Democrats Tap Open Source

Peter Galli


Jun 28, 2004

Open source has expanded into the political world, with open software powering the online operations of the Democratic National Committee and Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign.

The DNC has embraced open source to run its online operation, including outreach and fund raising, and has been working on this front since 2001 with New York-based consultant Plus Three LP.

This week, the DNC will launch, at, the third version of its Web site, which is designed to mobilize voters on a national and grass-roots level, grow the party's online database, and raise funds, said David Brunton, Plus Three's vice president and co-founder.

Plus Three's Arcos technology, a business application suite based on the open-source LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl) platform, lies at the core of the Democrats' online technology infrastructure, dubbed Demzilla by the DNC.

Demzilla is credited with helping the DNC grow its online contributions, as well as its online community, from 70,000 to more than 1.7 million members, said DNC officials in Washington.

So far this year, Plus Three's open technologies have helped the DNC raise more than $60 million online for Democratic presidential contender Kerry and the DNC.

Plus Three, which serves the political, nonprofit and advocacy vertical market, uses Red Hat Inc.'s Red Hat Linux primarily, but it has several developers working on Debian. Plus Three also uses Version 1.3 of the Apache Web server, mainly because of compatibility with its Perl engine, but also uses Apache 2.0 for caching.

Plus Three builds mainly on MySQL AB's MySQL database but also works with PostgreSQL for particular narrow and tall indexes, while most of the code generated inside Plus Three is written in Perl, Brunton said.

"Open-source technologies provide freedom for our clients—both freedom from licensing fees, of which we charge none, as well as, in many cases, freedom from the kinds of attacks that can debilitate more closed alternatives," Brunton said.

"We do three kinds of work for the DNC," Brunton said. "The first is customized, technical work on a fixed-price basis. The second type of work is regular maintenance for a monthly fee, while the last kind of work done is a retainer for managing the DNC's online advertising and e-mail enhancements."

The short-term costs of the Plus Three DNC solution are far lower than those of proprietary alternatives, including Windows, primarily due to the licensing fees that would have had to be paid upfront, Brunton said.