The Fine Print
Are die-hard Democrats and far-right Republicans inadvertently bankrolling the other party’s campaigns? As it turns out, partisan-charged transactions are taking place every day, and in an unlikely place: The grocery store checkout line.
With 2014 midterm elections now in full swing, how can you avoid filling the opponent's pockets with your bread and butter money? There's now an app for that: BuyPartisan.
“For the first time, we made it easy for people to be able to take a product that they see on their everyday grocery store shelves and be able to take their smart phone and … scan the barcode and instantly be able to figure out whether the political party behind the product that they’re buying matches their own values,” Matthew Colbert, CEO of Spend Consciously, Inc., told “The Fine Print.”
Colbert says the new smartphone application is designed to empower consumers by providing transparent information about the products on their grocer’s shelves. By scanning everyday items ranging from toilet paper to cereals through the smartphone app, BuyPartisan provides shoppers with a comprehensive breakdown of the company’s political profile in a matter of seconds.
But why should shoppers care if their Rice Krispies are blue or red? Colbert said it’s just one more factor, in addition to price and quality, that shoppers can take into consideration.
“What we wanted to do is … not tell somebody to go buy left, buy Democrat, or buy right, buy GOP, but just to be able to have the information, and do whatever they want with it,” he said. “We don't arbitrate our own values; we just aggregate the data and provide it for the people.”
BuyPartisan determines a company’s political identity by looking at several key variables, which include the political leanings of its CEO and board of directors and whether there are any Super PACs associated with the brand. Adding the variables together, the app tells users how red or blue the company behind any given product is.
The new app comes at a time when more money than ever is being spent in political campaigns due to the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision in 2012 that opened the way for an unlimited flow of third-party spending in campaigns.
One of the biggest third-party spenders in the 2014 cycle are the billionaire Koch brothers, made famous for their heavy spending to the favor of conservative candidates in the wake of the Citizens United ruling.
A scan of Vanity Fair napkins, made by a branch of Koch Industries, shows their true colors – literally. “That’s probably about as red as it gets,” Colbert said of the napkins, revealing that 82.25 percent of the company’s overall political contributions go to the Grand Old Party.
And on the left, a scan of Seventh Generation toilet paper generates counterpart results for liberals. “You can see quickly that the maker is a Vermont company, and you can see it’s got a slightly different leaning,” Colbert explained of the company’s BuyPartisan breakdown, which boasts an overall Democratic contribution rate of 67 percent.
But Colbert points out that just because a company might show up more red than blue, or vice versa, it doesn’t necessarily mean a company is definitively team elephant or donkey.
One example is General Mills, which turns up a predominately red profile on BuyPartisan after a scan of Cheerios. “I think like most major corporations they give to both sides – this, as you see, has the individuals who sometimes go one way or the other,” Colbert said.
While BuyPartisan may literally be based on using labels, Colbert said it was actually his desire to disarm ever-pervasive Beltway categorizing habits that inspired him to create the application.
“I found that in D.C. what we do is we put people and we put them in labels. But when you leave the Beltway area, people aren't labels – there are just issues that motivate them,” he said. “And so the thought was what if you could remove the labels, just provide the facts, empower the people … and allow people to just have that own megaphone for their own life.”
For more of the interview with Colbert, including the way he was always told to combat growing partisanship, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”
ABC News’ Robin Gradison, Tom Thornton, Gale Marcus and Wayne Boyd contributed to this episode.