Why ActBlue supports every Democrat

The following post is provided by ActBlue’s President, Benjamin Rahn.

When I’m explaining ActBlue to people who don’t spend much personal or professional time on politics, I usually start with something like "Most PACs operate by endorsing candidates who are strong on their issues and raising money for them.  But we’re not like most PACs."

At ActBlue we pride ourselves on being an honest broker in the Democratic movement. Concretely, that means that every Democrat running for President, House, Senate, and state executive and legislative races around the country that’s registered with the appropriate election office is listed in our candidate directory (or at least they should be — if you notice someone missing just let us know) and we provide them all with access to exactly the same software and services.

And we’re particularly proud that campaigns trust our neutrality: in primaries including the recent MA-05 special election and the upcoming ME-01 and CA Senate District 3 races, all (or almost all) of the Democratic campaigns are using ActBlue as a core part of their online fundraising program.

But for an organization with an inherently political mission, it’s an odd route to take.  So why’d we do it?

When Matt DeBergalis and I founded ActBlue in 2004, this course was a straightforward choice for several reasons:


  1. Republicans controlled every branch of government and were on an unchecked tear to remake this country in their own horrifying ultra-conservative vision: a disastrous war abroad, erosion of civil rights at home, and a government run for the benefit of corporate greed — social and environmental consequences be damned.  We needed to push back–hard–by returning the Democratic Party to power.

  3. The organizations, bloggers, and grassroots activists we wanted to serve were all making different choices about who to support.  With different issue priorities, different strategies, and different opinions about which campaigns were most likely to put Democrats over the top, the best way to help them all was to build a platform that could support all of the candidates for whom they wanted to fundraise.

  5. It didn’t hurt that this route was easy to implement. We could focus our efforts on building a novel fundraising platform rather than detailed candidate research.

Of course we got a good bit of flack for this choice in various corners: "Why are you supporting [candidate X]? They’re way too conservative/crazy/long-shot to deserve help from ActBlue."  One of my off-hand responses from 2004 lives on in our Frequently Asked Questions:


You listed a candidate who clubs baby seals-shouldn’t you take them off the site?

We…don’t impose our personal or ideological judgments on our decisions to include or exclude anyone. However, if our users share our anti-baby-seal-clubbing views, no one will promote them on their fundraising pages, and there won’t be any problem. 

In that quip, though, lies a more fundamental reason for our approach that we didn’t fully appreciate when we got started. By offering a trusted, neutral platform for all Democratic candidates and fundraisers, we’re creating a more democratic (little ‘d’) party — and that ultimately makes the movement stronger.

Let me unpack that a bit.

The strategy of most political groups goes something like the following:  "first, we’ll build our capacity to raise funds, recruit volunteers, and/or persuade voters.  Then, we’ll use those resources to help elect the candidates we like.  And, finally, we’ll wield our money, volunteers and votes as carrots and sticks to encourage politicians to see things our way."

In creating ActBlue, we envisioned ourselves helping fellow progressives build the small-donor fundraising force Democrats need to fight back against the corporate money that fuels the GOP and stymies progressive change. But why be so general as to help support all Democrats?  Why not restrict the use of ActBlue’s fundraising tools so they could only be used to support specific, vetted candidates we like?  If this is really such powerful stuff, why not wield our fundraising platform as a super-duper carrot-and-stick machine?

We’ve chosen to instead make ActBlue an honest broker because we believe that the best Democratic Party, and the best government as a whole, can only be achieved when every part of the political process — including fundraising — is conducted according to the greatest aspirations of our democracy.  Only by changing the rules of the game can the competition for political influence be won by those who best represent the interests of the public as a whole. 

In a Democratic movement with truly democratic fundraising, every Democrat with the courage to throw his or her hat into the ring — regardless of issue positions, previous endorsements, or chance of success — has the opportunity to pitch themselves and make their ask to everyone who wants to make a difference.  And every person involved in our movement has the technology and organizing resources to gather like-minded individuals together and build political power.  Our approach at ActBlue is backed by a belief that if we can level the playing field, the best leaders will emerge and the best ideas will win the day. 

Paired with our idealism about bringing out the best in our movement is pragmatism about building the strength we need to fight the conservative movement.  The standard political modus operandi ("Stay on message!  Focus 100% on the endorsed campaigns — otherwise you’re wasting resources!") doesn’t make sense for a movement as large and diverse as ours.

When someone goes out to make a fundraising ask, they’re not going to be effective unless they passionately believe in the cause they are supporting.  Of course activists and groups will argue about candidates and strategy.  We won’t all agree.  But even with our differences, at ActBlue we believe that the combined power of everyone’s full effort far outweighs the results when rigid adherence to a specific strategy is enforced. And so if institutions like ActBlue were to force people to follow a specific strategy designed by a few, we wouldn’t increase efficiency at all. We’d just end up with a few people being more effective, and a lot more people staying at home.  By empowering each person and each group to back the candidates they find y inspiring and to fight for the positions that they personally find most important, we maximize the power of our movement.  `

The $4 Million Man

Just a couple days shy of the end of the 3Q federal fundraising deadline, Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards has officially passed the $4 million mark in funds raised online through ActBlue. Nearly 50,000 donors have powered Edwards to his current status as the most active candidate on ActBlue, both by number of dollars and donors. Over 100 grassroots fundraisers have helped make his success possible. Congrats!



Activity Report: September 16th-23rd, 2007

This is our latest installment of our Weekly ActBlue Activity Reports. The last posted report is here. (Week over week changes in parentheses)

Total Amount Contributed last week: $558,860.97 (+ $180,451)
Total # of Contributions: 3,441 (+ 506)
Avg. Contribution size: $162.41 (+ $33.48)

Total # of Recipient Campaigns & Committees: 268 (+ 2)
Total # New Campaigns & Committees receiving funds : 18

Here are the Top 5 Recipients on ActBlue last week by number of donors.

Rank Name District Donors
1 John Edwards President 643
2 Mark Warner VA-Sen 229
3 BlogPAC PAC 216
4 Andrew Rice OK-Sen 113
5 Chellie Pingree ME-01 80

Here are the Top 5 Candidate Recipients on ActBlue last week by total amount raised.

Rank Name District Raised
1 Mark Warner VA-Sen $77,955.01
2 John Edwards President $52,217.79
3 Tom Harkin IA-Sen $48,679.00
4 Chellie Pingree ME-01 $36,070.50
5 Rick Noriega TX-Sen $15,809.16

Here are the Top 5 ActBlue Fundraising Pages last week by number of donors.

Rank Name Donors Raised Average
1 Not One Red Cent 199 $6,156.13 $30.93
2 Netroots for Rick Noriega 66 $15,126.38 $229.18
3 Restore Habeas Corpus 47 $3,460.02 $40.70
4 Kansas DemoFest 2007 44 $4,715.00 $107.15
5 Blue America ’08 41 $4,753.57 $69.34

Last week’s activity saw Maine congressional candidate Chellie Pingree join the Top 5 lists. Fundraising for BlogPAC also picked up as it was the beneficiary of this week’s hottest fundraising page which was featured in a recommended diary at DailyKos.

Activity Report: September 9th-15th, 2007

This is our latest installment of our Weekly ActBlue Activity Reports. The last posted report is here. (Week over week changes in parentheses)

I’ve added a new statistic this week– the total number of campaigns/committees who received funds for the first time though ActBlue. These are often new campaigns that have filed and started raising money and will continue to do so into the future. Others are candidates or groups ActBlue has listed in our directory for some time and have only just now had their first contribution through us.

Total Amount Contributed last week: $378,409.86 (+ $59,418)
Total # of Contributions: 2,935 (- 2,457)
Avg. Contribution size: $128.93 (+ $69.77)

Total # of Recipient Campaigns & Committees: 266 (+ 45)
Total # New Campaigns & Committees receiving funds : 27

Here are the Top 5 Recipients on ActBlue last week by number of donors.

Rank Name District Donors
1 John Edwards President 628
2 Mark Warner VA-Sen 300
3 Tim Johnson SD-Sen 205
4 Tom Harkin IA-Sen 89
5 Rick Noriega TX-Sen 81

Here are the Top 5 Candidate Recipients on ActBlue last week by total amount raised.

Rank Name District Raised
1 Mark Warner VA-Sen $74,071.08
2 John Edwards President $48,021.21
3 Tom Harkin IA-Sen $33,986.00
4 Mark Schauer MI-07 $15,064.00
5 Rick Noriega TX-Sen $14,938.01

Here are the Top 5 ActBlue Fundraising Pages last week by number of donors.

Rank Name Donors Raised Average
1 Welcome Back Tim Johnson 166 $8,483.00 $51.10
2 Netroots for Rick Noriega 66 $14,071.01 $213.19
3 The People’s Email Network
63 $2,236.00 $35.49
4 Blue America ’08
52 $3,807.03 $21.15
5 Happy Birthday Eric Massa 33 $1,582.05 $47.94

A quick glance at this activity shows a lot of money moving into campaigns for the U.S. Senate. Last week saw the entrance of Mark Warner into the Virginia Senate race which helped rocket him up the ActBlue charts. Tim Johnson’s colleagues continued to raise funds in honor of his return to the Senate which we discussed in this post. Sen. Tom Harkin hosted his 30th Annual Steak Fry over the weekend boosting him into the top tier as well.

Tips for Promoting Recurring Contributions

Yesterday I wrote about the new way to view recurring contributions in your campaign or fundraising page reports on ActBlue. We hope this may inspire you to set up recurring donor programs to support your fundraising efforts!

Today I’d like to provide you with some examples of how campaigns and fundraisers are promoting recurring contributions through their ActBlue pages. Before I present those, let’s review a couple of reasons you should consider a recurring donor program to start with!

  • Regularizes revenue: Recurring donations allow you to better manage your campaign finances with a predictable stream of funding.
  • Increases potential giving: Recurring contributions encourage supporters to make a larger donation by spreading it out over time. For many contributors, giving a little each month is easier on the budget than one lump sum.
  • Increases pledge fulfillment: Recurring credit card donations eliminate the need for donor follow-up on pledges and the risk that a donor might renege – increasing revenue and saving valuable staff time.
  • Enhances relationships: Recurring contributions allow you to build long-term relationships with your donors. They are more likely to help your campaign in other ways besides money.
  • Reduces donor attrition: Recurring donors tend to contribute for longer periods of time. A regular pattern of giving leads to a sense of investment.

Now let’s look at some real-world examples.

  1. Building Netroots Infrastructure– This fundraising page was a joint fundraising effort by BlogPAC and ActBlue. In an effort to fund progressive infrastructure, blog readers and Democratic donors were asked to give monthly to allow the two groups to generate a steady predictable stream of income to support long term growth. This is a very sensible ask given the nature of the donors as well as the two groups being supported.
    recurringbuttonYou might also notice that embedded in the page are links preset with recurring amounts! Above is a quick image of what that looks like though you can see for yourself here.
  2. bluekreweLouisiana Blue Krewe– Linked from the front page of the Louisiana Democratic Party’s website, this page was set up for the state party’s recurring donor program.You may notice that the pitch focuses on the funds being used to build party infrastructure for all candidates for the next election and asks for a recurring contribution “at a level of $10, $15, or $25 a month”. You may also notice some of those snazzy buttons on this page as well.
  3. club26
    “Club 26”– Jon Powers, a candidate for Congress in New York’s 26th Congressional district in 2008, uses ActBlue for all of his online contributions. But he hasn’t stopped there- on his contribution page he promotes his recurring donor program called “Club 26”.
    He explains it as follows:

    We are asking dedicated supporters to sign up as recurring donors at the minimum investment of $26 per month through our victory in
    November. With your investment, we will expand our growing base of
    support at home in the District and across the country.

    campaign is about putting you – the people – back in charge of your
    government and this is a great way to start. As a member of Club 26,
    you will be listed on the website and included in monthly conference
    calls with the campaign.

    I highlight the last sentence because this is a great way to encourage donors to give monthly- give something back! Tying your recurring donors into other aspects of your campaign is a tactic we highly encourage at ActBlue.

  4. presidentscirclebutton
    Yamhill County Democrats Presidents Circle– Oregon’s Yamhill County Democrats are including recurring contributions as a way for supporters to fulfill any of half a dozen donor levels that are part of their “Presidents Circle”.Promoted on their website, each level is named for a different Democratic President and corresponds to a different monthly recurring total in order to “strengthen grassroots infrastructure in preparation for campaigns,
    support our headquarters, communicate our values, and recruit
    candidates for office.”
    They are making use of referral codes and URL commands to preset recurring contribution size as well.

Recurring Contributions in ActBlue Reports

One of the important options that modern campaigns need to offer their donors is the ability to give a recurring contribution. Recurring contributions are a great way to spread out a larger
contribution over a longer period of time. For families on limited or
fixed incomes, this allows for easier participation in the political
process, something that should not be limited to any one class of
people. ActBlue has enabled this from the beginning, helping candidates
and county parties set up steady revenue streams.

This week we’re happy to announce to all of our campaigns and individual fundraising page creators that they can now more easily identify and track their recurring donors in their downloadable contribution reports. Just follow these steps if you have access to a fundraising page or a campaign’s reports.

  1. Go to your usual contributions reports area or “view contributors” tab on a fundraising page.
  2. Download the CSV file for the date range you’re interested in.
  3. For recurring contributions:
    • Column D indicates the total number of monthly contributions for which the donor signed up.
    • Column E indicates which recurrence this specific contribution represents.

    So, for example, if someone signs up to give $50/month for 12 months, their 3rd contribution will have a “12” in Column D and a “3” in Column E (For one-time contributions, both columns are blank.)

  4. If someone cancels their contribution, future contributions will simply not appear; the fourth column will not be changed retroactively as if to suggest they had originally signed up for a different number of contributions.

Here’s an example of how this might look.

In the case above, 2 recurrences have already passed for all four donors as noted in Column E.

That means that the first two donors still each have 4 monthly recurrences remaining (6-2=4), while the third donor has 10 months remaining (12-2=10) and the fourth has 22 months remaining (24-2=22). If you wanted to know how much in future recurring contributions that equals, simple multiply the number of recurrences remaining by the dollar amount for that donor.

$10 x (6-2)   = $40
$25 x (6-2)   = $100
$100 x (12-2)  = $1,000
$50 x (24-2)  = $1,100

Add those up and you get a grand total of $2,240 remaining for the lifetime of all four recurring donors.

The recurring contribution data is retroactive so you can look back
into your historical reports and now see which donations were actually
recurring donations. If you take all of your last month’s data, you can sort out your
recurring contributions and do some simple math to see your expected future totals. With a spreadsheet, you can easily manipulate this data using formulas for more robust calculations including how much you can expect for any given month into the future. I’d encourage you to do so!

Activity Report: September 2nd-8th, 2007

This is our latest installment of our new Weekly ActBlue Activity Reports. The last posted report is here. (Week over week changes in parentheses).

Total Amount Contributed last week: $318,991.07 (+ $29,577)
Total # of Contributions: 5,392 (+ 1,107)
Avg. Contribution size: $59.16 (- $8.39)

Total # of Recipient Campaigns & Committees: 221 (+ 9)

Here are the Top 5 Recipients on ActBlue last week by number of donors.

Rank Name District Donors
1 Tim Johnson SD-Sen 1632
2 John Edwards President 737
3 Courage Campaign CA PAC 470
4 Keeping America’s Promise Funds PAC 200+
5 Jim Himes CT-04 149

Here are the Top 5 Candidate Recipients on ActBlue last week by total amount raised.

Rank Name District Raised
1 Tim Johnson SD-SEN $77,982.05
2 John Edwards President $50,879.38
3 Tom Harkin IA-SEN $21,740.00
4 Courage Campaign CA PAC $13,180.71
5 Don Wiviott NM-Sen $11,520.00

Here are the Top 5 ActBlue Fundraising Pages last week by number of donors.

Rank Name Donors Raised Average
1 Welcome Back Tim Johnson 1620 $76,272.05 $47.08
2 No More Dirty Tricks 425 $11,884.51 $27.96
3 Blue America ’08 183 $7,617.05 $15.80
4 San Diego County Clubs Convention 81 $1,921.00 $23.71
5 Where My Mouth Is 24 $775.03 $21.52

The most prominent effort last week is clearly the fundraising for Sen. Tim Johnson. For more on the effort, please read last Friday’s post on the subject. In addition, you’ll see the efforts of the Courage Campaign show up in this week’s report. For more on that effort, read this post.

Democratic Senators Fundraise for Tim Johnson

The 2008 elections offer us a chance to elect a governing Democratic majority and crucial to that task is increasing our numbers in the U.S. Senate. While the number of potential targets for Democrats to challenge incumbent Republicans keeps growing, we can work to limit our own losses- preferably to zero for a second cycle in a row. This past week saw a online fundraising campaign launched towards that very effort.

Enter www.welcomebacktim.com

To celebrate Senator Johnson’s return to the U.S. Senate, his Senate colleagues have united to raise funds for him in a virtual fundraiser to aid his re-election efforts. Launched this week as Sen. Johnson returned back to Washington to rejoin Senate business, Senators Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Barbara Boxer, Ted Kennedy, Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin, Bill Nelson, Barack Obama, Jon Tester, and Jim Webb have solicited contributions via e-mail from their separate lists through www.welcomebacktim.com.

What’s really cool is that ActBlue is at the heart of this effort which has raised over $70,000 so far.

If you click through to donate, you’ll see that ActBlue is the engine running to make this effort possible. Each Senator was given a single link with their own unique referral code to direct their donors to and as a result they have each been credited with how much they’ve raised for Sen. Johnson. Since various Senators are sending emails through separate systems, they can take advantage of the flexibility, simplicity, and transparency offered by ActBlue handling the technical component. That takes the most troublesome burden off of the shoulders of any one Senate staff and allows them to focus on refining the content of their message rather than the delivery of it or the processing of funds.

The www.welcomebacktim.com effort is more than just multiple incumbent US Senators coming together to raise funds for a colleague through their own email lists. It’s about a shared community and a shared investment in our success in 2008. It’s about bringing together colleagues in support of one another and bringing together their separate supporters in a common cause that is irrespective of their states. They (and the donors) are invested in making the protection and expansion of the Senate majority a nationalized priority. That benefits all Democrats if we hope to build a governing majority in 2008.

August ActBlue Activity Report

August is over so it’s time for a monthly stats round-up of what’s been happening in Democratic online fundraising over ActBlue.  Let’s dive into some data- (change from prior month in parentheses).

Total Amount Contributed: $1,039,376.72 (+$396,938)
Total # of Contributions:
14,648 (+5,004)
Average Contribution Size: $70.96 (+$4.35)

Total # of Recipient Campaigns & Committees: 419 (+ 67)

Here are the Top 10 Recipients by amounts received through ActBlue in August.

Name Amount Office
John Edwards $214,180.51 President
Darcy Burner $105,202.18 WA-08
Niki Tsongas $48,616.00 MA-05
Rick Noriega $39,696.13 TX-Sen
Jamie Eldridge $30,122.35 MA-05
Jeff Merkley $27,581.67 OR-Sen
Jared Polis $25,153.00 CO-02
Russ Warner $21,118.87 CA-26
San Diego Democratic Party $18,119.00 County
Joe Alioto Veronese $16,505.00 CA-SD-03

Here are the Top 10 Recipients by # of donors through ActBlue in August.

Name Donors Office
John Edwards 3,182 President
Darcy Burner 2,950 WA-08
Rick Noriega 539 TX-Sen
Daniel Biss 358 IL-HD-17
Dennis Kucinich 274 President
Jamie Eldridge 270 MA-05
San Diego Democratic Party 251 County
Jeff Merkley 245 OR-Sen
Al Franken 241 MN-Sen
BlogPAC 216 PAC

And here are the Top 5 fundraising pages by number of donors
(excluding pages used by candidates solely to collect contributions directly
from campaign websites).

Fundraising Page Raised Donors Avg.
Burn Bush for Burner $87,682.54 2429 $36.09
Blue America ’08 $24,525.30 372 $20.00
Blue Majority $16,265.42 349 $23.07
Netroots for Rick Noriega for Senate $30,849.16 324 $95.21
Brotherhood 2.0 for Daniel Biss $1,673.00 210 $7.96