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Monthly Archives: January 2011

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We walk a fine editorial line here on the blog. As a good faith partner to Democrats of various ideological orientations, ActBlue doesn’t endorse candidates or committees. At the same time, we always enjoy it when a group or candidate uses our tools well. In that vein, I want to highlight the tremendous accomplishments of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) over the past two years.

Founded in 2009, the PCCC is a recent entrant to the world of progressive political organizations–MoveOn.org dates back to 1998, while Democracy for America grew out of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. Newcomer status aside, the PCCC has accomplished some pretty remarkable feats on ActBlue. Their total of 100,000 supporters easily doubles the mark set by some of our most successful campaigns. Equally impressive is their average donation figure, which comes in just under $20. Those figures came about as part of a broad involvement with progressive issues that encompassed everything from Bill Halter’s primary challenge in Arkansas to activism around the public option in the healthcare bill.

ActBlue’s raison d’etre revolves around the idea of d/Democratizing power. We created these tools to put consequential political action at the fingertips–literally–of anyone with access to the internet. And while we’ve produced $174 million for Democrats in six years, our goals are broader than that. In 2004, our hunch was that increasing access to and participation in the political fundraising process would have a number of salutary effects on our political system. Broader access makes it easier for candidates and organizations to build their own fundraising networks, allowing new voices to emerge. Increased participation means that political giving is seen as a form of democratic participation rather than a corrupting influence. Taken together, those ripple effects restore our faith in the underlying promise of democratic politics: everybody gets a say.

That’s why the PCCC is such a valuable test case for us. Their rapid emergence combines real political results and a dedication to a model of fundraising that both promotes broad engagement with Democratic politics and puts that engagement within reach of almost everyone. Aggregating those totals on ActBlue makes it easy for their donors to see that they’re a part of something much larger and more powerful than their $20 donation.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Here’s Adam Green, one of the founders of the PCCC, on the role ActBlue played in getting the PCCC off the ground:

At a time when we had pretty much no resources, ActBlue lowered the barrier for entry for us into the online fundraising marketplace allowing us to … not have to deal with the legal obstacles and technical obstacles and quickly accumulate a grassroots fundraising base … it’s valuable piece of progressive infrastructure. It allows groups like ours to get off the ground. We’re still using it today and I can’t say thanks enough to those who had the vision to come up with this concept.

Patrick Ruffini, a Republican consultant, recently diagnosed the ills that plague mobile giving:

it can be pretty frustrating watching these solutions get tripped up in the bureaucratic thicket of the FEC, or the closed ecosystem of the wireless carriers — with all the architectural limits they carry that the free Internet does not.

He argues that the point-of-sale constraint of Square, SMS payment limits, and FEC disclosure requirements are the major obstacles to mobile giving. Here's the problem: simplicity and ease of use are important, but the real limit Ruffini is bumping up against–by his own admission–is the lack of scalable infrastructure on the right. That lack forces Ruffini into awkward spaces, like calling for mobile operating systems to update their OS, or the creation of new apps to facilitate political giving. It's not that these are impossible, or not worth doing, but that their value is unknown relative to the costs they impose on developers and carriers.

Fortunately, over here we've got that problem solved.

Want to collect donations in real time? Text or email your audience with a link to an ActBlue page. And, unlike asking people to download apps, collecting email/phone information at political events is pretty commonplace, as are email solicitations. Checking mail is a core functionality of almost any mobile data device, be it smartphone, iPad or laptop. Devices will proliferate, change and converge, but email will almost certainly remain. The ubiquitous nature of email means people don't have to leave their comfort zone to give, provided you offer them a simple way to do so. And, because we've already borne the costs and seen the results of our innovation, we're in a better position to negotiate the sort of partnerships that Ruffini outlines.

In short, ActBlue didn't need to build, "something that can create a reality distortion field" (Orwellian!) to produce $174+ million for Democrats. We took a means that already existed (email/websites) and made it easy for people to apply it to a new space (political fundraising), while building in the flexibility that would allow it to grow and improve with changing circumstances (not easy!). As a result, ActBlue is now both an invaluable source of funds and a giant proving ground for candidates and best fundraising practices.

Finally, an insidery point: Ruffini is a consultant who necessarily makes his living by selling his insights and strategies. ActBlue is something fundamentally different. Because we're a political nonprofit that makes our tools available for free to all Democrats, we're creating of economies of scale that don't exist on the right. When we innovate, thousands of Democratic campaigns, consultants and committees benefit, and they don't have to pay a cent. I imagine Ruffini's innovations carry a far higher pricetag–man's got to eat–which hinders their adoption.

Welcome to ActBlue’s end-of-cycle report, covering the period from 1/1/2009 through 12/31/2010.

Number of contributions 782,792
Total raised $87,726,365.12
Average Contribution size $112.07
Committees receiving money 3,625
Fundraising pages receiving money 7,867
Pages created 14,559

 

While the past two years may feel like an eternity, there was a time not that long ago when the economy was healthy, Democrats had just retaken Congress, and a guy with a funny name was thinking about running for President. Today, we compare the two through the lens of ActBlue activity.

2006-08 2009-10 Change
Contributions 465,436 782,792 68%
Volume ($) $66,250,983.88 $87,726,365.12 32%
Mean Donation $142.34 $112.07 -21%
Committees 2,742 3,625 24%
Pages Created 10,704 14,559 36%
Pages w/ Money 5,091 7,867 54%

 

Note, in particular, that the growth in volume was exceeded by the growth in contributions. That figure speaks to our success in pursuit of our broader goal: increasing political participation.

The top 10 committees outline the shape of Democratic politics in ’09-’10: Rob Miller’s red-letter day; Halter and Sestak primary contests; the reaction to the unexpected results of GOP primaries in Alaska and Kentucky; Alan Grayson’s emergence as a national figure; what looked like a close Senate race in CA; and the tireless work of the PCCC and Democracy for America, which affected a number of the races below.

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 101,827 $2,017,631
Alan Grayson FL-08 56,309 $1,480,746
Democracy for America Organization 53,429 $956,944
Joe Sestak PA-Sen 44,773 $3,843,506
Bill Halter AR-Sen 39,205 $1,209,137
Jack Conway KY-Sen 35,159 $1,197,599
Rob Miller SC-02 27,110 $1,085,335
Anne McLane Kuster NH-02 24,273 $312,335
Barbara Boxer CA-Sen 20,427 $1,189,811
Scott McAdams AK-Sen 17,786 $738,071
Number of contributions 27,810
Total raised $1,185,812.85
Average Contribution size $42.64
Committees receiving money 443
Fundraising pages receiving money 281
Pages created 180

 

December 2010 saw a huge upswing in donors over 2008, thanks mostly to the efforts of the PCCC and other continuing committees, and bolstered by Bernie Sanders’ filibuster-that-wasn’t-technically-a-filibuster, otherwise known as #filibernie:

Sept 2008 Sept 2010 Change
Contributions 6,166 27,810 351%
Volume ($) $1,348,627.46 $1,185,812.85 -12%
Mean Donation $218.72 $42.64 -80%
Committees 350 443 26%
Pages Created 180 169 -6%
Pages w/ Money 281 426 51%

 

And here are the top committees, by number of donors, for December 2010. Since December is generally a slow month, we’re going to cut to the top four:

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 17,104 $293,394
Bernie Sanders VT-Sen 4,482 $67,821
Democracy for America Organization 3,009 $27,398
Anthony Weiner NY-09 662 $13,019

 

As the noise from the election dies down, December’s numbers bring the new method of low-dollar fundraising employed by the PCCC into stark relief. Under a distributed fundraising model, the cost to any given donor in terms of money/time per donation is smaller, and the ease of giving leads to enough conversions to make up the difference. The numbers make the case on their own: in December, no other committee came close to the PCCC’s mark in either dollars or donors. While #filibernie chewed up the airwaves/Twitter and overall ActBlue volume held steady, the PCCC drove a huge increase in donors and the attendant drop in average contribution size.

The PCCC’s success has larger implications for our politics: if political giving remains a luxury good–the sole preserve of people who can afford to shift $1M donations through American Crossroads–it can have corrosive effects on our democracy. At $10-$20 a pop, however, political contributions renew the underlying premise of American politics: everybody gets to play.

Number of contributions 19,036
Total raised $1,162,989.25
Average Contribution size $61.09
Committees receiving money 751
Fundraising pages receiving money 601
Pages created 166

 

In contrast to 2008, November 2010 saw a large dropoff in volume due to a dearth of Republicans obstruction. Much of ActBlue’s post-election volume in 2008 came as Democrats rallied to defeat GOP attempts to overturn election results, chiefly in the hotly-contested Franken/Coleman MN-Sen race. While the number of committees receiving money barely budged, both volume and number of contributions were down:

Sept 2008 Sept 2010 Change
Contributions 32,160 19,036 -40%
Volume ($) $3,421,289.48 $1,162,989.25 -66%
Mean Donation $106.38 $61.09 -42%
Committees 762 751 -1%
Pages Created 358 166 -53%
Pages w/ Money 784 601 -23%

 

And here are the top committees, by number of donors, for November 2010:

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 5,288 $87,970
McNerney Recount Fund CA-11 Recount 1,619 $111,507
Tim Bishop Election Protection Fund NY-01 Recount 1,124 $104,550
Joe Sestak PA-Sen 898 $48,907
Barbara Boxer AK-Sen 806 $56,311
FDL Action PAC Organization 606 $13,238
Jack Conway Debt Retirement KY-Sen 573 $15,172
Dan Maffei Victory Fund NY-25 521 $58,524
Alan Grayson FL-08 461 $13,829
Democracy for America Organization 310 $8,335

 

The top committees in November are an interesting grab bag, including the last flurries of election season (Grayson, Boxer, Sestak) a generally successful grouping of recount funds, and three continuing organizations that are building for off-year elections in 2011 and the next round of federal elections. In that, they are a microcosm of political activity–the moment before the election, the weeks immediately after it, and the long game stretching across 2011 and 2012. Also interesting: the calendar effect. Election Day 2010 came two days earlier than it did in 2008, pushing much of that last-minute political activity into October. The final days in 2010 were larger than they were in 2008, but 2008 had four of them.

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