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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
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