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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Ben Smith picked up on a blog post* by Lauren Hepler at the Center for Responsive Politics about out-of-state money, noting:

The numbers are interesting on the merits, though the general, bipartisan flow of money from big metropolitan areas to powerful members from smaller, poorer places is hardly a surprise. The data is also pretty much made for attack ads.

Ben's final point about attack ads is an example of how out of step our perceptions about virtuous politics are with reality. If we want to argue it logically rather than intuitively, we need to establish and defend three premises:

  1. All in-state or in-district money is inherently "better" than out-of-state/-district money
  2. Conversely, all out-of-state money is inherently pernicious or distorting.
  3. Campaign finance legislation, which is subject to influence by the same powerful interests whose power it's attempting to curtail, can be sufficiently well-written to be both politically viable and achieve its aims.

It turns out that there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about these premises, both collectively and in isolation.

To begin with, a government that is entirely funded by local interests more likely to create a gridlocked republic than a virtuous one, especially given current Senate rules. Moreover, it's an equilibrium state that's highly (and narrowly) cartelized and accordingly hostile to change, which further decreases the likelihood of meaningful action in Washington D.C. Finally, because barriers to entry are high, voter choice suffers. Out-of-state money creates the potential for change by giving candidates who are outside of local fundraising networks a viable path to elected office (See: Tea Party). That can be good or bad, but that's a question of the ends to which that money is applied, not the fact that it exists.

To take the second premise seriously, you have to ignore the "federal" aspect of our federal government. Legislators from outside your state or district often vote for or against laws that affect you. If you don't live in their state or district, your means of indicating your approval or disapproval of their actions are limited to activism or fundraising. And while there's a natural, tribal reflex against people from outside [arbitrary boundary] making themselves a part of the electoral process inside  [arbitrary boundary], the decisions we make at the polls affect them. It's a speech issue, and protected as such.

The third premise gets at the tension underlying Larry Lessig's "economy of influence" argument. As I wrote a long time ago, the problem with the argument is that it goes to great lengths to establish that Congress is broken, hopelessly captive to special interests, and so on. Then Lessig argues for federal legislation to address this issue. See the problem? If, as Lessig asserts, legislators have a clear idea of their self-interest (usually preceded by a $ sign), why on earth would any given leader act against it? At the most basic level, how do you persuade someone that money they've already gotten is less valuable than money they might get in the future? Unclear.

What really matters is not where the money comes from, geographically speaking, but what its source is and how clearly that information is tracked and disseminated. If Candidate X is extensively funded by the local chapter of Baby Eaters Anonymous, we should probably care about that more than the fact his opponent, Candidate Y, gets large checks from Americans for the Laughter of Children, based in the neighboring state. Or, put simply, the problem with Citizens United v. FEC isn't that it allows huge spending by corporate interests–the old system allowed that–but rather that it provides no disclosure requirements. That's why the fate of the DISCLOSE act (59-39! Stunning defeat!) is arguably more troubling than the ruling it addresses.

*The CRP post misuses the phrase "begging the question," which is a huge pet peeve of mine. To "beg the question" is to assume your conclusion as a premise and thereby make a circular argument, not to beg someone to ask you a question. Also, I stole the title of this post from a Bon Jovi song. That's just how I roll.

A few days ago, I wrote about the ways in which ActBlue makes donors nimble and campaigns competitive by helping resources get where they need to go, quickly. I used the Alaska Senate race as an example, and in response a spokesperson for the McAdams campaign emailed this statement along:

Because of ActBlue thousands of people, including Alaskans, were able to donate funds to the Scott McAdams for Senate Campaign. The groundswell of grassroots support helped generate even more momentum for the campaign in the days immediately following the Alaska primary election. It was a great way to illustrate how many people support Scott and is a reminder that individuals can really impact the way campaigns are funded.

I think the key word there is "illustrate." When you give through ActBlue, you're not just helping the candidate out with a little cash. You're also sending a signal to everyone watching those numbers that the support is there. Anyone with 30 seconds and access to the internet can see how their chosen candidate is doing.

Today, McAdams is closing in on Senator Mark Begich's 2008 ActBlue total, and Sen. Murkowski, the GOP incumbent defeated in her primary by Joe Miller, has launched a write-in campaign. In short, what was once a safe GOP seat is now a wide open race.

Your donations on ActBlue have a lot to do with that.

Jonathan Martin has a story on POLITICO about the Republican edge in third-party spending. The argument runs as follows: conservative groups like American Crossroads, American Crossroads GPS, the Chamber of Commerce, and the constellation of powerbrokers Yahoo called the Shadow GOP have outspent outside Democratic groups. That's true. Where Martin errs is when he equates that with Democratic donor disengagement and disarray:

Liberal-leaning organizations answer that it’s not a matter of desire but something more simple: They don’t have the money.

And that’s partly because, even after the historic accomplishments of the current Congress, some on the left are unhappy that priorities, such as a climate change bill, weren’t passed.

That strikes me as a misreading of the situation. For those of you who are political traditionalists, I'll note that the major Democratic committees, (DNC, DSCC, DCCC) all raised more in August than the major Republican committees. The Democratic committees also spent more and have more cash on hand. 

If you're curious about how outside groups are doing, let's compare some quick numbers. According to Justin Elliott of Salon, American Crossroads raised $2.6M in August, with $2.4M of that coming from just three billionaires. In contrast, ActBlue sent $4.2M to 1,422 Democratic candidates and committees, via 34,000 donations. It's true that American Crossroads does something different than ActBlue–they'll be making ad buys. We won't. Instead, we'll be sending money to people who make ad buys. That seems like a fairly minor difference, from the perspective of Martin's argument.

There are two things at work here, and neither of them are donor unhappiness.

The first is a change (a change that Martin's editors have noted) in how individuals relate to large institutions that's become an essential part of the zeitgeist. The Tea Party derives its support from a claim to represent authentic conservative values, rather than compromised establishment mores. ActBlue makes a less-ideological pitch: we send your money where you tell us to send it–provided you're sending it to a Democrat. But both ideas feed off the zeitgeist in different ways, and represent a shift away from the more traditional conduits that Martin quotes in his story. But it's a shift, not a diminution.

Second, a major factor behind support for Republican groups like American Crossroads is the sheer disarray of the Steele-driven RNC. In the table I linked to above, the RNC is the only body with a negative change in cash on hand, and the Republicans have been forced to compensate. In short, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. Martin examines the lagging indicator on the Democratic side and the leading indicator on the Republican side, and then concludes that Democrats are off their game.

One of the things ActBlue does for Democrats is lower the barriers to entry in politics. By enabling talented candidates to link up with donor communities that are interested in supporting them, we ensure that they get the cash they need to run even if they haven't spent years cultivating connections in the political world. And while all that work is largely invisible to the average voter, it means that when they step into the ballot box on primary day, they have a wider selection of candidates to choose from than they would otherwise. 

Don't believe me? Here's Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos and head of the successful grassroots donor community of the same name, talking about what ActBlue has enabled the DailyKos community to do:

Want to help us keep working? Make a $15 recurring donation to ActBlue.

For those of you who don’t already use it, ActBlue offers a free service called ActBlue Express. ActBlue Express allows you to store your donation information on our secure servers, which saves you the hassle of entering it every time you give through ActBlue. In addition, it allows you to view how much money you’ve given and raised, and break that down by recipient type and dollar amount.

In short, with ActBlue Express you can track and manage your political giving the same way you would balance your checkbook.Click here, or on the demo image below, to sign up. (Remember: it’s free!)

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In the wake of the upset in the GOP DE-Sen primary, there's been a lot of chatter about what the Tea Party means, vis-a-vis the Republican Party. One of the most compelling takes, in my opinion, is that the Tea Party represents a decentralized web of Republican supporters, and that decentralization is the cause of much of the intra-TP conflict and the difficulty the Republican establishment has in co-opting that passion and using it to benefit their preferred candidates (See: Grayson, Trey; Castle, Mike).

This isn't a new story, though it may be one the Republicans haven't heard yet. The Democratic Party has already undergone many of these changes. The growth of online communities like DailyKos, Democratic infrastructure like ActBlue, and eventually the Obama wave had a lot of inputs–minority status and the old saw about necessity and invention, frustration among the base and Americans broadly–but the key point is that growth was largely uncoordinated. The rebranding of the DNC is a recognition of that reality, Natalie Foster, the DNC's New Media Director, told TechPresident's Nancy Scola:

It's not just about the DNC anymore. It's about the Democratic Party. [...] This could become that something that any kid could
draw in chalk in front of their house, that any college kid could riff
on.

That was my first thought as well, which is why I was surprised to see Ben Smith snark "this will turn things right around." While we're only a few weeks out from the election, the point of changes like these isn't to tip the scales in pivotal house races, it's to build a party that is tune with the changing tenor of American life. The same could be said of the growth of grassroots fundraising, or the White House's embrace of non-traditional media outlets. (Also, in fairness, Ben picked up Nancy's take.)

To return to my original point, while there may be an equivalence in process between Democrats and Republicans, I don't mean to suggest an equivalence in content. The Republican embrace of Kristolismo over the past two years has radicalized their base in a way that the Democratic resurgence did not. Embracing a base conditioned by years of opportunistic fear-mongering about "socialism," Islam, the deficit and terrorism seems likely to produce legislative outcomes that are significantly less benign than the healthcare reform bill.

The latter months of summer can be slow at times in political fundraising. After passing the June 30th federal fundraising deadline (which exists for a number of states as well), donors can sometimes disappear. But over 50,000 donors later, nearly $6.7 million was raised through ActBlue in June and July for Democrats up and down the ballot.

The following shows our end of summer combined July & August statistics for activity on ActBlue.com.

Number of contributions 50,575
Total raised $6,691,950.48
Average Contribution size $132.32
Committees receiving money 1,718
Fundraising pages receiving money 1,609
Pages created 1,567

 

August exceeded July within each category above but let’s take a look at how this end of summer period compared to same time frame in 2008.

Jul/Aug 2008 Jul/Aug 2010 Change
Contributions 39,060 50,575 29%
Volume ($) $5,272,664 $6,691,950 27%
Mean Donation $134.99 $132.32 -2%
Committees 1,318 1,718 30%
Pages Created 1,311 1,567 20%
Pages w/ Money 1,255 1,609 28%

 

Once again, we’re looking our presidential year fundraising activity and then racing past it in every single category.

The Top 10 Candidates of July & August (by total raised) are a healthy mix–3 US Senate candidates, 3 Congressional, 2 Gubernatorial, 1 Lt. Governor’s, and 1 State Senate candidate.

Candidate Name

Joe Sestak
Race

 

PA-Sen, 2010Donors

3,100Raised

$414,748.50 Deval PatrickMA-Gov, 20101,412$278,193.14 Gavin NewsomCA-Lt Gov, 2010674$119,489.95 Chris CoonsDE-Sen, 2010301$74,059.04 Russ CarnahanMO-03, 2010104$61,383.12 Chet CulverIA-Gov, 2010138$51,946.00 Alan GraysonFL-08, 20102,582$49,605.74 Manan TrivediPA-06, 2010310$48,269.57 Jack ConwayKY-Sen, 20101,654$45,994.99 Gustavo RiveraNY-SD-33, 2010360$44,880.77

But if we look at the Top 10 Recipient Candidates & Organizations by donors instead, we see quite a few more races.

Name Race Donors Raised
PCCC Organization 3,339 $48,668.08
Joe Sestak PA-Sen, 2010 3,100 $414,748.50
Alan Grayson FL-08, 2010 2,582 $49,605.74
Democracy for America Organization 2,108 $30,370.76
David Segal RI-01, 2010 2,052 $41,990.06
Ann McLane Kuster NH-02, 2010 1,808 $23,413.05
Jack Conway KY-Sen, 2010 1,654 $45,994.99
Beth Krom CA-48, 2010 1,613 $38,689.43
Deval Patrick MA-Gov, 2010 1,412 $278,193.14
Tarryl Clark MN-06, 2010 1,374 $29,755.56

Not surprisingly, many of the campaigns with thousands of donors are a result of the following successful ActBlue fundraising pages from the past two months. You can click on the titles to view the pages and see how they use ActBlue thermometers, video, branded partnerships, and joint candidate fundraising effectively.

Name Raised Donors Average
graysonboldprogressives 1497 $30,622.45 $20.45
pccc_main 1244 $25,595.03 $20.57
dean-dfa-jointendorsement 1194 $45,249.81 $37.89
beatrepublicansin2010 1189 $53,716.49 $45.17
2010pccc 771 $21,726.23 $28.17
catfoodcommission 715 $14,009.30 $19.59
nn10grayson 624 $19,775.00 $31.69
weinercdthc 604 $18,219.00 $30.16
davidsegalpccc 446 $6,875.00 $15.41
gavinnewsom 416 $61,881.23 $148.75
teamdurbin4alexi 407 $17,495.00 $42.98

On August 24, the AK-Sen primary was a forgone conclusion. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), a 1.5 term incumbent–in 2002 her father appointed her to his Senate seat when he won the governorship, the very definition of nepotism–would win her primary battle against Joe Miller and cruise to victory in the general.

By August 25, 2010, the race had completely changed. Murkowski trailed the insurgent Miller by several thousand votes, and a recount looked imminent. There was talk of a libertarian ticket run for Murkowski, and then a write-in campaign. And while the GOP fumbled and fulminated, Scott McAdams, the Democratic nominee, quietly started fundraising. Two weeks later, McAdams has raised over $150k on ActBlue, and is halfway to Sen. Begich's 2008 total. Several members of Sen. Begich's staff have also joined the McAdams campaign, and the Senator told TPM he isn't bashful about helping McAdams raise money.

The point being, infrastructure matters, and it matters most when the calendar is compressed and the difference between victory and defeat lies in how quickly candidates adapt to unexpected events (See: Allen, George). Sen. Begich was considered a long shot to win as late as November 5, 2008–the day after election day–and today he's helping another dark horse make a competitive run at Alaska's other senate seat.

In short, ActBlue performs two crucial functions in the political world. First, we allow candidates to demonstrate their fundraising prowess to the powers-that-be in real time, helping them build legitimacy both inside and outside the Democratic Party.

But arguably more important in a world of 24-hour news cycles, we help candidates "win the morning," as it were. ActBlue enables candidates to capitalize on missteps by their opponents or changes in the political terrain at unmatched speed (Rob Miller's $800k+ "You Lie" haul, a year ago today). We do that by minimizing one of the less-covered aspects of political fundraising: transit time. Getting money from the donor to the campaign takes time, be it direct mail or online fundraising. Then, since political campaigns can rarely get anything on credit, it takes yet more time to pay the media buyers and film the advertisements. Cumulatively, that adds up to a significant delay between the donation and the realization of its political potential.

At ActBlue, we've reduced that delay to almost nothing by wiring major federal campaigns–McAdams among them–their ActBlue money. With ActBlue wires, the money that a campaign raises on ActBlue today is in their bank account and ready to be spent tomorrow. They can translate late money–or any money, for that matter–into media and ground presence almost instantaneously. That leads to more agile campaigns, timely advertisements, and eventually victory. It's another Democratic advantage that the GOP can't replicate, and in today's political climate we can use each and every one.

There's been a flurry of coverage about down-ballot races ahead of the election, based on this Larry Sabato post:

The statehouses will provide the third leg of the Republicans’ 2010 victory. We have long suggested the GOP would gain a net +6 governorships. We now believe they will win +8. This boon to the GOP for redistricting will be enhanced by a gain of perhaps 300 to 500 seats in the state legislatures, and the addition of Republican control in 8 to 12 legislative chambers around the country.

Redistricting matters, and the GOP is acting accordingly, with the Republican Governor's Association (RGA) taking $1,000,000 from News Corp., the parent company of Fox News. Democrats are, to our credit, a little less comfortable funneling huge sums of corporate cash (however "fair and balanced" it may be) into downballot races, but that doesn't mean we're helpless.

Down-ballot races are largely overlooked by national press outlets despite their central role in the redistricting process that will start in 2011. The flip side of that problem is that, as a donor, your dollar goes a long way in these races. Ad buys are cheaper. Materials costs are lower. So taking the time to Google your State Senator or State Legislator and send him/her $5-$25 dollars on ActBlue is going to mean a lot to that campaign, especially if you encourage a few other people to do the same.

In fact, the 100,000,000th dollar to go to a Democrat through ActBlue went to Monk Elmer, who is running for Wisconsin State Senate in the first district. And he and the rest of the Wisconsin State Senate races are a good example of how Democrats can fight back against the GOP's attempt at a down-ballot coup.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party has been dilligent about getting their state-level candidates up and raising on ActBlue. Wisconsin State Senate races alone have raised $250,000 (all-time) on ActBlue, and, more importantly, our tools have revolutionized the way these smaller races fundraise. Here's Kory Kozloski, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee, on what ActBlue has meant in his races:

ActBlue has been a fantastic tool for our candidates and their supporters. It’s allowed us to add a whole new dimension to our fundraising efforts. It's given us the ability to tap the same online donors as national and statewide campaigns, and harness those resources for State Assembly and State Senate races.

ActBlue has also made our traditional fundraising tactics like candidate call-time, direct mail, and small dollar calls much more effective by allowing supporters to give instantaneously. Not only has ActBlue greatly increased our response rate, but it also saves a great deal of time and money that would otherwise be spent on pledge letters and chase calls.

That additional money and savings in terms of both staff time and materials means more competitive downballot races. It means Democratic candidates can resist the huge sums of corporate money that the GOP Is pouring into these races, and do so in a way that's consistent with Democratic principles.

But there's also lasting change taking place here, in the form of staffers and candidates trained in new approaches to fundraising, and with the confidence and skills to reach new donor communities. As those staffers and candidates move through the political world, they'll bring that expertise to new campaigns and new offices and help change the way we–political insiders and ordinary citizens alike–view political fundraising.

To steal a line from a former state senator, that's change you can believe in.

Guest post by Steve Gold, General Counsel, ActBlue

Commenting in a post on Facebook recently about Target shareholders' demands for a review of the company's political contributions policy, CREDO wrote:

This is really promising. If we can bring BOTH shareholder and consumer pressure on corporations that use their deep pockets to support right wing candidates, there is a chance to limit the damage of corporate influence in elections. And then we can pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that corporations do not have the rights of persons.

This is a great story, and there has been plenty of great work done on this issue, by CREDO as well as MoveOn.org and others. As everyone interested in politics knows by now, Target's contribution to an anti-gay Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota was made possible by the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen's United v. FEC. The Brennan Center in particular has done amazing work on the issue of corporate political speech and warned specifically about the dangers of corporations spending political money without shareholder approval.

CREDO is right on the money when they call for shareholder pressure
on top of the consumer pressure that has been making Target pay the
price for supporting an anti-gay right-wing candidate. There is a
divergence of opinion, however, with regard to the feasibility of
pushing for a constitutional amendment.* Drafting the right
constitutional amendment to address this problem and then getting it
passed in three quarters of the states is a monumental task.

Thankfully, it's not the only tool we have to fight back with.

We–individuals–can
speak out, too, and raise money for candidates and committees that are
speaking out. You raised over $18,000 on ActBlue to help elect Annise Parker the
first openly gay mayor of any U.S. city in 2009. And although the fight
continues, your contributions totaling over $1 million to Equality for
All
were a major factor in the battle for marriage equality in
California, just as they were in Maine and Kalamazoo, MI and
elsewhere. The scale of the fundraising around these issues on ActBlue
made the intangible quantifiable; because of those efforts, there is now
a national conversation taking place about gay rights.

We can do something similar about Target. Reducing Target's effect on elections—if it's possible—would no doubt
improve our democracy. Just as effective (and arguably more satisfying)
would be to make sure the pile of cash they're spending in Minnesota
not only gets them into hot water, but is entirely wasted to boot.
ActBlue makes it possible for every one of us to be a part of that.
Together, our voices are louder than Target's. The attention we've
brought to Target's donation, and a similar donation by News Corp., the
parent company of Fox News, has re-focused attention on Citizens United
and the effects it has on our political system. In short, we've already
beaten them on the airwaves; all that remains is to defeat the
candidates they're propping up.

More speech. More money. The right money. It's an imperfect
system our Founders created for us—as are all human institutions—but as
we at ActBlue have been showing for six years, it's a pretty good system
for fighting back against entrenched interests until we have a more
perfect system. We just have to be willing to use the rules to our
advantage.

*On a personal note, as a longtime CREDO member—from over a decade ago
when it was just Working Assets and they only sold long distance
service—I worry about curtailing the free speech rights of corporations.
CREDO is a corporation, and for years I've been signing their citizen
letters to protect the environment, stop the war, hold Dick Cheney
accountable, and myriad other public policy concerns that matter to me.
It would be a tragedy if the goverment could tell CREDO that it has no
first amendment right to free speech or to petition the government for a
redress of greivances.

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