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From the States

The run up to the Wisconsin recall election pushed our May numbers skyward to over a quarter billion dollars (!!) by the end of the month. Sure, we would’ve preferred a rather different outcome, but there’s a lesson in Wisconsin that’s more than gloom and doom: small donors have the power to create a national political event.

From the protests through both rounds of elections, this has been a story driven by small donors, including those who sent millions to Wisconsin Democrats using ActBlue. The top five entities for May all come in with average donations under $40. That kind of engagement forced the GOP to commit astronomical sums of money to a race that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

In short: grassroots donations sustained a state-level political struggle that lasted more than a year, and elevated it to national prominence. That’s a win, even if the returns didn’t go our way.

Number of contributions 208,071
Total raised $9,049,579.70
Average Contribution size $43.49
Committees receiving money 1,794

 

Here’s what May 2012 looks like compared to May 2011 and 2008 (last presidential election year). Percentage change is year over year:

May 2008 May 2011 May 2012 Change
Contributions 18,290 45,034 208,071 362%
Volume ($) $3,095,177.15 $2,627,655.58 $9,049,579.70 245%
Mean Donation $169.23 $58.35 $43.49 -25%
Committees 878 721 1,794 149%

 

Here are the five top committees, by number of donors, for May 2012.

Name Race Donors Dollars
Tom Barrett WI-Gov 43,137 $1,509,842
DCCC Party Committee 41,138 $963,184
Democratic Party of WI Party Committee 24,158 $657,544
DFA Recall Campaign Organization 12,887 $309,818
PCCC Organization 12,395 $121,737

As ActBlue has grown over the past seven years, one of the challenges that we have gladly faced is too much demand. Not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but we think we've met this demand pretty well: we've sent money to every state in the country, plus DC and the Marianas Islands. In addition to the federal and state races that we're known for, we regularly get inquiries for every local office imaginable,* including such tiny offices as Clerk of the Court in Charlottesville, VA and Chester County, PA Recorder of Deeds.

I have to admit, these inquiries make my day. Municipal officials are the Democratic bench – countless well-known Democrats started off as city councilors and county commissioners – and they make a real difference in bringing Democratic values to public policy. However, until 2009, we were unable to offer our services to any of them. 

While that may seem crazy (after all, most mayoral races are bigger than state legislative races), it actually gets into the guts of why ActBlue is so different from any other political technology out there. In order for our model as a nonprofit PAC to work, we had to do legal gruntwork in every single state we are active in to make sure we were doing everything by the book. We were founded in 2004 with the goal of helping federal candidates, and by 2008 we were active in all 50 states. No other PAC has been able to function effectively in so many states, and it took a lot of work to do so. 

In 2009, then, we got to start that whole process over for every local jurisdiction we wanted to help. Just like they did with each state, our legal team has to vet every new town, city, or county that we want to offer ActBlue's services in. We started off with six municipalities: Boston, San Francisco, Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, and Cook County (IL), and by the end of 2009, 21 candidates (including Houston Mayor-elect Annise Parker) had raised over $160,000. Not too shabby, especially given the limited number of candidates running, and more than enough to convince us to continue expanding. 

Since then, we've more than quadrupled the size of our local races project. We are now active in over 40 municipalities nationwide**, easily outpacing our rate of expansion to the various states. Over 90 candidates and committees have raised over $1.2 million, including the mayors of Charlotte, Philadelphia, Houston, and Oakland, and we're still expanding to new cities every month.

In the short run, this means more Democrats can take advantage of our tools for online small-dollar fundraising, which means more elected officials who listen to their constituents and grassroots supporters instead of donors who can buy a seat at the table. In the long run, however, this means something much bigger. By helping this generation of the Democratic bench to realize the power of grassroots fundraising, we will ensure that the next generation of Democratic Representatives, Senators, and Governors do the same. That's the big picture, and that's why we're investing in the next Charlottesville Clerk of the Court now. 

*Not actually including dogcatcher.

** Full list: 
Every city and county in Virginia; Arapahoe County, CO; Austin; Ayer, MA; Boston; Baltimore; Cambridge; Charlotte; Chicago; Cleveland; Columbus, OH; Cook County, IL; Cottage Grove, MN; Dallas; Denver; El Paso County, CO; Franklin County, OH; Houston; Indianapolis and Marion County, IN; Island County, WA; Jacksonville; Jefferson County, CO; King County, WA; Los Angeles; Madison, WI; Malden, MA; Medfield, MA; Memphis; Miami-Dade County, FL; New Bedford, MA; Newton, MA; Oakland; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Portland, OR; San Francisco; Scituate, MA; Somerville, MA; Southbridge, MA; Waltham, MA; Washington, DC; Yonkers, NY. If you want us to include your city or town, email us at info@actblue.com.

 

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.

Democrats in Texas may not have won a statewide race since 1994, but last Saturday, Democrat Annise Parker won a run-off election with 52.8% of the vote to become Mayor of Houston, America's 4th largest city. 

While both run-off candidates happened to be Democrats, Annise Parker was the only one who was part of ActBlue's municipal candidate pilot project, which includes Houston, raising $18,350 through ActBlue for her campaign. A large portion of those funds came from the grassroots efforts of local, state, and national Stonewall Democrats who were interested in supporting an openly lesbian candidate and were able to track donations through their branded ActBlue partnership.

We congratulate Parker on her election as she becomes the highest ranking openly gay person elected as Mayor of a major American city. Her victory is bigger than that, though, as she is also the first candidate in decades to win without the backing of traditional establishment players and the city's business interests.

Annise Danette Parker was elected mayor of Houston on Saturday, winning her seventh consecutive city election and becoming both the first contender in a generation to defeat the hand-picked candidate of Houston's business establishment and the first openly gay person to lead a major U.S. city.

Parker, Houston's current city controller who first emerged in the public arena as a gay rights activist in the 1980s, defeated former City Attorney Gene Locke on an austere platform, convincing voters that her financial bona fides and restrained promises would be best suited in trying financial times. Parker, 53, will replace the term-limited Mayor Bill White on Jan. 1.

Her victory capped an unorthodox election season that lacked a strong conservative mayoral contender and saw her coalition of inside-the-Loop Democrats and moderate conservatives, backed by an army of ardent volunteers, win the day over Locke, a former civil rights activist who attempted to unite African-American voters and Republicans.

The current Houston City Controller and former Councilmember, Annise Parker has been elected 6 times in Houston and is rooted in civic activism. She commanded a dedicaded volunteer army which helped her secure victory in the run-off in face of last minute attacks on her sexuality, which has hardly been an issue in the prior year long campaign. 

And as noted in an article by Politico, her election in Houston is a reflection of a larger trend in politics, where high growth, diverse cities are leading Democrats back to power even in traditional Republican counties and states. 

But the election of Annise Parker in Houston makes clear that the Charlottes and Houstons are now at the forefront of American political change, while the shrinking and declining big cities of the Northeast and Rust Belt are bringing up the rear.

"Houston is your post-racial, post-ethnic future of America," said demographer Joel Kotkin. "It's a leading-edge place."

ActBlue is there to help those candidates get out on that leading edge and connect with a diverse and growing community of small donors. It's a powerful force which is evident even in Texas where Annise Parker recognizes the impact this election has beyond her city. 

“Tonight the voters of Houston have opened the doors to history,” she said. “I acknowledge that. I embrace that. I know what this win means to many of us who thought we could never achieve high office. I know what it means. I understand, because I feel it, too. But now, from this moment, let us join as one community. We are united in one goal in making this city the city that it could be, should be, can be and will be.”

“Hear me: The city is on your side,” she said. “I learned about the problems and the needs and hopes of our city at the neighborhood level. I understand what needs to be done to move us forward. … I promise to give to citizens an administration of honesty, integrity and transparency,” she said. “The only special interest will be the public. We are in this together. We rise or fall together.”

What does Monk Elmer, a first time Democratic candidate running against a 32 year Republican incumbent in a state senate district in Wisconsin, have to do with ActBlue’s landmark $100 Million fundraising milestone?

According to our records, it was a donation to Monk Elmer’s campaign that pushed us past $100 million! A physician, Elmer just launched his campaign (and has raised over $1,000 on ActBlue). He was recently profiled by his local WI paper, the Post-Crescent where you can learn more information about his background, issues, and how he got the name “Monk”.

It’s not entirely surprising that such a landmark contribution comes from one of of the many state district level candidates that use ActBlue. In fact, it’s candidates like Dr. Elmer which are why we work so hard to democratize fundraising and offer online fundraising tools to support thousands of Democratic campaigns.

Congratulations Monk Elmer- this graphic is all yours.

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Recently we talked about County Parties and how ActBlue can help them in many states across the county. We’ve been adding new counties scattered across the county since that post but I wanted to point our a really great success story.

Enter the Hancock County Democratic Committee in Maine. An institution that goes back many years, folks involved with the Party saw our posts and with the help of the writers over at Turn Maine Blue got set up using ActBlue.

What’s more exciting is that they used ActBlue to launch an innovative fundraising pitch for a new bumper sticker they were selling. (kakistocracy meaning "Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.")

They set up this ActBlue fundraising page and crossposted it as part of a story that hit the top of the recommended list at Daily Kos. They raised over $225 for their county committee while pushing out a great message (and adding a word that probably did not previously exist in our vocabulary).

So a hat-tip to the Hancock County Democrats in this installment of "Page of the Week". (Yes, we’ll get back to this feature more regularly so it doesn’t turn into Page of the Month.)

340m18302 Continuing our participation with Democracy for America at their Training Academy programs across the country, I’ll be in Salt Lake City Utah this weekend. I’ll be heading up two Online Fundraising sessions, talking about how to integrate online components of finance into all areas of a campaign including traditional fundraising strategies that can be enhanced through this medium.

Utah is one of one of the states where ActBlue is active on the state level. (You can browse the Utah directory here.) The way in which Utahns came together to activate their state on ActBlue will be the subject of a future post here on the blog. Netroots leaders as well as candidates and the state party worked together to collect funds to cover our startup costs and bring us to their state.

US Counties

Since 2004, ActBlue has helped Democrats raise over $22 million in online contributions.  We are a Political Action Committee, not a business, so our motivation is getting Democrats elected instead of padding profit margins.  We know how much of a hassle accepting credit card donations on the Internet can be, and we want to help.

One of the areas that ActBlue can now help in is with your local County Democratic Party.

If your local county party or committee is in one of the 22 states where ActBlue is already active (minus some clean-elections states like Arizona), you can have all the ActBlue fundraising tools utilized by top tier House and Senate campaigns at the disposal of your county party.  Several county parties are already using those tools to achieve success!

In Oregon, the Yamhill County Democratic Party uses ActBlue to accept monthly recurring contributions:

http://www.actblue.com/page/ycd_presidents_circle

Instead of soliciting your membership for a one-time donation, recurring contributions allow you to ask them for $10 a month (or more) for the next year.  This helps you budget and helps your members by spreading out their contribution over an entire year.

The San Diego County Democratic Party used ActBlue to accept RSVPs and payments for their annual fundraising dinner:

http://www.actblue.com/page/rd

Using ActBlue for event management allows you to see your rsvps in real time (no waiting for a check in the mail!).  Online invitations help circulate event details while collecting contributions. Contributor data in spreadsheet form provides you with an instant guest list and useful template for nametags and thank you notes.

The Democratic Party of San Fernando Valley used ActBlue earlier this year to collect registration costs for their General Assembly meeting.

http://www.actblue.com/page/dpsfvregistration

So how cost effective is this for local parties?  There is no setup fee, no maintenance fee, no check fee, no check re-issue fee and no customer service fees.  We deduct a processing fee of around 3.95% which covers what we are charged by our credit card processor.  This fee comes out of your contributions so there are never any bills to pay.

Every Monday we mail checks to all campaigns and committees that received contributions through ActBlue during the past week.  All of the information about the individual contributors is available online and can be imported to your existing campaign finance software.

You can see that there are a number of ways that County Parties can use ActBlue. In the most basic sense, parties can use ActBlue to process their general donations and ease their reporting burden. At any time they can take advantage of these more creative and advanced options to enhance their fundraising, none of which even requires a county party to have a website!

This is just another way we are hoping to make ActBlue useful to you in building a more Democratic America. Please contact us at info@actblue.com to discuss how we can help your county party. We’ll be happy to get you started!

ActBlue helps Democrats- this may not come as a shock to you, but I wanted to point this out in a way that you might not have thought of it before.

ActBlue is there for ALL Democrats.

  • Regardless of Ideology
  • Regardless of Incumbency
  • Regardless of Election

Since we don’t take sides on any of these fronts, it’s not impossible for Democrats running in the same primary to be using the same ActBlue platform to collect contributions and empower donors. In fact, we are seeing multiple candidates in Special Elections for the U.S. House this year all using ActBlue!

For example, in the Massachusetts 5th, there is a special election to succeed Rep. Marty Meehan. All five of the Democrats running have used ActBlue to fundraise in their campaigns and four of them currently continue to do so including…

There is nothing stopping anyone from creating an ActBlue fundraising page for any candidate, regardless if that campaign has officially embraced ActBlue as part of their online efforts. We’re here for all of them at any time!

So you may have noticed that we’re running some new code here on ActBlue as of yesterday evening. I’ll tour you through some of these features in upcoming posts.

As part of this upgrade, we’ve removed the page that gave recognition to all the groups that helped make ActBlue active on the state level. I’ve posted this archive for historical purposes in the extended entry as their support should be noted for all to see.

We’re looking forward to expanding to even more states after our successful launch of Virginia and Mississippi a few months ago. Thanks to some conversations this past week we might have an extra state or two to add to this list soon. If you’d like to discuss getting ActBlue active in your state and have some ideas, suggestions, or funding don’t hesitate to contact us.

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