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Politics / Startups

Jefferson’s List wants to fix political staff hires. Here’s one obstacle

Backed by $380K in seed money and based out of PMN's Project Liberty incubator, the startup's platform is now live.

The Jefferson's List team. (Courtesy photo)

Jefferson’s List, a startup hoping to change the way political campaign hire, just went live with its online platform.

Billed as the “Yelp for politics,” the startup raised a $380,000 seed round and has a four-person team working out of Philadelphia Media Network’s Project Liberty incubator.

Tthe site hopes to connect candidates with political professionals through a more transparent process. It comes loaded with info on $30 billion in political spending at federal, state and local levels. It also offers stats on operatives and former clients.

“We started with this idea in 2015 out of frustration that we can never find enough good talent for our races. We know they’re out there, but getting to the right people is hard,” said cofounder TJ Hurst, formerly with Philadelphia 3.0. “This is a $14-billion-a-year industry based on ‘I know a guy.'”

Cofounder Dan Siegel said the information allows newcomers to the political process to “gain an understanding of the industry that normally takes years to develop.”

The site will operate free for the rest of the year, with premium services rolling out in January.

Committee of Seventy CEO David Thornburgh knows of the project. It aligns with his organization’s end goal: opening up the process of running for office to those not in the know.

“In order to do so, you need people to know how to put their money to work, and know who’s credible and who’s a flim flam artist,” said Thornburgh, a former professor of cofounder Hurst at Penn’s Fels Institute.

The policy expert sees a challenge for the startup being market education. “They have a lot of explaining to do, and educating folks takes time and money,” Thornburgh said.

Though he’s hopeful about their premise, Thornburgh said Jefferson’s List must also overcome push-back from political operatives who would benefit from the status quo.

“It’s very much a who-do-you-know, whisper-down-the-lane kind of industry,” Thornburgh said. “Generally, when you hire one person, they’ll tell your they know another perfect person to hire. That’s how it’s operated. And the industry will resist [change] because it’s worked pretty well for them.”

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