirt and drove around Winneshiek County, rounding up votes. Later, as a student at Iowa State University, he joined the College Republicans.

After internships with Gov. Terry Branstad in 1997 and Sen. Chuck Grassley in 1998, Barth rose to chair of the ISU College Republicans and ran for chair of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans. He lost his first race, but he won the chairmanship in 1999 with help from Tim Albrecht, then at the University of Northern Iowa, and Grant Young, who delivered University of Iowa votes after a beer-fueled campaign to woo campus Republicans.

“Known affectionately as BARTHIE! to his devoted friends and followers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more talented and well-liked political professional,” said Albrecht, the communications director for Gov. Branstad. “His love of the Republican Party is superseded by only his love of country and family. Chad has a nationwide network but never has forgotten his Iowa roots or the friends he met here along the way.”

Barth started working at RPI in 1999 a couple months in advance of that year’s Ames Straw Poll. Most political observers view the 1999 Straw Poll as an unqualified success: all major candidates participated (which hasn’t happened since then), and the event raised $600,000 for the state party. Barth also organized the last special nominating convention in 2002, which Rep. Steve King won.

Barth worked at RPI until Feb. 2003 as organizational director (he also bartended at Firehouse Lounge during his stint at RPI). Back then, RPI had only one website—no Facebook, no Twitter, no iPhone apps. Barth recalls a 1999 effort to create streaming video of then-chairman Kayne Robinson to provide caucus training to activists.

“We tried to push the envelope in technology,” he said.

In mid-2002 the Republican National Committee released a buzzed-about program called Voter Data Center, a web-based platform to manage political data. The system, however, performed poorly. Barth wrote a 6-page memo on the platform’s technical failures.

“Politics and technology came naturally to him. He got it,” said Young, a veteran of Republican campaigns in Iowa and a former roommate of Barth. “He was one of the first people who understood this mattered, before people started talking about email lists and micro targeting. He’s a true pioneer in our party.”

After a 2003 leadership transition at RPI, the president of Voter Data Center, a Seattle company that worked with the RNC on the precursor to Voter Vault, offered Barth a job.  He packed up his Buick LeSabre and drove to Seattle, where he spent eight months working on the project.

His work drew the attention of the RNC, and he was soon hired to handle Voter Vault training for state parties. He spent six of his eight years at the RNC on the road teaching some 20,000 activists how to use the system.

“We can build the greatest tools in politics, but if we don’t have people who know how to use them, then they’re useless,” he said.

Although politics is his professional focus, Barth is also known in the D.C. area for his philanthropy. Every year, Barth hosts a concert to raise money for the National Walk for Epilepsy. He and a small group of volunteers raised more than $250,000 for the cause in six years. His seventh annual concert is New Year’s Eve in Washington, D.C. The cause is personal for Barth. His 26-year-old sister Christina has suffered from a severe form of epilepsy since she was three months old.

Barth’s easy-going nature and ability to work with people of varied backgrounds have made him few enemies, a rarity in politics.

“He knows where he started he knows where he came from, and he doesn’t forget that,” Young said. “Chad Barth is frickin’ awesome. It’s just like anything in politics: he was at the right place at the right time. But only the greats take that and run with it.”


About the Author

Jeff Patch
Jeff Patch is a correspondent for TheIowaRepublican.com. He's a communications, research and political consultant for Iowa candidates, causes and companies. E-mail questions, comments, insults or story ideas to jeff [at] theiowarepublican.com.




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