At times, everything comes together. I work for ActBlue and I read Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias regularly. Sometimes I see Prof. Lessig in the distance when I head out for lunch. Yesterday, Ezra and Matt both had posts up about Lessig's presentation on institutional corruption that I wanted to address.

Part I: Lessig's Argument

The video is rather long, so I'll summarize. Lessig defines institutional corruption as follows:

Institutional corruption isn't Blagojevich. It's not bribery or any violation of any existing rules … [it's] a certain kind of influence within an economy of influence. It's institutional corruption if it (1) weakens the effectiveness of an institution to serve its purpose or (2) Weakens the public trust of that institution, leading to the inability of the institution to serve its purpose.

In other words, it's not so much about corruption within an institution as the corruption of the institution itself, or the appearance thereof. That last bit is important in Lessig's formulation: if everyone believes the institution to be corrupted, then it might as well be. They won't trust the process, and they won't trust the results–an idea that's validated to a certain extent by the unfolding healthcare reform crisis.

If you're onboard with that, you're probably wondering what the "economy of influence" Lessig mentions is. Briefly, it works like this:

Special interests have a lot of money, and are in search of favorable policy outcomes. They hire lobbyists, who promote their employer's preferred policy. Legislators grant these lobbyists access because 1) running a campaign is expensive, and lobbyists represent a lot of campaign cash and 2) once a legislator's campaigning days are over, lobbying is a pretty good way to make a living. That results in legislation that meets the needs of the interests that dispatched the lobbyists. So they send more.

In other words, everybody is being rational, but that way of doing business undermines public trust, produces severely compromised policy, and ultimately results in broken political institutions.

Part II: What Is To Be Done?

Driving the whole process is the fact that legislators need money to run their campaigns. If you take that out of the picture, both lobbyist access and the lobbying industry dry up, which also handily removes the lure of a potential second career as a lobbyist from a legislator's calculation.

Lessig advocates public financing for elections as the best way to create this alternate food source for federal campaigns. The problem is that he's just spent 45 minutes explaining why that can't happen. Robust public financing legislation would represent a system-wide failure of the "economy of influence." Assuming the political climate even allows legislators to consider such a bill, chances are it would be imperfect and riddled with loopholes that interests insert in order to exploit them later. Additionally, as the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC demonstrates, even imperfect campaign finance law isn't safe. Clearly, that alternate food source has to come from outside the Washington D.C. economy of influence. Transparency is also crucial, as part of reversing institutional corruption is restoring public trust. People have to know where the money is coming from.

ActBlue does that, and more. We track donors and dollars in real time. We report everything to the FEC. We are, in a word, transparent. Moreover, we work with campaigns at every level of politics. Annise Parker, the newly-elected mayor of Houston, has an ActBlue listing. So do Democratic state legislators and members of Congress. They and their staffers are learning a new participatory model for campaign fundraising. We are building a farm system for the Democratic Party, and the results are real. Read the quarter-by-quarter breakdown of our 2009 numbers for the data on that.

Rep. Donna Edwards, MD-04, said it best:

ActBlue removes the K Street lobbyists from the equation … [candidates] can actually act on their own, and work on policy that makes a difference in people’s lives.

Donna Edwards defeated 8-term incumbent Al Wynn in the 2008 Democratic primary. She raised $500,000 on ActBlue from 9,000 donors.  ActBlue unravels the economy of influence, one donor at a time. And we do it through methods I think Prof. Lessig would approve of. While I may disagree with him on the technical aspects, I agree with him on this:

We face as a nation an extraordinary range of critical problems that require serious attention … the responsibility we need to focus is the responsibility of the good people, the decent people, the people who could've picked up a phone. The responsibility of us.

I took the title of this post from a great blues tune by Albert Collins. There's a lyric that comes to mind whenever I get frustrated with American politics–and yes, political professionals do get frustrated with our political system, even as we work within it–that keeps me going. I think I'll end with it.

She said, 'I want you to be a winner / I love you, son, I don't want you to quit.'

Last night saw the conclusion of the 2009 Virginia Democratic primary. From the state assembly to the governor’s race, there were many contested (and heated!) races. As in any state, there were passionate supporters doing everything they could to help their chosen candidate. 


But as primary concludes, and a nominee chosen (such as Creigh Deeds for Governor or Jody Wagner for Lt. Governor) comes an expectation, and sometimes a challenge, for party unity. Candidates typically play a role in this phase with the phrasing of their concession speeches, but those words are only so effective in how quickly and widespread they are communicated to one’s supporters.
In a good sign for Democrats in Virginia, the leading statewide campaigns made use of their websites and email lists to share their words and call for support of the nominee. In an even better sign, they made an immediate call of financial support for their (now) former opponents. Here at ActBlue, we’re also proud to have been an immediate, accessible, transparent, and easy way for campaigns to start fundraising for the nominee while enabling the nominee to know and give credit to new donors. 
Here are a couple of screenshots of that in action last night from the Virginia primary.
In the Lt. Gov. primary, Mikel Signer directed his supporters via email to give to Jody Wagner on ActBlue
In the Gubernatorial primary, both Terry McCauliffe and Brian Moran are sporting front page banner asks on their websites, directing their supporters to consider giving to Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds (as shown below).
On the front page of his website, Brian Moran links to an ActBlue page specifically created for that purpose, allowing both campaigns to be able to track new donors.
ActBlue was able to help dozens of campaigns large and small this primary season in Virginia. We congratulate all the winners and look forward to a Democratic sweep in November. 

ActBlue is pleased to announce that we’re now active for state races in New York.  You can now contribute to Democrats running in state elections through ActBlue.  Better yet, set up your own page and start fundraising!

Everyone here at ActBlue is very excited about this development.  To mark the occasion we’ll be livebloging on The Albany Project tonight, 1/31/08 starting at 7PM.  Political Director Erin Hill, Deputy Political Director Nate Thames, and Netroots Coordinator Melissa Ryan will be on hand to answer you questions.

To learn more about this exciting development here’s our press release:


2008? ActBlue, the online platform that allows Democrats to raise funds
for the candidates of their choice, is now active in New York State.
With the launch, ActBlue puts a new tool into the hands of Democrats
across the state, allowing them for the first time to support not only
federal candidates but statewide candidates, party committees and
Democrats running for State Senate and State Assembly.

State party co-chairman David Pollak heralded ActBlue’s arrival in
New York today.  "ActBlue has proven to be an invaluable resource for
Democratic candidates across the country," says Pollak. "By adding
functionality for state legislative candidates, ActBlue will play a
critical role in helping Democrats at the grassroots level get involved
in the effort to take back the New York State Senate."

Beyond party activity, the entry of ActBlue into New York will make
it possible for individuals in New York State to start mobilizing
friends and colleagues in support of Democratic candidates at all
levels.  Much as in Virginia, where a broad coalition of activists and
bloggers joined hands through ActBlue with Governor Kaine and the state
party to take back the Virginia Senate for the first time in a decade,
ActBlue will facilitate cooperation between New York Democratic
institutions and communities of Democrats from upstate to Manhattan.

"This is something that those of us focused on state level races in
New York have been wanting for at least two years, and we are beyond
excited that this day has finally come," says Phillip Anderson,
editor-in-chief of the Albany Project, a prominent blog devoted to
Democratic victories in New York State. "I think that we may look back
on this day a year from now and see this as a real game-changing event
in the effort to take our state government back."

ActBlue has enabled individuals and groups across the country to
raise more than $36 million for Democratic candidates and committees
since 2004. More important, says executive director Jonathan Zucker,
ActBlue has built a new kind of infrastructure capable not only of
raising untapped millions at unprecedented speed but also of mobilizing
support for Democrats in the closest races. "Building infrastructure is
the most important thing we can be doing as a party," says Zucker. "We
ran wheezing behind Republicans for years when it came to
infrastructure, but ActBlue’s $36 million is proof positive that we’re
not only catching up but on course to win."  Zucker is expecting
ActBlue’s funding total to top $100 million this cycle.

ActBlue will be live blogging from their headquarters tonight from 7 to 8 at the Albany Project, online at

Over at Horses Ass, blogger David Goldstein gives his take on the importance of ActBlue.  It’s a spot on analysis both of what ActBlue does and why it matters. 

Emphasis Mine:

When people talk about the progressive “netroots” the first thing
that comes to mind are the plethora of local and national blogs that
have grown to challenge the legacy media’s diminishing control over the
political narrative. But in fact it is much, much more than that, and one of the most exciting and important netroots developments of the past few years has been the growth of ActBlue,
an online fundraising clearinghouse that is beginning to enable the
financial power of the people to challenge the entrenched power of
corporate America.

The US Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that money is speech, and
in that context, the special interests of the ultra-wealthy have long
spoken louder than the interests of the average Joe, but by
democratizing fundraising, introducing efficiencies and creating new
grassroots opportunities that flip the traditional top-down model on
its head, ActBlue has begun a process that could eventually free
candidates from the financial stranglehold of corporate sponsors. The
fact is that money, and the media it buys, be it television, radio,
direct mail or other, is the primary means by which candidates
communicate their message to voters; no realistically achievable amount
of doorbelling or coffee klatches can win a congressional district on
its own, and no candidate can be expected to compete for votes without
securing at least a somewhat level financial playing field. ActBlue
provides a tool that doesn’t just enable progressive campaigns to tap
into the aggregate resources of the public at large, it enables the
people to organize ourselves in support of the candidates we prefer, as
opposed to merely those candidates the political establishment would
prefer we be limited to choose from.

Most of us can’t afford to max out to candidates.  What we can do is
come together and maximize the impact of contributions to a campaign.  ActBlue exists to give you that power.  We’re a resource for you.


blogospheredayThere is no better day than today to use the “Blogosphere” category for this post on the ActBlue Blog.

While you can see more of the action over at the Open Left where I’m guest hosting today, here is an updated roundup of all the posts so far talking about ActBlue on the 4th Annual Blogosphere Day.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released this statement.

am immensely proud that 17 of my Senate colleagues have joined me in
using ActBlue to build our Democratic majority, and I expect many more
to do so this election cycle.

Blogosphere Day celebrates the
greatest aspiration of our democracy: people coming together to change
the direction of their country.  By enabling Democrats from all walks
of life to work together, to pool their passion and energy, and to
elect candidates who represent their values, ActBlue has created a
unique strategic advantage for the Democratic Party.

investment in ActBlue builds resources for our best candidates, our
best activists, and our best ideas — and your contribution today makes
the biggest difference as we pave the road to November 2008.

Please support ActBlue today.

Sen. John Kerry was blogging at Firedoglake.

Just a few months ago, we made the strategic decision to partner
with ActBlue on all of our fundraising. One reason for that was that we
wanted to take advantage of some of the innovative possibilities
ActBlue make possible, such as our ŇRoadblock Republicans’ campaign.
We’ve already raised nearly 100K targeting ActBlue’s Democratic nominee
funds for the opponents of some key Republican Senators. The idea that
someone could raise funds in a pressure campaign like that targeting
specific members was pretty new, and it got a lot of attention on the
Hill. And, hopefully, gave my Republican colleagues another factor to
consider when they think of blocking more legislation to really change
course in Iraq.

The other reason we partnered with ActBlue was to support the
overall efforts of the netroots. And that’s why I’m writing today to
support Blogosphere Day, and it’s drive to raise funds for ActBlue. The
time to build infrastructure for next year’s election is right now, and
ActBlue will bring in tens of millions of dollars for Democratic
candidates and progressive causes over this cycle. They are the largest
vehicle for the expression of the financial power of the netroots, and
that power goes a long way towards bringing about a new progressive
future for our country.

Gen. Wesley Clark posts at Huffington Post.

That’s why today is so important. Today is Blogosphere Day — a day that realizes the great promise of our democracy: people coming together from across America to change the direction of our country. In the past, the progressive blogosphere has united on July 19 to support a specific candidate, and I was proud to support Blogosphere Day candidates Paul Hackett and Ned Lamont.

Now on the 4th annual Blogosphere Day, it’s time to invest in our infrastructure, and that means supporting ActBlue.  This isn’t just about 2008, 2010, or any specific election. It’s about building support for activists, for new ideas, and for candidates from the local to national level.  Supporting ActBlue not only strengthens the progressive movement, but it strengthens our democracy.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois writes at Daily Kos.

Today, on the 4th annual Blogosphere Day, we celebrate the many
important ways that progressive blogs have changed our democracy for
the better — while also making sure we nurture and invest in the
blogosphere, making it an even greater force for positive change in the
months and years ahead.  That’s why I hope you’ll support ActBlue.

By building our online Democratic infrastructure today, especially
ActBlue, we’re creating a platform that will support all of our
candidates, our activists, and our ideas in 2008 and beyond.  ActBlue
has already done so much to help our progressive movement — now it’s
time for us to help them.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy released this statement.

Today we celebrate one of best things to happen to the
Democratic Party in a long time: the emergence of vibrant online
communities that connect Americans through healthy discussion.

2006 was a landmark year for Democrats and ActBlue’s fundraising
technology was
a big part of that success.  Now as we look to grow the Democratic
Majority in 2008, I’m thankful that Actblue and the larger community of
and other online technologies are here to provide the kind of energy
resources we need to win.

Sen. Chris Dodd has released a statement about Blogosphere Day.

Today is the fourth annual Blogosphere Day and the netroots are coming
together to support ActBlue. I congratulate ActBlue for their continued
success as the online clearinghouse for Democratic action. They have
helped Democratic candidates around the country and at all levels of
government raise over $25 million since 2004.

Yesterday, blogger Matt Stoller wrote,
“ActBlue is a representation of what is great about our country, that
the principles of diversity, openness, transparency, and collective
action can and do work.” I couldn’t agree more. ActBlue has set the
ground for Democratic growth nationwide, by removing traditional
barriers that have limited political participation.

ActBlue has enabled the Democratic grassroots to come together and
effectively support Democratic success — their work deserves wide
recognition for its value.

As a candidate who has benefited from ActBlue’s work, I’m proud to
donate on Blogosphere Day in support of ActBlue’s continued efforts to
provide tools that enable all Democrats a chance to succeed and help
turn America “blue.”

Read More

I wanted to take some time today to look at a few news clips out on the Internet that reflect the changing way in which we are looking at online contributions. The first one comes from Albuquerque Tribune about Democratic candidate Martin Heinrich who uses ActBlue and is running for Congress in NM-01.

Online support, however, is growing and is key to reaching people he probably otherwise wouldn’t, he said. And sites like are an easy way to get donors to give
over an extended amount of time, including on an automatic, monthly

"For working folks, it’s a much more manageable way to give," he said.

Recurring contributions are a great way to spread out a larger contribution over a longer period of time. For families on limited or fixed incomes, this allows for easier participation in the political process, something that should not be limited to any one class of people. ActBlue has enabled this from the beginning, helping candidates and county parties set up steady revenue streams. In the future, we’ll look to provide our users with tools to better track these recurring donations and visually plan out donations.

Our next piece actually takes us to a blog story about another ActBlue campaign, that of Steve Novick running for the Oregon Senate seat held by Gordon Smith (R).

According to the Novick for Senate campaign, in the 48 days since his
announcement, the campaign has now raised over $100,000 from 300+
donors. At this moment, 253 of those donations for $56,797 have come via ActBlue.

Wow, would you ever expect to see over 50% of a federal campaign’s initial contributions made online? In "big-money" politics you might be more accustomed to a large number of high dollar checks providing the initial boost; clearly, this is changing. No one source of funding need be dominant, and we recognize that ActBlue’s ability to expand the donor pool is helping to diversify campaigns and their funding.

Last month ActBlue created Democratic Nominee funds for all federal offices.  At the time I wrote:

We recognize that it’s early in the 2008 cycle and many candidates
are not anywhere close to announcing a run for federal office, be that
a U.S. Senate seat or Congress.  It’s natural that during this time,
potential candidates are testing the waters, talking to friends, and
contemplating the financial needs of any campaign they may choose to
embark upon.

As of today we’re going to help make that last decision a little easier to encourage Democrats to run for office. We’ve created "Democratic Nominee Funds"
for every Republican-held Senate and House seat.   All of the money
raised for these funds will be held until after a state’s primary
election and then transferred to the Democratic Nominee to help them
with their general election campaign against Republicans.

In the past month we’ve seen more states adopt this strategy to help create buzz and attention around senate races. Texans have raised ~$1000 amidst the ongoing chatter about potential candidates. Now with the talk about Oregon’s Peter DeFazio mulling a bid against Sen. Gordon Smith, draft pages are popping up in the form of OR-Sen Nominee Funds. In addition, Blue New Hampshire is starting to raise funds for the nominee against Sen. Senunu.

While you may not raise millions for the eventual nominee, Democratic Nominee Funds can be a helpful tool to raise awareness, buzz, media, and some helpful cash for Democratic candidates at the federal level.

UPDATE: I just noticed that has launched using the ActBlue as part of their ‘draft’ effort. Very cool!


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