Tracking a Trend: Issue Advocacy

As we get closer to November, we have noticed a new development in online politics that has further energized supporters and created millions of dollars for Democrats: issue advocacy.

Now, we know what you are thinking: issue advocacy is not a new political phenomenon. In the world of online fundraising, however, we are seeing an increasing trend of individuals using ActBlue to raise money for candidates by rallying around an issue.

This is important for democracy because, as ActBlue’s founder Ben Rahn has said, "Political change will come as a result of turning communities passionate about particular issues into communities passionate about politics."

While we traditionally think of political communities in terms of precincts, districts, counties, or states, ActBlue enables online communities to rally around a common cause and become their own political force. At ActBlue, we continue to see new leaders leverage their networks into real Democratic power to influence elections and shape policy by showing candidates that they are important fundraisers who deserve attention.

To illustrate this trend in online fundraising, we’re going to highlight a few issue-related pages that have used ActBlue to show candidates what is important to their most enthusiastic supporters by raising thousands of dollars for their campaigns.

FIGHTING FISA

In February 2008, Congressional Democrats were falsely accused of jeopardizing national security when a controversial amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) expired. Created in 1978, FISA established that the government could not legally wiretap Americans communicating with people in foreign counties without a court-issued warrant.

In 2007, Congress passed an amendment to FISA allowing the government to wiretap Americans without obtaining a warrant. When House Democrats attempted to restore the warrant provision, President Bush accused Democrats of "jeopardiz[ing] the security of our citizens." Building on the President’s groundless critique, an organization claiming to be non-partisan released a television ad attacking Democrats in Congress for crippling "surveillance against terrorists."

Josh Koster was one political activist outraged by this fact-twisting who decided to do something about it. He created an ActBlue fundraising page calling for "An End to the FISA Fear-Mongering" to mobilize others who were livid about the inaccurate portrayal of House Democrats.

Fear Mongering Page Banner

The candidates receiving donations through Koster’s page can see that people contributed because they were concerned about FISA. Though groups have always come together to raise donations for candidates, it’s not always clear why they are supporting the candidate. For example, the "Progressive Pilots for Andrew Rice" fundraising page that we mentioned in April’s newsletter doesn’t give the candidate any inkling about what issues matter most to this specific subset of his electorate. By making an issue your rallying cry, you can generate more support for candidates and influence what topics will make up their campaign’s agenda.

By raising over $18,000 from more than 170 supporters on his ActBlue page, Koster is showing the 16 Congressional Democrats listed on his page that their supporters are concerned about FISA and didn’t buy into the fear-mongering advertisements. Koster didn’t achieve these impressive numbers by sitting idly by. Using his institutional support, Koster collaborated with some of the candidates’ campaigns to include links to his page in their fundraising asks. The prominent blog DailyKos also helped direct donors to Koster’s page by posting links to it on their site.

To generate more buzz, Koster told ActBlue that he "spent about $20 on ad-words to help drive the initial traffic and seed the page with contributions." Less than $20 from one person led to over $18,000 for Democrats from nearly 200 people; that’s quite a striking return on investment for a first-time page creator.

Though this was the first page Koster made on ActBlue, he found it quick and easy to create: "ActBlue’s tools are excellent. I just don’t know of anywhere else you could set up a fund-raising page for 16 candidates in less then five minutes."

He’s right! We are here to make fundraising easy for you by providing the tools you need and helping you all along the way. It’s how we’re turning donors into fundraisers, and fundraisers into Democratic leaders.

IRAQ WAR

One of the most prevalent issues featured on ActBlue fundraising pages is the Iraq War. The page, Leave Iraq, Secure the Border, was created to support 22 congressional Democrats who are up for reelection and have voted to "increase funding for border securing and start withdrawing troops from Iraq".  The creator, John the Populist, chose these Democrats to feature because he wanted to "focus on competitive districts where the Democrat is running a strong race."

Photo of Rep. Joe Sestak (PA-07)

One of the candidates listed on John’s page is Rep. Joe Sestak (PA-07) who was elected to Congress in 2006 with the help of the blogging community, led by Crooks & Liars, Firedoglake, and Down With Tyranny. Using ActBlue, these blogs created pages listing Sestak and proved that their leadership could generate thousands of dollars for the candidates they supported.

Throughout his campaign, Sestak recognized the robust support these blogs generated and appeared on the blogs to further engage his supporters and answer their questions.

During his first year in Congress, Sestak’s office received 350 calls and letters every day from constituents who were outraged about a vote he had cast to continue funding for the Iraq War. After this reaction, Rep. Sestak felt compelled to answer to the people who had been his most ardent supporters: bloggers and their readership. Rep. Sestak’s office contacted Firedoglake and asked if the Congressman could appear in a question and answer session with the Firedoglake community. Despite the fact that Rep. Sestak "was very aware that many" of his online supporters felt betrayed by his vote, Rep. Sestak was on the site for an hour, responding to respectful yet tough questions from the people who had fueled his campaign.

For a sitting member of Congress to reach out and voluntarily make himself accountable to supporters is rare. Holding candidates accountable, however, is too important for democracy to be so unusual. When bloggers and their readers showed their immense support on ActBlue, Rep. Sestak knew the issues they cared about and knew they deserved explanations.

Despite the fact that not everyone involved in the Firedoglake Q&A agreed with Rep. Sestak’s views, his efforts to explain his positions were greatly appreciated, as one poster wrote:

I thank you very, very much, Representative Sestak…
only open debate and dialogue with all its attendant airing of disagreements can accurately define the problems we face and then propose the best and most creative solutions to them, as you obviously recognize.

We couldn’t agree more. By creating a system in which candidates are responsible to large numbers of people, rather than to small numbers of bundlers, ActBlue is making candidates more accountable to their supporters. This not only has an effect on candidates; it also makes contributors feel more engaged than ever in the political process. As one participant in the Firedoglake Q&A said to the rest of his companions in the blogging community, "I felt relevant in the last election as you all made my little contributions meaningful."

By making these smaller donations important, communities passionate about particular issues are making political change by electing Democrats who care about their concerns and holding these candidates accountable. To be a part of this growing trend of issue advocacy, create an ActBlue page today to tell candidates what concerns are important to your own community.

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