Goods Unite Us Develops App to Shed Light on Money in Politics

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Less than two weeks after last November’s presidential election, Penzeys Spices CEO Bill Penzey Jr. wrote a public Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) post excoriating Donald Trump and voters who supported him.

“You just voted for an openly racist candidate for the presidency of the United States of America,” Penzey wrote in the post.

Some left-leaning voters and publications praised Penzey’s post. Meanwhile, others vowed to boycott his Wauwatosa, WI-based business, which sells spices and other items online, by catalog, and at dozens of retail stores around the country.

Penzey said in July that his decision to loudly express his political views had turned out to be good for his company’s bottom line. That could change over time, of course. But more than anything, the incident highlighted that when leaders at companies that sell consumer goods speak out on contentious political issues, some customers with similar views will be attracted, while others are likely to take their business elsewhere.

By now, many of the people who both follow political news and have a taste for fine spices know that Penzey is not a fan of Trump. Still, what about corporate executives who have kept their mouths shut, but nonetheless expressed themselves politically by giving to candidates and political action committees (PACs)?

Goods Unite Us, a startup based in Madison, WI, is seeking to inform consumers about the political leanings of corporations they buy products from. Last month, the company introduced a free mobile app for iOS devices that scores companies based on how much money they’ve given to political campaigns and PACs, as well as recipients’ party affiliations, says Abigail Wuest, co-founder and CEO of Goods Unite Us.

“If corporations have protected speech, then we want to know what they’re saying,” Wuest says, referencing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court ruled that under the free speech clause of the First Amendment, governments cannot restrict certain types of organizations, including for-profit corporations, from spending money in support of (or in opposition to) a candidate for political office.

Wuest says the Goods Unite Us app is designed to increase transparency by providing users with information on political contributions by companies and their executives. The app combs through a database the startup’s six-person team built—and continues to expand—with information from public documents containing disclosures of political donations.

Based on the feedback she’s received so far, people on both sides of the political aisle have been using the app, Wuest says.

However, Goods Unite Us makes no bones about its support for Democrats and progressive causes. Its website, which went live in May, features a store of products sold by companies that have either put little to no money into politics, or that have given predominantly to liberal politicians and PACs, Wuest says. Her startup has pledged to give half of its profits to progressive politicians, PACs, and non-profits, she says.

Goods Unite Us is essentially seeking to do two things. One is to inform voters, through the scoring of companies on its app. The other is to advocate for organizations and candidates on the left, through e-commerce.

Online shoppers can use the startup’s website to buy everything from an Ikea stool to a Panasonic (OTCMKTS: PCRFY) microwave to a Nerf gun sold by Hasbro (NASDAQ: HAS). The Goods Unite Us shop currently lists more than 25,000 unique products.

Actual purchases are made through—you guessed it—Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN). Once a … Next Page »

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