In late December of 1999, I got an urgent call from a staff member on the Hillary Clinton for Senate campaign. She reported that the Clinton campaign was having major problems with the database they were using, Aristotle Campaign Manager. She told me that they had an FEC report due the next month—January—and that they were concerned about filing it properly. She told me that Aristotle had sent a series of technicians to their DC office, but none of them had succeeded in fixing the campaign’s database. The staff member, who was the campaign’s compliance director, was very calm and serious. She wanted to know if we could possibly convert their data to our system in time for the filing and whether we were confident we could help them.
At that time, Hillary was making her first run for New York’s open U.S. Senate seat (Daniel Patrick Moynihan was retiring and her husband’s second term in the White House was ending). The only thing that was clear about the race at that point was that it would be an extremely visible, close, and expensive race. Rudolph Giuliani was still the opponent – he did not drop out until May of 2000. That Senate campaign was a big deal.
At the time NGP Software, Inc. was only a two-person company—and Louis had joined the company out of Claremont-McKenna college not that many months before. We worked out of the attic of my house. By those measures, we were exceptionally lucky to be even considered by the Clinton campaign. But I had been around for a while, and NGP had already finished the 1998 cycle with a good reputation. We had several score federal Democratic campaign clients willing to testify to our good software and service. Louis and I discussed the situation—clearly it was a great opportunity.
We had had very recent experience that prepared us to do it. The month before, we had landed a different Aristotle client—Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. We had converted the Landrieu data painstakingly, creating a program that would translate the cryptic coding of financial transactions into our own versions. We had also made some program modifications to handle special cases with loan and debt tracking schedules that were necessary because of the Louisiana open primary and runoff system. We had that recent success under our belts.
I was cautious about taking on the Clinton campaign, imagining that it would take a lot of our time away from other work and not wanting to take the chance of screwing up on a nationally visible project. I did not want Harold Ickes (who was mentioned in our conversations with the campaign) or other prominent members of the Democratic Party mad at me. I also knew that the more than thirty million dollars that would have to be entered into the database and accounted for exactly would test how well our product would scale. Louis was adamant that we had to do it. And we did.
We enjoyed working with the Clinton campaign a great deal. I felt like we were a small part of something important. The people on that campaign were wonderful—appreciative and patient and hardworking—and we did everything we could for them. Both Louis and I spent some late nights at their campaign office, making sure things were working right. We discovered that the FEC report ran slowly on huge reports and we worked to remedy that.
The campaign completed their first FEC report from our system just before the filing deadline. Hillary for Senate had so many donors that the stack of paper from the report was over a foot high. (There was no electronic filing option for Senate campaigns). I remember that we printed it at our office while the campaign printed it at theirs—just in case there was a problem with their printer. We were all pleased and relieved when the filing could be submitted.
A year later, after Hillary won her election, NGP had grown in size and client base. We worked hard throughout the 2000 election cycle for many other campaigns for Congress, including those of new Senators-elect Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, Tom Carper in Delaware, and Mark Dayton in Minnesota. Louis and I were invited to one of the White House Christmas parties. I brought my wife and he his girlfriend (now wife). We had some tasty desserts and admired the architecture of the East Wing. We waited in line and got photographed with both Clintons. It was pretty cool.
Hillary’s 2000 Senate race was an important milestone for NGP Software, Inc. We are long since out of the attic, have more than twenty full-time employees, and a majority of Democratic federal incumbents use our software for filing their reports. Hillary Clinton’s 2006 campaign is a current client.
But that 2000 race was a pivotal one for us, proving that we could play in the big leagues.