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Monthly Archives: July 2011

It’s become a recurring theme that, in some states, the laws intended to protect our democracy from the harms of corruption inappropriately get applied to the work we do. Most often, it happens because someone might not be aware of the ways in which ActBlue amplifies the voices of so many of you to make campaign finance—and politics—work for the people, not just the entitled few. We sometimes get lumped in with all of the bad money in politics, and an otherwise well intentioned law prevents us from increasing participation in democracy. It was just such a law that we recently encountered in Rhode Island.

We’ve been helping Democrats get elected in Rhode Island through a couple of cycles now, but that has required making special arrangements with each campaign individually. While we are glad to have been able to help those campaigns who engaged with us, we haven’t been able to help everyone, and the additional administrative burden associated with those arrangements made online engagement clunkier than it should be. That’s why we were excited when, after intensive legal research to try to solve this problem, we discovered that actually the letter of the law in Rhode Island would permit ActBlue to help all Democrats without any kind of arrangement at all, special or otherwise. If the people wanted it, we could do it.

To confirm that our reading of the law was accurate, we requested an opinion from the Board of Elections, working closely with their staff over the course of months. After long hours of consultation with the staff and providing public testimony before the Board (which required finding an attorney to sponsor me for special admission to the Rhode Island Bar!), the Board ultimately voted to maintain the status quo; it was the safe vote, but it failed to address how the law must interact with new modes of fundraising unleashed by the Internet. And in the process, it appears that the Board may have endorsed a reading of the law which eviscerated the limit on individual contributions. They inadvertently permitted individuals to contribute unlimited amounts to campaigns as long as the contributions first go through a series of PACs, much like the loophole in Nevada that recently required new legislation in order to clean up.

But the real harm in this case isn’t yet another major loophole in Rhode Island law. And the real loser in this case isn’t ActBlue. The Board’s well-intentioned, yet ill-advised action hurts the people of Rhode Island most, who are less able to make their voices heard and to participate fully in the selection and election of their representatives in government. It is that much more difficult now for candidates to activate their supporters online, which means a few more candidates will decide to rely on big campaign donors instead. It is that much more difficult now for supporters to organize themselves to let their preferred candidates know that they’re willing to fight, which means a few more first-time candidates will decide not to run. It is that much more difficult now for ActBlue and the people of Rhode Island to make politics work for everyone.

We’ll keep fighting for the people of Rhode Island and of every state in the nation. With your help, we’ll get the word out about how important the work you do with ActBlue is to ensuring we can all participate fully in electing our leaders. And one day we won’t have to worry about well-intentioned mistakes.

Relative to our numbers last cycle and the cycle before, ActBlue has seen steady growth in volume and an explosion in grassroots giving related to the upcoming recalls.

ActBlue’s Q2 numbers speak to the seismic impact of Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) overreach in Wisconsin. Five months after his decision to bust public employee unions in Wisconsin first made the headlines, recall committees hold positions 3-4 on the ActBlue leaderboard, with contribution sizes around $10.

Moreover, their success has not gone unnoticed, eliciting attacks on them and ActBlue itself from George Allen and writers on Andrew Breitbart’s big government site.

Number of contributions 142,042
Total raised $9,113,502.20
Average Contribution size $64.16
Committees receiving money 1,106

 

Here’s how those numbers stack up relative to 2009, and to the same point in the last presidential election cycle (2007). Change is calculated with 2009 as the baseline.

Q2 2007 Q2 2009 Q2 2011 Change
Contributions 25,714 31,677 142,042 348%
Volume ($) $3,387,613.13 $6,076,573.92 $9,113,502.20 50%
Mean Donation $131.74 $191.83 $64.16 -66%
Committees 449 810 1,106 36%

 

Here are the five top committees, by number of donors, for Q2 2011.

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 31,718 $310,983
Democracy for America Organization 29,395 $336,451
DFA Wisconsin Recall Organization 22,103 $221,882
PCCC Recall Committee (WI) Organization 21,323 $199,032
Kathy Hochul NY-26 14,640 $616,094

Candidates replaced organizations on the leaderboard in June, as Wisconsin state senate candidates received support in advance of July’s recall elections. Stay tuned for our end of quarter summary tomorrow, which will outline the shape of Democratic giving on ActBlue in the second quarter of this year.

Number of contributions 57,679
Total raised $3,852,947.56
Average Contribution size $66.80
Committees receiving money 862
Fundraising pages receiving money 945
Pages created 505

 

Here’s how those numbers stack up relative to 2009, and to the same point in the last presidential election cycle (2007). Change is calculated with 2009 as the baseline.

Jun 2007 Jun 2009 Jun 2011 Change
Contributions 15,033 19,490 57,679 196%
Volume ($) $2,063,208.94 $3,880,980.16 $3,852,947.56 -.7%
Mean Donation $137.25 $199.13 $66.80 -66%
Committees 354 617 862 39%

 

Here are the five top committees, by number of donors, for June 2011.

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 11,829 $106,416
Democracy for America Organization 9,839 $121,607
Jessica King WI-SD-18 7,643 $74,841
Shelly Moore WI-SD-10 7,302 $51,393
Sandy Pasch WI-SD-08 7,298 $52,408

May was an interesting month. Kathy Hochul’s race in NY-26 was obviously the headliner, but ActBlue grew relative to April thanks to a variety of other committees posting five-figure totals. It also saw the first appearance of the DCCC in the ActBlue monthly leaderboard.

Number of contributions 45,787
Total raised $2,679,384.73
Average Contribution size $58.52
Committees receiving money 728
Fundraising pages receiving money 789
Pages created 400

 

Here’s how those numbers stack up relative to 2009, and to the same point in the last presidential election cycle (2007). Change is calculated with 2009 as the baseline.

May 2007 May 2009 May 2011 Change
Contributions 6,748 7,806 45,787 486%
Volume ($) $682,873.38 $1,194,114.69 $2,679,384.73 124%
Mean Donation $101.20 $152.97 $58.52 -62%
Committees 282 527 728 38%

 

Here are the five top committees, by number of donors, for May 2011.

Name Race Donors Dollars
Kathy Hochul NY-26 14,132 $542,786
Democracy for America Organization 7,042 $111,431
PCCC Organization 3,961 $37,746
DCCC Organization 3,134 $69,660
DailyKos Organization 1,963 $25,597

Over at DailyKos, David Nir has a post up asking "what ever happened to the right's version of ActBlue?" It's a good question. As David shows, the right's attempts to replicate our success have resulted in failure after failure. (He misses my all-time favorite, StandUpRed, which is a word-for-word copy of our website.)

Part of the answer to that question lies in the surreal tale of ActRight, as related by Republican Louis J. Marinelli. In brief, ActRight was apparently intended to be an astroturf arm of NOM, based out of a vacant lot in a non-existent area code in Washington D.C. And the underlying weirdness of ActRight speaks to the central tension that's currently roiling the right: their keen appreciation for the symbolic power of grassroots politics and their near-total aversion to it in practice.

The GOP establishment welcomed movement conservatism and the religious right into the Republican fold in the early 80s to help them compete in federal elections. The logic was straightforward: a little lipservice to social conservative rhetoric would give them the votes they'd need to roll back tax rates on corporations and the top income brackets. And though the Rockefeller Republicans who masterminded that Faustian bargain are now all but extinct, that was pretty much the game until now.

But the groups ushered in under Reagan weren't content with their lot as rubes to be shaken down for votes, and slowly increased their clout in congress. As Nate Silver has shown, in 2010 these very conservative voters turned out at a much higher rate than moderates or liberals, finally capturing the Republican Party.

Today, issues like the debt ceiling have put the conservative grassroots at loggerheads with Republican business elites. Moderate Republicans have nowhere to go. They'll be punished for providing anything less than total victory, and punished all the harder if a compromise agreement involves concessions to Democrats. However, if they don't compromise, they'll send the economy back into recession, alienate their fundraising base, and severely damage their presidential prospects. 

A tool like ActBlue for the right only worsens that problem. It would empower exactly the sort of candidates and donors the GOP establishment doesn't want empowered. Their highly insular fundraising networks are one of the only ways they have to keep the wolves at bay; their stranglehold on congressional leadership positions is another. Access to the former is the key to the latter. Until the tension between GOP activists and elites is resolved, Republican attempts to replicate our platform will continue to founder, or limp along as particularly sad patches of astroturf.

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