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Tech Startups Look to Revolutionize Politics

Tuesday, 9 Oct 2012 | 3:38 PM ET

Some of Facebook’s biggest backers, Sean Parker, Peter Thiel, and Andreessen Horowitz partner Ben Horowitz, are hoping that cutting-edge technology can change politics the way Facebook changed the way people interact.

Alexandra Grablewski | Riser | Getty Images

Venture firms are investing in startups that tap into data to revolutionize campaigning, potentially leveraging the playing field and empowering the electorate.

There’s no formal measure of how much investment is flowing into these startups, but with big name firms like Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, and SV Angel getting behind some of these new companies, it’s clear that Silicon Valley’s smartest investors see potential not just to shake up politics, but also to cash in. (Read More: Romney and G.O.P. Make Inroads in Silicon Valley.)

Horowitz and Parker have invested in and are on the board of a startup called NationBuilder. It crunches data from public voting records and sells analysis to campaigns, along with tools to manage mass communication via email phone and text.

Horowitz said NationBuilder is a leader in a fast-growing market worth tens of billions of dollars. The fact that NationBuilder is delivering software in “non-partisan ways is a technological leap,” he said.

Disrupting the Political Landscape
Some of Facebook's biggest backers -- Sean Parker, Ben Horowitz and Peter Thiel -- are hoping that cutting edge technology can change politics the way Facebook changed interaction between friends. CNBC's Julia Boorstin has the details.

Another startup in this space is Votizen, backed by Sean Parker, Ashton Kutcher and Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, among others. It combines public voting records with data from social networks to help mobilize voters. (Read More: Ashton Kutcher Invests in Iowa-Based Dwolla.)

Over 5,500 campaigns have signed up to use the free tools and over 150 campaigns pay for Votizen’s premium services. With campaigns ranging from school board to the presidential election, Votizen has linked with 1.6 million voters.

Though NationBuilder and Votizen are both for-profit companies, non-profits have also turned to technology to help voters connect with candidates and learn about the issues.

The non-profit Super Pac App is like Shazam for political ads. Users can hold up their phone to a TV commercial and the App identifies the ad, verifies its claims and tells users who pays for it.

Four years ago President Barack Obama proved the power of Facebook and Twitter for fundraising. Now we’ll see what the next step is for how technology will shake up campaigns.

Horowitz pointed out that all this information isn’t just relevant every four years, but offers politicians a great way to keep tabs on their constituents concerns year-round.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin
@JBoorstin

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.