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The first quarter of the 2011-12 election cycle is on the books, and it’s a doozy. We saw a massive uptick in contributions relative to previous cycles, driven by the backlash against Gov. Walker’s union-busting in Wisconsin. That drove a precipitous drop in the average contribution size relative to 2009, which was made starker by a higher-than-usual contribution size in 2009 thanks to inaugural events. All in all, the trends are exactly what we want to see: more money, coming from more people and going to more Democrats.

Number of contributions 180,547
Total raised $8,715,611.77
Average Contribution size $48.27
Committees receiving money 881
Fundraising pages receiving money 974
Pages created 1,029

 

And here’s how those numbers stack up to the last few cycles. Remember that we offer 2007 as a benchmark for a pre-presidential off-year and 2009 to illustrate cycle over cycle growth:

Q1 2007 Q1 2009 Q1 2011 Change
Contributions 31,441 24,361 180,547 641%
Volume ($) $3,141,038.27 $5,343,772.70 $8,715,611.77 63%
Mean Donation $99.90 $219.36 $48.27 -78%
Committees 235 651 881 35%
Pages Created 346 1,026 1,029 .3%
Pages w/ Money 203 684 974 13%

 

 
And here are the five top committees, ranked by number of donors, for Q1 2011.

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 61,542 $691,584
Democracy for America Organization 44,767 $503,841
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Organization 43,595 $1,099,087
Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee Organization 30,726 $768,067
PCCC Recall Committee Organization 25,481 $267,919

 

Here, as everywhere else this quarter, we see organizations dominating the field as political campaigns have yet to ramp up. Those organizations, in turn, are laying the groundwork that will make them valuable allies when the horse race gets underway in earnest.

As I mentioned last month, Wisconsin is the story of 2011 so far. In late February, Republican Gov. Scott Walker attempted to undermine a core Democratic constituency by revoking the right of public workers to bargain collectively, ostensibly for budgetary reasons. When Democratic state senators fled the state to deny him the legislative quorum required to pass a budgetary measure, Wisconsin Republicans declared that it didn’t impact the budget and passed the law without warning in a five minute session. Recently, a Wisconsin judge blocked the law’s implementation. Talking Points Memo has a useful timeline of events.

The immediate result of Gov. Walker’s overreach was a huge surge in Democratic fundraising and the initiation of recall proceedings against vulnerable Wisconsin Republicans. As Greg Sargent noted, the first completed recall petition tied the record for the fastest recall petition in Wisconsin history. The momentum on the ground is more than matched by the fundraising numbers. In March alone, ActBlue processed $3.7 million worth of donations to Wisconsin Democrats and allied groups. Add in the numbers from February and the total climbs north of $4 million. That’s a lot of cheddar, and its impact is reflected in our March fundraising numbers:

Number of contributions 143,034
Total raised 5,854,848.89
Average Contribution size $40.93
Committees receiving money 673
Fundraising pages receiving money 731
Pages created 490

 

As you’ll see below, the donations in Wisconsin were primarily by grassroots donors, who drove huge growth in the number of contributions and lowered our average donation size.

Mar 2007 Mar 2009 Mar 2011 Change
Contributions 21,912 11,438 143,034 1150%
Volume ($) $1,998,288.74 $2,765,316.89 $5,854,848.89 113%
Mean Donation $91.20 $241.77 $40.93 -83%
Committees 189 440 673 53%
Pages Created 158 452 490 8%
Pages w/ Money 164 412 731 77%

 

 
And here are the five top committees, by number of donors, for March 2011.

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 54,371 $576,408
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Organization 43,598 $1,099,121
Democracy for America Organization 41,323 $462,030
PCCC Recall Committee (Wisconsin) Organization 25,483 $267,944
MoveOn.org Political Action Organization 24,191 $364,237

 

The fact that March fundraising was driven primarily by organizations is a reflection of how big the stakes are in Wisconsin. Gov. Walker’s attack on collective bargaining isn’t just about undermining a core Democratic constituency (though it’s about that too); it’s about redistributing wealth (and thus political power) upward, away from workers and public servants and thereby diminishing their voice in the political process. Organizing and funding resistance to that overriding Republican goal is too big a job for any one candidate, so state and national organizations stepped in to help shoulder the load.

At ActBlue, our mission is to give grassroots donors a powerful voice in our democracy, so we were happy to put our tools at their disposal. We’re about democratizing power, and this is how we do it.

Ahh, mid-November. Elections are over, leaves are off the trees, pies are cooling on the stove, and recount funds* dot the landscape. With 435 house races whittled down to six, all the fundraising action is driven towards these races. Soon after comes the media attention from POLITICO – who is bankrolling who, what this candidate wants from that one – we've seen it all before.

What we haven't seen before is what is happening in New York, where freshman Rep. Dan Maffei and longtime Congressman Tim Bishop face recounts. Rather than just writing checks, the Democratic congressional delegation has taken their backing to the next level. Amongst others, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Anthony Weiner, and even Rep. John Hall - who lost his own seat earlier this month! – are all asking their supporters to help fund these recount committees. ActBlue not only helps Dems build networks of grassroots donors for their own elections, we make sure that same structure is available for these leadership building moments:  Weiner, Gillibrand, and Hall all have built very successful low dollar donor programs that they've dispatched to help their colleagues. 

Note the difference between how these leaders are acting and how POLITICO reports it. In their world, Republican congressmen give $5,000 and some phone numbers for their wealthy friends and hope for an ally in their quest to dole out favors to those same wealthy friends as a committee chairman. In other words, wealth => power.** In our world, Democrats – even those who lost! – are asking their grassroots supporters to join them through ActBlue in supporting their colleagues. With us, people => power.

Why the difference? Well, for one thing, since anyone can fundraise for a candidate listed on ActBlue, it is even easier for these Democratic leaders to ask their grassroots supporters to donate directly to their colleagues than for them to cut a check. You know that we've helped teach Democrats that their grassroots donors are the backbone of their success. Now, Democratic leaders are learning that grassroots donors are there to help build the party, too, and our infrastructure is there to continue that lesson.

Democratic leaders aren't rolling over after 11/2, and neither are we. Where money comes from means a whole lot more than folks let on, and we make it easy for the National Stonewall Democrats, for DailyKos, and for you to let your champions know that you have their back, even in their toughest moments – be it a recount or a leadership fight. ActBlue's tools and techniques are not just for the election season.  It's a whole new way of practicing politics.

*Recount fund: Money used to pay for legal fees incurred by the complicated recount procedures in races that come down to a thin margin. In Republican circles, recount funds are called Ben Ginsberg's Luxury Suite Funds.

**Surprise!

Our latest installment of "ActBlue in One Take" features Sen. Al Franken. The Senator from Minnesota understands the value of grassroots donors–he raised over $2M on ActBlue in 2008, funds that were crucial to both his election day victory and drawn-out struggle against Republican attempts to keep him from taking his seat in Washington. Click on the video below to see what Sen. Franken had to say about the role of grassroots donors–and ActBlue–in 2010

You can search for your favorite Democrat in our candidate directory, or visit our homepage and support the candidates that lead our hot candidates list.

On August 24, the AK-Sen primary was a forgone conclusion. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), a 1.5 term incumbent–in 2002 her father appointed her to his Senate seat when he won the governorship, the very definition of nepotism–would win her primary battle against Joe Miller and cruise to victory in the general.

By August 25, 2010, the race had completely changed. Murkowski trailed the insurgent Miller by several thousand votes, and a recount looked imminent. There was talk of a libertarian ticket run for Murkowski, and then a write-in campaign. And while the GOP fumbled and fulminated, Scott McAdams, the Democratic nominee, quietly started fundraising. Two weeks later, McAdams has raised over $150k on ActBlue, and is halfway to Sen. Begich's 2008 total. Several members of Sen. Begich's staff have also joined the McAdams campaign, and the Senator told TPM he isn't bashful about helping McAdams raise money.

The point being, infrastructure matters, and it matters most when the calendar is compressed and the difference between victory and defeat lies in how quickly candidates adapt to unexpected events (See: Allen, George). Sen. Begich was considered a long shot to win as late as November 5, 2008–the day after election day–and today he's helping another dark horse make a competitive run at Alaska's other senate seat.

In short, ActBlue performs two crucial functions in the political world. First, we allow candidates to demonstrate their fundraising prowess to the powers-that-be in real time, helping them build legitimacy both inside and outside the Democratic Party.

But arguably more important in a world of 24-hour news cycles, we help candidates "win the morning," as it were. ActBlue enables candidates to capitalize on missteps by their opponents or changes in the political terrain at unmatched speed (Rob Miller's $800k+ "You Lie" haul, a year ago today). We do that by minimizing one of the less-covered aspects of political fundraising: transit time. Getting money from the donor to the campaign takes time, be it direct mail or online fundraising. Then, since political campaigns can rarely get anything on credit, it takes yet more time to pay the media buyers and film the advertisements. Cumulatively, that adds up to a significant delay between the donation and the realization of its political potential.

At ActBlue, we've reduced that delay to almost nothing by wiring major federal campaigns–McAdams among them–their ActBlue money. With ActBlue wires, the money that a campaign raises on ActBlue today is in their bank account and ready to be spent tomorrow. They can translate late money–or any money, for that matter–into media and ground presence almost instantaneously. That leads to more agile campaigns, timely advertisements, and eventually victory. It's another Democratic advantage that the GOP can't replicate, and in today's political climate we can use each and every one.

As I’ve said before, Facebook and ActBlue have more in common than a shared love of compound words; we’ve both created a space for people to make their passions known. At ActBlue, that means creating an easy way for Americans to participate meaningfully in Democratic politics wherever they may be, and whatever their time constraints. Given that mission, Facebook–with a user community measured in the hundreds of millions–has always been a natural place for us to be.

In February, we built an integration that allows donors to post their donations to their Facebook wall. That was just a first step. Today, we allow donors and campaigns to place a donate tab on their Facebook profiles and fan pages. In doing so, we’ve created another way for Democratic donors to translate their passion into (political) currency, and activate personal networks that candidates could never hope to reach. And we let everybody use it. For free.

ActBlue is the largest source of funds for Democrats, and that inclusiveness is the reason why. When we innovate, every Democrat benefits.

But fundraising is a means, not an end, and the logic behind this integration isn’t just about driving more money to Democratic candidates and committees. It’s about driving Democratic (and democratic) participation. It’s about teaching donors that they don’t have to be bankers or billionaires to have an impact on our political future, and about demonstrating to politicians and the press that those donors can deliver.

In other words, ActBlue is doing for our political lives what Facebook has done for our social lives. We’re working towards a future where political giving is as easy as sharing a link, or reconnecting with an old friend. The $140 million that ActBlue has sent to over 6,000 Democratic candidates and committees speaks to the power of that vision.

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In 2009, ActBlue launched a pilot program in several local jurisdictions, including Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, Cook County (IL), Houston and San Francisco. The effort was a success, Annise Parker was elected the first LGBT mayor in Texas history, and fundraising in San Francisco has taken off ahead of the elections for Board of Supervisors.

So we're expanding the program. Effective immediately, we can support local candidates in Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. 

ActBlue Chairman and Founder Matt DeBergalis had this to say:

Our expansion is important because it allows broader fundraising to take place around local races, and makes the process easier for donors and candidates alike. We expect that will encourage more folks to run for public office, and help those who are already running to get their message out. In the end, our local races program creates more voter choice in the downballot races from which future national Democratic figures will emerge. 

No other platform has the scope or sophistication to handle local, state and federal politics simultaneously; we're pleased to be the first to offer fundraising tools proven at the national level to local candidates.

If you're a candidate in a district we don't currently support and you're interested in using ActBlue, let us know

At ActBlue, we're about helping campaigns meet donors where they are, and where they are is changing. Not that long ago, email and cellular phones were emerging technologies. Today, they're fully integrated, and an ever-growing number of Americans check their email on their cellular phones. In recognition of that fact, we've launched ActBlue Mobile–now you can support the Democratic candidates of your choice right from your smartphone. 

Donors: did your phone just buzz because you received a fundraising email from a candidate you like? Just click on the link and enter your information the way you would from your home computer or laptop and submit it. You could be on the bus, or taking in the game down at the bar; it doesn't matter. You can play a role in American politics without missing your stop. (Or a critical play!)

We built ActBlue Mobile because we think that American politics should reflect the patterns of  American life, and that the American people shouldn't have to be politicos to be political. It's that very same impulse that led us to build cutting-edge integrations with Twitter and Facebook, and it will continue fuel further innovation is the months and years to come.

Remember, Washington D.C. speaks the language of money and influence. At ActBlue, we're working every day to help you be part of the conversation. 

On Tuesday, the Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) released their "Who to Hire" guide to political technology providers, and we were happy to see that ActBlue took 2nd place overall, with a 4.23/5 rating and the third highest number of survey respondents. If you follow the link above, you'll see that when they broke down the responses by category, ActBlue led decisively across the board:

  • Capacity and Reliability of Software: 2nd
  • Usability of Software: 1st
  • Quality of Customer Service: 2nd
  • Fairness of Pricing: 2nd

No other service provider placed as highly in as many categories. In our internal discussions, these are exactly the categories where we strive to be an industry leader and it was humbling to see that our efforts were recognized by survey respondents. I want to highlight the "Usability of Software" category, and not just because we stand atop the podium.

As Nancy Scola has written, one of ActBlue's core goals is to normalize the act of political giving. That's fancy talk for a pretty simple idea: political giving should be a regular part of American life. You go to work, cook dinner, and after dinner head over to the computer and donate $5 to your preferred candidate.

A lot of the anger Americans feel toward their elected leaders is rooted in the idea that Washington serves special interests rather than the American people. And, to the extent that this intuition is correct, it's because those special interests have a lot of campaign cash to dole out. The obvious answer to this problem is to create an alternate source of funding for our elected officials, so that standing up to special interests isn't such an electorally damaging proposition.

The central idea behind ActBlue is that the American people have the potential to be that alternate source, and at this point we've clearly demonstrated proof of concept. ActBlue has sent $127.3M to thousands of Democratic candidates and committees, with an average donation size of around $100. And ActBlue users send their money to everything from presidential campaigns to mayoral races. As a final note, we practice what we preach: we fund our operations through tips and direct donations from our users.

However, if political giving is going to become a normal part of American life, it has to fulfill two criteria:

  1. It must be easy.
  2. It must be transparent.

I'm going to tackle the second point in a separate entry, as it's a complicated one. But #1 is pretty straightforward. Very few Americans pursue politics as a career. In fact, most of us are preoccupied by our roles as parents, small business owners, or what have you. So, if you want people participate in politics, you have to find a way to slot it into the very busy lives we all lead.

When I see that ActBlue is ranked #1 in terms of usability it tells me that we're making progress toward that goal. Whether you're a campaign or just someone looking to make a difference in the five minutes they have to spare, ActBlue is your best option.

(And, as a final note, it's not just PdF that feels this way. The New Organizing Insitute (NOI) honored us with the Most Valuable Technology award.)

Certificate

It's been a couple of very busy weeks at ActBlue, but I wanted to take a moment to thank our friends at Roots Camp 2010 for awarding us the Most Valuable Technology certificate. The nomination and award were as welcome as they were unexpected. For our part, we're not planning to rest on our multicolored laurels–in 2010, we plan to earn the title of MVT several times over.

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