Misreading Tea Leaves

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.

6 comments
  1. Silent Cal said:

    The second factor you list is by far the more significant. Steele has made so many mis-steps and unforced errors with the RNC that only a fool would send his money that way. This also explains Haley Barbour’s RGA having a ton of money; it’s a creditable alternative for establishment donors who can’t quite cotton to giving to Tea Party types.

  2. i know this is a bit offtopic, but speaking of shifts in zeitgeist and all, I’m trying to set up a personal donation center on my Facebook page with ActBlue. And comments are closed for the blog post discussing that.
    Unfortunately, I’m having a devil of a time completing that process: the app sets up, finds my page (search for ‘newsrack’, as it happens) and throws the 2 options up for me to select. But when I click ‘select’ nothing happens. Can someone tell me what to do differently, or see if the app is malfunctioning? (I usually use Firefox, but have the same problem with IE6.0.)

  3. Thomas, I sent you an email at the address you listed when you commented. Facebook has been glitchy lately (you may have noticed all the “like this on Facebook” buttons disappearing from you favorite blogs) so that might be part of the problem. I’d suggest emailing info [AT] actblue [DOT] com–a member of our political department can help you look into this further.

  4. Thanks, I appreciate that. I’ll look for the email and get in touch with info AT actblue DOT com. — I’m still having the same trouble today, so the problem has lasted a while, whatever it is.

  5. Kathy Carlson said:

    Fortune 500 CEOs such as George Soros, Paul Allen, Jeffrey Immelt and Robert Eckert – support Progressives. Let’s not forget the unions either. When one sees who supports the Progressive agenda, the whole “divide the rich and the poor” tactic promoted by every Progressive in the country appears to be a manipulative charade. How easy is it for the right to point out the rich Progressives in the country? It is too easy. That makes this tactic one that will backfire. Is that very smart?! Do you want to be self-defeating?

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