Archive

Monthly Archives: June 2010

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the DISCLOSE Act, (H.R. 5175), a bill designed as a response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. On the off chance that you haven't been paying attention to the nuts and bolts of campaign finance law, the Supreme Court decided that, essentially, independent expenditures by corporations were a form of speech. Since, according to a precedent set in 1886, corporations are "legal persons," they are protected under the first amendment. Corporations are people, money is speech. Clear?

Good, because we're headed deep into irony country. (It's a big country.) Stephen Colbert said it best:

Corporations are legally people. And it makes sense, folks. They do everything people do, except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River.

However, actual humans have the misfortune of voices that are associated with our bodies.  Corporations labor under no such restrictions. Spinning off a subsidiary, and having that subsidiary spin off its own subsidiary, and so on so forth is no big deal for corporations. In the end, it's easy to have "Ye Olde Mom and Pop Corn Concern" advocating for the interests the largest agricultural corporations in the country. All it takes is a bit of creative paperwork. 

The DISCLOSE Act was drafted to address that situation, and to provide Americans the information they need to assess the content of these independent expenditures. (Independent expenditures often take the form of radio or TV advertisements.) Enter the National Rifle Association, which vigorously and successfully pursued a provision that would allow them to avoid disclosing the names of top donors supporting their advertising campaigns. It's total hogwash: the NRA is leveraging i's right to unlimited "speech" (i.e. expenditures on behalf of a candidate) to avoid telling the American people who's speaking. Speech without speakers; faceless men with guns and money.

And with Citizens United v FEC a done deal, Democrats confront an awkward choice. If they embrace the new campaign finance regime, they risk appearing to side with corporate interests over rank-and-file Democrats. However, if they condemn independent corporate expenditures, they're putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis Republicans in an already anti-incumbent climate. 

ActBlue is the way for campaigns to cut through that Gordian Knot. As Nancy Scola noted in a recent piece for Salon, Democrats like Alan Grayson have discovered that "populism is popular," and–when paired with ActBlue–a valuable source of funds. By relying on small-dollar fundraising, Democratic candidates are able to respond to popular interests, rather than corporate interests. Moreover, they're embracing exactly the sort of "speech as money" paradigm our Supreme Court ought to protect: human voices, not corporate ones.

As a final note, Republicans voted unanimously against the DISCLOSE Act, an action that–yes, I'll go there–speaks louder than words.

The Secretary of State Project launched in 2005 as a response to the role of J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, played in the 2004 defeat of the Democratic nominee for President, Sen. John Kerry. The mission was to help Democratic SoS candidates access the tools and funds they'd need to run competitive campaigns in these oft-neglected races. ActBlue was an essential part of the SoS Project and since that time SoS Project candidates have done remarkably well: they've won 9 of 11 races, including key races in West Virginia and Minnesota.

The SoS Project candidate in Minnesota, Mark Ritchie, dealt with the almost interminable Republican challenges to Sen. Franken's win in 2008. It was Ritchie's responsible oversight of the process that finally allowed Sen. Franken to claim his seat in Washington.

Yesterday, Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post noted that Natalie Tennant (an ActBlue user and SoS Project candidate in 2008) has ruled that the election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd's seat must be held in 2012, rather than this November. 

Down-ballot races are important. Without the Secretary of State Project–without ActBlue–Democrats would have to confront rather different Senate arithmetic as they look to move ahead with financial reform and other priorities.

Today ActBlue mourns the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd, who died early this morning at the age of 92. As we observe the death of another titan of the United States Senate, I’d like to reflect on the moment when I became a fan of Senator Byrd. In March of 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Senator Byrd addressed his colleagues. The tone he took was self-possessed, firm, statesmanlike. A self-made man from hardscrabble roots, his words reflected the conviction that he had earned the right to speak his mind in troubled times:

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to “orange
alert.” There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many
questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the
cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home? A
pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to
debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of
thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

At the time, it was an act of rare courage. Today, we recognize the wisdom his words contained, as we ask ourselves similar questions about a different war and consider the impact of the current recession on American families and futures. It is to our detriment that Sen. Byrd is no longer with us to guide these discussions.

Watch:

According to the Center for Responsive PoliticsAT&T and AFSCME are the largest players in the political fundraising world, with ActBlue making its debut at #3. There's only one problem: their numbers are wrong, and significantly so. In 6 years, ActBlue has sent more to Democrats than either AT&T or AFSCME raised in 20. Take note of the $70,000,000 disparity between our internal numbers and CRP's–I'll explain what that's about shortly.

Organization Total Federal $ Tracked Since Soft Money
ActBlue [Internal] $105,441,400 2004 No
ActBlue [CRP] $39,617,767 2004 No
AT&T $44,939,004 1990 Yes
AFSCME $42,582,261 1990 Yes

The following table summarizes CRP's federal numbers for the top three in 2009-2010, with our internal federal numbers in the top row:

Name Total $ Dem. $ GOP $ Individual $ PAC $
ActB [Actual] $32,946,471 $32,946,471 0 $32,946,471 0
ActB [CRP] $11,864,002 $11,851,252 $6,500 $11,870,092 -$6,090
AT&T $2,610,504 $1,254,935 $1,331,469 $272,129 $2,338,375
AFSCME $1,823,550 $1,809,550 $6,500 $20,050 $1,803,500

A few things seem off about those results, right? In 2010, there's a $20,000,000+ (twenty million!) disparity between our numbers and CRP's numbers, and they have us sending $6,500 to GOP candidates. Also, we're #3 on the heavy hitters list, despite outpacing both AT&T and AFSCME thus far. The problems here are methodological:

First, CRP tabulates its numbers based on reports filed by campaigns. Since the average contribution size across ActBlue is $102.83, most of our volume falls below the $200 FEC reporting threshold. Accordingly, it doesn't get captured by CRP. That's another way of saying that of the $33M in federal money that's passed through ActBlue this cycle, only $12M of it came via contributions >$200.

Second, the $6,500 sent to GOP candidates is actually just a misreading of Parker Griffith's 2010 total, raised before he switched parties. CRP tracks affiliation by cycle, and when Griffith switched parties ahead of his rout in the GOP primary the money he raised through ActBlue was retroactively labeled GOP money in their database. (As a Republican, Griffith could not raise money on ActBlue.)

Methodological problems aside, the numbers highlight an important trend. Cycle to cycle, AFSCME and AT&T have not seen their numbers increase much in 20 years, while ActBlue–controlling for presidential/midterm differences–has seen our volume more than double each cycle. As a result, in 6 years we've sent more money to federal candidates and committees than 20 years of giving by AFSCME and AT&T combined. 

That's the scale at which we operate, and a stark reminder of the importance of our work.

*I want to thank CRP for the forthright acknowledgment of these issues that they include with our listing.

At ActBlue, we're about helping campaigns meet donors where they are, and where they are is changing. Not that long ago, email and cellular phones were emerging technologies. Today, they're fully integrated, and an ever-growing number of Americans check their email on their cellular phones. In recognition of that fact, we've launched ActBlue Mobile–now you can support the Democratic candidates of your choice right from your smartphone. 

Donors: did your phone just buzz because you received a fundraising email from a candidate you like? Just click on the link and enter your information the way you would from your home computer or laptop and submit it. You could be on the bus, or taking in the game down at the bar; it doesn't matter. You can play a role in American politics without missing your stop. (Or a critical play!)

We built ActBlue Mobile because we think that American politics should reflect the patterns of  American life, and that the American people shouldn't have to be politicos to be political. It's that very same impulse that led us to build cutting-edge integrations with Twitter and Facebook, and it will continue fuel further innovation is the months and years to come.

Remember, Washington D.C. speaks the language of money and influence. At ActBlue, we're working every day to help you be part of the conversation. 

Ten years ago my AP Government teacher told me–with an indulgent smile for my youthful skepticism–that incumbent status was its own reward. Fundraising networks, establishment support, name recognition, high-powered surrogates; how, he asked, could an insurgent candidate hope to overcome these advantages? At first blush, the returns in Arkansas validate his certainty–Sen. Blanche Lincoln survived a primary challenge from Bill Halter and the coalition of progressive groups that backed him. 

The reality is a little more complex, however. What my teacher was trying to get a classroom full of adolescents to see was that structural forces often trump individual attributes. (This is a hard lesson to teach teenagers, who are all unique and obdurate souls.) What's interesting about the Halter/Lincoln race is that Halter, by all accounts no favored son of the Arkansas political establishment, was able to build a campaign in 8 weeks–a campaign that forced a sitting senator into a runoff election the she won by only a few thousand votes.*

There's a structural change that explains the viability Halter's challenge: the rise of fast, effective online fundraising. In the 48 hours after he announced, Halter hit $1,000,000, raised from tens of thousands of individual donors. On ActBlue alone, he raised over 1.2M via 40,000 individual contributions over the course of his campaign. In fact, many of the Democrats who won elected office over the last two cycles used their online fundraising success to gain traction in more traditional political fora. 

That's what we built ActBlue to do. By providing a non-ideological space where Democrats can raise money online, we're enabling new Democratic voices to emerge and establish themselves in ways that simply weren't possible before. Today I'd like to set to one side the many senators and representatives who cut their teeth in national politics using ActBlue (Sestak, Hagan, Tester, McCaskill, et al), and focus on the groups involved in the AR-Sen race.

Much of Halter's online haul came from members of MoveOn, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), Democracy for America (DFA) and the DailyKos community. That's a remarkably young list. MoveOn is far and away the eminence grise, a digital dinosaur whose pedigree stretches all the way back to the late 90s. DfA is younger, growing out of Howard Dean's '04 run, and the PCCC was founded in '09 by MoveOn and AFL-CIO alums (the latter being another major player in Halter's race). In 8 weeks they were able to raise millions for a will-he-won't-he candidate whose name had been floated for just about every office in Arkansas. Their fundraising propelled him into the national spotlight, and gave him the resources he needed to run a remarkably successful campaign against a sitting senator. 

As the editors of POLITICO have noted, Arkansas and Pennsylvania aren't isolated events. This change isn't restricted to one state, or one race. Our platform supports candidates in every state and at every level of politics, providing Democrats with an ample proving ground for promising candidates. ActBlue monetized Democratic passion; our platform made Democratic fundraising more democratic. Party leaders understand the power that transformation represents, and now the repercussions are making themselves felt in our country's highest offices.

*Had she lost, she would've been the third Senator to lose her seat in a primary this cycle, a figure that hasn't been matched in the last 30 years. That's how rare these upsets are. 

Welcome to the latest installment of our monthly stats reports. The summer months are filled with Democratic primaries, but before we get into them we’d like to take a look back at the month of May. With major Democratic contests taking place in Arkansas and Pennsylvania, it’s been a busy month on ActBlue. Let’s dig in:

First, the May 2010 Overview.

Number of contributions 40,130
Total raised $4,111,081.87
Average contribution size $102.44
Committees receiving money 1,304
Fundraising pages receiving money 1,080
Fundraising pages created 733

 

May 2008 May 2010 Change
Contributions 18,674 40,130 115%
Volume ($) $3,603,205 $4,111,081 14%
Mean Donation $192.95 $102.44 -47%
Committees 885 1,304 47%
Pages Created 516 733 42%
Pages w/ Money 611 1,080 77%

 

As in previous months, the number of contributions doubled relative to 2008, with impressive growth in dollar volume, fundraising page activity, and the number of individual candidates in committees receiving money through ActBlue.

Here are the Top 10 Campaigns & Committees for May 2010 (by donors).

Name Race Donors Raised
Bill Halter AR-Sen, 2010 12,947 $407,551.28
Joe Sestak PA-Sen, 2010 4,377 $256,022.07
PCCC Organization 2,106 $19,910.82
Democracy for America Organization 2,048 $17,670.50
Ann McLane Kuster NH-02, 2010 1,319 $17,986.56
David Segal RI-01, 2010 1,229 $51,818.80
Jack Conway KY-Sen, 2010 1,171 $49,504.13
Mark Critz PA-12, 2010 967 $107,807.95
Marcy Winograd CA-36, 2010 942 $19,397.19
Gavin Newsom CA-Lt Gov, 2010 741 $201,321.00

 

In May, AR-Sen. challenger Bill Halter was the top candidate on ActBlue by both total donors and dollars raised. Lifted by a contested primary with national attention, Halter was the focus of online fundraising from a multitude of sources which included the support of fellow Top 10 groups–the PCCC and Democracy for America. A major primary battle against Sen. Arlen Specter powered Rep. Joe Sestak into the #2 spot, and the special election for Rep. Murtha’s seat brought fellow PA candidate Mark Critz into the #7 berth. An engaged Netroots community pushed Kentucky senate hopeful Jack Conway up to #6. California’s early June primary saw Lt. Gov candidate Gavin Newsom and congressional candidate Marcy Winograd safely into the #9-10 slots. 

We’ll a number of these candidates again when we look at the Top 10 Fundraising Pages (by donors) for May 2010:

Name Donors Raised Average
pccchalterfield 3063 $51,707.57 $16.88
supportbillhalter 1780 $38,937.50 $21.87
orangetoblue2010 1263 $89,891.95 $71.17
halterpoll 989 $15,756.00 $15.93
supportjoesestak 752 $28,186.20 $37.48
davidsegalpccc 624 $10,122.51 $16.22
newsom0522 590 $141,244.00 $239.39
billhalter 572 $11,692.60 $20.44
2010pccc 563 $15,447.42 $27.43
critzdccc 555 $57,405.00 $103.43

 

Looking at these successful pages, all linked above, we see three that make use of our support for embedded video, four with ActBlue’s fundraising goal based thermometers, and three that have branded ActBlue pages. We can see how fundraising for candidates as a group can create a halo effect; organizations that include themselves on fundraising pages tend to earn funds of their own in conjunction with their supported candidates. 

To learn more about fundraising pages and how to start your own, click here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers