Ted Cruz thinks we’re big money

Last night, Ted Cruz mentioned us in a debate about the tax code on CNN with Bernie Sanders. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cruz got his facts wrong. When talking about big money in politics, he compared us to the Koch brothers — some of the biggest Republican mega-donors in the business.

As a nonprofit fundraising platform for the left dedicated to helping small-dollar donors speak truth to power, we were caught off guard by his mistake — and so were the people in our community.

 

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It was actually kind of funny how wrong he was:

 

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In case Ted Cruz is still confused, here are some tweets that explain what we do from some of the amazing small-dollar donors and grassroots activists who use ActBlue:

 

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Better luck next time, Ted.

 

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In the meantime, we’ll be actively empowering small-dollar donors so they can fuel the organizations and causes they care about and power Democrats to victory in 2018, 2020, and beyond.

You can use nominee funds right now to fight back

When the House GOP voted to repeal the ACA, they jeopardized the health and security of millions of Americans. In many cases, the Republicans who voted for Trumpcare don’t have a challenger yet, or have several primary candidates going up against them. But when the results came in, small-dollar donors were clamoring to take action and do whatever they could to fight back and defeat them in 2018. We heard them loud and clear and quickly came up with a powerful solution to help them amplify their voices.

Our team was all hands on deck on the day of the Trumpcare vote, working to get nominee funds set up for every congressional district that had a Republican incumbent. Nominee funds are a tool from back in the early days of ActBlue, and they allow people to donate to the eventual Democratic challenger in a district. That means that once the primary is over, the Democratic nominee will receive all of the money raised into the fund. In the meantime, we’ll hold the money being raised in escrow. After the primaries, we’ll get the funds out to the Democratic nominee within 10 days of the results.

We created a single contribution form listing all of the nominee funds in response to interest on Twitter, and helped groups like Daily Kos and Swing Left create similar forms with specific slates of vulnerable districts. All together, these nominee fund pages raised more than $2 million in under 24 hours. Contributing to nominee funds allowed supporters to channel some of their anger, and those donors helped bring our sitewide total for the day up to $4.2 million.

There’s a lot of work to be done to help Democrats set our country back on the right path, so starting today, you can create your own fundraising page with all the nominee funds you’d like to support — including Senate campaigns — and organize your own network. And you can find a page that includes all Senate seats with a Republican incumbent here, for you to share as you’d like. This is just one more way that we can put power into the hands of small-dollar donors, and help concerned citizens like you have an impact on the future of our country.

How can you create your own page to raise money for Democratic nominee funds?

To create a fundraising page with nominee funds, you’ll want to head to our directory.

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First, select “Nominee Funds” under “Groups and Funds.” This will bring up the master list of active nominee funds. Then, you can choose a state.

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The directory will refresh, and you’ll see a list of all the nominee funds for the state (federal campaigns only) you selected in the style of “CA-45 2018 Democratic Nominee Fund.”

 

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Just click the orange “Create page” button to get started.

You’ll be prompted to sign in or create an account, so you can come back and make edits to the page after it’s created, as well as track the page’s performance.

Next, you’ll be asked to fill in some basic information, like a page title and a pitch to supporters.

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You can also add a goal thermometer so your supporters can see how much your form has raised. If you include a goal, a thermometer will automatically be added to your contribution form, like the one below.

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We recommend choosing amounts that are reasonable and that donors feel like they can help you reach. You should also include a couple of different amounts so that if one goal is reached, the thermometer will automatically update to show the next highest goal you’ve chosen.

You have the option of adding higher goals for when your initial goal is met under “Additional amounts.”

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If you want, you can also skip that step in the bottom right corner and make these customizations at a later time. On the next page, you’ll select your preset contribution amounts, which will determine which buttons are available on the form. Of course, your donors can always type in a custom amount. You should also choose whether or not your form will be able to accept recurring contributions.

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Once you’ve finished customizing your form, you’ll be brought to the Promote page, where you’ll be given a link to share with your network, as well as options to share the form on Facebook and Twitter. To find out more about social share, click here.

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If you want to add more nominee funds or candidates to your page so you can raise for a group of funds at once, head over to the Add tab of your form.

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Search for the group you want to fundraise for just like you did in the Directory, and click “Add” to add it to your page.

 

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After you’ve finished adding groups to your form, you’re ready to start spreading the word and raising some money! You can post your link on social media, or email it out to your friends and family and encourage them to share it with their own networks.

If you’re going to be posting your link in many different places, we recommend using refcodes to keep track of where your donations are coming from. For example, with refcodes you can easily see if a supporter made their donation from Facebook, Twitter, or an email you sent out. To read more about refcodes, click here.

When you want to check in and see how fundraising is going, you can head to the Statistics tab of your form to see a breakdown of all the contributions you’ve brought in so far.

We hope you’ll find these nominee funds helpful in organizing folks in your communities and taking part in the resistance movement during this critical time. And as always, you can find us at info@actblue.com to answer any questions.

Q3: The most donors in a day, ever.

As you read this, keep reminding yourself that we’re talking about the third quarter of an off-year. An off-year!

We broke the record for most contributions in a single day: 147k on September 30th. It was also our second biggest day ever in terms of money raised, a total of $5.5M. What’s #1 all time? Well, that was September 30, 2014, in the run-up to the mid-terms.

Here’s how we got there: We started off the morning strong with a peak of 400 contributions a minute (a new record) when we ran recurring contributions as a batch while everyone was sleeping. Later in the evening we were flying at 250 contributions per minute — all new, organic contributions (also a record).

In moments like these, infrastructure matters. Our engineers have been working for years to increase the volume we can handle per minute and everything ran as smooth as butter (or your favorite non-dairy substitute).

Meanwhile, people are no longer chained to their laptops — mobile giving was a powerful force this past quarter, especially in the evening hours, when people are more likely to be checking email on their phones. Between 9 and 10 PM on September 30, we saw mobile contributions spike to an unbelievable 50% at one point (another new record) and finish at an average of 44.3% for the hour.

The chart below details newly made contributions on September 30. You can see the incredible hourly volume we handled and the breakdown of mobile vs. desktop contributions:

That figure — 44.3% mobile contributions in an hour —is unheard of in this space. For a little context, just two years ago our mobile average was just 15.5% for the month. This leap was only possible because our tech team has focused on improving mobile conversion rates with notable features like Express Pass and Express Lane and on constant, small iterative changes to our contribution form that make it load faster.

There is no way that we would have broken so many records without thousands of hours of developer time going into mobile optimization and sheer processing infrastructure.

The chart below details the pace of the day compared to the other top EOQ days. We know fundraising picks up later in the day, so we process all of the scheduled recurring contributions early in the morning (note the massive number of contributions that start in the 4AM hour).

And it’s not all just west coasters giving in the last few hours. It’s folks checking their email on their phones before bed, reading an urgent appeal, and responding. And it’s a beautiful sight to see, for those of us who care about our democracy being for and by the people — not just those who can cut checks for thousands (or millions) of dollars.

But this quarter was about more than just the EOQ deadline. Here’s what we wrote to recap the first quarter of this cycle:

If current trends hold, ActBlue could process half a billion dollars in small-dollar contributions this cycle.

Well…it’s been nine months and we’re already well past the $130M mark. It’s fair to say we’re well on our way to hitting that target. And $56M of that money came in this quarter alone (scroll down to see how this quarter compares to previous years).

Campaigns, organizations, and committees are coming out in full force this year. So far this cycle, almost three thousand different campaigns and committees have raised money using ActBlue.

It’s all a sharp contrast to the massive checks the Republican super PACs have been cashing.

The bigger the pool of active, engaged donors, the stronger the party. That’s why we place such a strong value on our whopping 1.7 million Express users, who have saved their payment information with ActBlue. What’s important is not just the sheer size, but how recent and active these donors are. We’ve added more Express users (267k) this quarter than in any other. And we added an incredible 24k on EOQ day alone (new record)!

One reason why that’s the case: high Express conversion rates. This past month, 38% of donors eligible for an Express account signed up for one. Last cycle, we were averaging just over 20%. It’s an indication that more and more new donors are coming in and immediately thinking ahead to their next donations. That’s a huge strength for the party right now.

A bigger Express donor base is in the interest of Democratic organizations and campaigns of all sizes. As our Executive Director Erin Hill said in the Washington Post on Wednesday:

“Small[-dollar] donors are becoming the backbone of Democratic giving.” And the Republicans have nothing like it.

The chart below shows both the number of new Express sign-ups and the rate at which non-Express donors are signing up as Express users over the past 12 quarters.

Below we break down this quarter compared to previous quarters.

TOPLINE NUMBERS

2012 Q3 2013 Q3 2014 Q3 2015 Q3
Dollar Amount $42,997,505 $22,600,373 $80,391,630 $55,836,968
Contributions 973,909 637,924 2,304,190 1,791,040
Average Contribution Size $44.15 $35.43 $34.89 $31.18
Distinct Entities 2,681 1,827 3,064 2,263

MOBILE

2012 Q3 2013 Q3 2014 Q3 2015 Q3
% Mobile 7.0% 15.1% 27.2% 29.8%
% Mobile
for Express users
9.3% 18.7% 29.3% 32.4%

RECURRING

2012 Q3 2013 Q3 2014 Q3 2015 Q3
% Recurring Volume 7.2% 6.6% 13.7% 23.9%
Recurring Volume $3,107,154 $1,490,781 $11,021,894 $13,319,997

Some interesting nuggets from this data: We processed more than double the dollar amount we saw in our last off-year, Q3 of 2013. And there was an even bigger growth in the number of contributions from two years ago. We jumped up from 637,924 to a massive 1,643,083 contributions this quarter. That’s a 259% increase.

Recurring contributions remain the best way to sustain a campaign or organization in the long-term. And we’re continuing to see huge strides forward with recurring. On the morning of September 30th, we processed our biggest recurring haul ever: about $700k in recurring donations, from 37k contributions.

Look at the huge jump in the overall recurring numbers for the quarter. A full 23.9% of all the money that came in this quarter was from recurring contributions. That’s phenomenal!

This doesn’t all just happen. We’ve spent a lot of time extolling the virtues of a strong recurring program and helping campaigns and organizations increase their conversion rates. At the same time, Americans are starting to get more comfortable with giving monthly. Recurring is a huge percentage of the money raised by international NGOs. They’ll spend up to $175 on acquisition per person, because of the lifetime expected value of a recurring contribution.

Campaigns don’t value recurring contributions quite that highly yet, but it’s exciting to see the tide turning. It’ll lead to much more stability for campaigns and organizations. And they’ll be able to focus more on core work beyond fundraising. Plus, donors love being able to easily give on a regular basis to the candidates and organizations they care about.

To all the hardworking digital campaigners out there who made this quarter such a success, congrats! We’re proud to help you fuel your campaigns and organizations. Drop us a line any time if you want to talk strategy, or just have a question: info@actblue.com.

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co-authored by: Kim Niedermaier

Contribution Forms: Easier Access = (Even) Easier Fundraising

Contribution Forms: Easier Access = (Even) Easier Fundraising

Campaign season is picking up quickly as we march on toward 2016, and we’re always working to make things as easy and efficient as possible for our users.

That’s why we’ve made some big changes to the way contribution forms are managed — and now it’s better than ever. We’ve made it so you can access your campaign or organization’s forms (with or without money raised) all in one convenient place. Plus, we’ve got a bunch of other new features to make managing your forms easier than it’s ever been.

Just head over to the By Form tab from the left menu on your campaign or organization’s dashboard.

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Once there, you’ll see a detailed breakdown of all your contribution forms.

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They’re listed in descending order by default, starting with the most recent form that was created. But just click on any of the headers and you can toggle the table to sort it how you’d like.

With this update you’ll be able to simply glance at the table and get a clear picture. You can quickly scan through the slugs (or page names) you gave your forms, the number of contributions they received, the amount of money they raised, and whether or not you chose to brand your forms. You’ll also be able to duplicate a form from this page, with just the click of a button.

Further, if you’ve got a form from a few years back that you know won’t be getting sent out to donors, simply hit the Archive button in orange at the right of the table.

If you choose to archive a form it can no longer be viewed, which also means it can no longer receive contributions and you won’t be able to edit it. However, we give you the option to archive rather than delete your forms, so that you can Revive a form if you need to. If you’ve archived a form it will turn grey, as you see below, but it will still be listed in the same spot in the Dashboard as it was before it was archived.

 

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Just click Revive at the far right of the table and the form will become active. Anyone with access to the Dashboard will have the ability to visit and work with the form again.

You’ll also notice that there are two tabs at the top of the page, one for Managed Forms and one for Community Forms.

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The Managed Forms tab provides a breakdown of forms that were created by any user with access to your campaign or organization’s Dashboard.

The Community Forms tab provides a breakdown of forms that were created by a third party. For example, a volunteer decided to create a form to raise money for your candidate or organization. You won’t have the ability to edit these forms, but you can collect data, just like you would from a form created by yourself or another user with access to the Dashboard.

Just below those tabs you’ll also have the option to Download a contribution form CSV report. This report will give you an even more detailed breakdown of each form, including info like whether or not the form was set to public or private, as well as the pre-set contribution amounts you chose for the form.

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Finally, you can now search for a form by page name. Simply type in the name you gave your form in the box at the upper righthand corner of the table.

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If you have any questions or comments about this update, please don’t hesitate to reach out at info@actblue.com.

Congrats to the new DCCC and DSCC chairs

We’re excited to see long-time ActBlue user Rep. Ben Ray Lujan be named chair of the DCCC.

Reminded us of this video from 2008 when candidate Lujan taked about the importance of the entire Democratic ticket in New Mexico using ActBlue and the “phenomenal grassroots effort” we could all build together.

Six years later and that Democratic network in New Mexico is really paying off. Congrats! Looking forward to doing even more together in 2016 to take back the House!

Also, a huge congratulations to fellow ActBlue user, Sen. Jon Tester on his selection as DSCC chair. We can’t wait to work with both of you in your new roles.

Bundles, “Bundles,” and Blinders

A recent Seattle Times story on Maria Cantwell noted that, 

By far the biggest single source of Cantwell's fundraising last year was ActBlue, a political-action committee that acts as an online conduit for individuals who want to give to Democratic candidates. ActBlue "bundled" $365,000 for Cantwell.

Oh, hey scare quotes. If you check out Cantwell's ActBlue hub, you'll see she's received 7,333 donations through ActBlue totaling $750,000. That works out to about $100 a pop. Those donations were made by folks (real people!) who decided they wanted to support Cantwell's campaign and the money was disclosed to the FEC. So, we've got lots of people choosing to participate in a campaign, and doing so transparently. Terrifying. 

Let's return to those scare quotes. The author of the piece uses them to imply something inappropriate about small-dollar fundraising, as if totaling up grassroots donations were somehow the equivalent of, say, the K Street Project. It's ridiculous. Enabling small dollar donors to participate transparently and consequentially in the fundraising process only enhances democratic accountability. It's the opposite of the shadowy system of billionaire-financed campaigning that's kept the Republican nomination process going for so long. Bundling our "bundling" in with that sort of fundraising reflects a profound ignorance of what ActBlue actually does, and damages the credibility of the piece as a whole. 

It also reflects a real blindness about the role of money in politics. Money that comes from individuals and is disclosed in a way voters and reporters can access is hardly a corrupting influence. It's just another way for (actual) people to express themselves within the political process; the fact that ~$100 individual donations through ActBlue account for the lion's share of Maria Cantwell's fundraising is something to be celebrated, not scorned.

Small Donors and 2012

A few weeks ago, Nick Confessore of the New York Times wrote a piece about the reluctance of small donors to return to the Obama fold. Shira Toeplitz of Roll Call recently examined the slowdown in traditional fundraising: major bundlers and PACs. For Confessore, the fact that President Obama has to work harder for small donors stems from his sagging popularity. For Toeplitz, it's a sign of the down economy that the deep-pocketed can't dole out the sort of financial largesse they used to.

Both of these theses have some real problems.

Confessore runs into the problem that conventional methods of reportage are a terrible fit for assessing as broad a category as grassroots donors. Dozens of interviews are a poor way to figure out what's going on in a population that numbers in the millions. Some people are undoubtedly disappointed in President Obama, but many more may not have tuned into the process yet. In 2007, Democrats were where Republicans are today: focused on a contested primary process to replace a President that was wildly unpopular with their base. It's no surprise that it's harder to engage the Democratic grassroots now; whether that will remain the case is anybody's guess. Finally, it's not as if the President has some special claim to these donors–they're a political constituency like any other. Even if there were reason to accept Confessore's thesis without question, we should be celebrating the fact that political actors have to work for their support, rather than ignoring it as irrelevant or taking it for granted. Today, there are lines of accountability and financial interdependence between legislators and grassroots donors that didn't exist ten years ago, and that's a good thing.

The Toeplitz piece is a bit harder to find bright spots in, as it takes the same basic error and adds a laundry-list of excuses for a poor fundraising quarter. Hurricane Irene, the debt ceiling melee, the (crippling!) impact of the economy on our nation's wealthiest donors, and even the Jewish New Year all come in for blame for the lower-than-average haul, as if that were the important aspect of those events.

I bring these articles up because ActBlue has access to a pretty good cross-section of small donor activity. Every day, we process contributions to state and federal candidates from across the country. That immunizes us to some extent from the problems these articles run in to. In the spirit of lending a little clarity to the debate, here are our numbers from Q3 2009, and Q3 2011:

'09: $9,368,191 from 105,266 donors to 1,160 committees. 

'11: $10,230,421 from 199,595 donors to 1,388 committees. 

Hardly the declines we'd expect to see if Confessore and Toeplitz are right. Grassroots donors are more engaged in the fundraising process than ever before. Even if the sources Toeplitz quotes are right, it may not be the case that fundraising has declined, rather that its character and the methods used to go it are changing and the political sector is lagging a bit in recognizing that trend. As political fundraising becomes increasingly digital and grassroots, the value of traditional methods may lose a little of their centrality. (They'll still be important!) That's not a bad thing–it will create a political system that's more dynamic and has fewer barriers to entry. There will be more voices and more choices for voters to listen to and weigh, and that's the essence of representative democracy. 

Political Actors, Not Political Addicts

In yesterday's Washington Post, T.W. Farnam apparently thought it would be illuminating to compare grassroots donors to addicts. The article is the other half of a classic D.C. lose-lose attack on the grassroots: if you don't give, you're a feckless mass who can't be trusted to come through for candidates, and if you do give you're rubes at mercy of canny political operatives.

Unconsidered in the article is the apparently outlandish possibility that grassroots donors are making their own decisions about who to support–that they aren't just money pinatas to be beaten by enterprising staffers when cash gets low. Crazy, I know. 

Beyond the condescending frame and patronizing tone, the article still has a huge problem: what's the alternative? Over the past two years we've seen a marked erosion of campaign finance law, always to the benefit of monied interests. If grassroots donors don't step up to provide a counterweight to that ever-increasing concentration of power, the end result will be the total capture of our electoral system by those interests. Voters will just be the people who show up on election day to ratify a choice that was made long before ballots were printed.

And that's the real reason why grassroots giving matters: by engaging in the fundraising process, grassroots donors are taking ownership of their political future. To use a well-worn GOP chestnut, they have "skin in the game." Grassroots donors raised over half a million dollars for Kathy Hochul (D-NY) and helped her pull out an unlikely win in NY-26. That kind of participation fulfills the promise of American democracy, and shouldn't be treated like some kind of hideous affliction brought on by the digital age. 

StandUp RedTent RootsCard StormPAC

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.

Consider the Source

On Wednesday, the Washington Post broke the news that the American Action Network, a Republican "charitable organization" along the lines of American Crossroads GPS, was financed entirely by 11 checks, with 82% of its funding coming from just three donors.

AAN and Crossroads GPS are not required to disclose donor information and can protect donors from any blowback that might result from their decision to influence the political process or the specific ways in which AAN/Crossroads GPS employ their money to accomplish that goal. As a result, donors get to have their cake and eat it too: they're largely invisible to the American voter, but highly influential within the small community of policymakers that make legislative decisions. It's an appealing proposition.

There are a number of significant downsides to this arrangement, however. Before I get into them, I'd like to be clear: there's no problem with giving money to political candidates. There's no problem with giving a lot of money to political candidates. There is a problem with giving undisclosed money to political candidates. 

At the most basic level, disclosure is a mental shortcut for voters. It's a way for them to consider the source, to divine what interests believe supporting this candidate is in their interest. If that information isn't available, it undermines democratic accountability. If voters can't get access to any information about who is backing whom, their role in the political process becomes little more than a patina of consent on top of a structure they are prevented from informing themselves about.

So you have a situation in which, over the long term, rational actors are undermining the very system they depend on. Politicians need to finance their campaigns and want to outraise their opponents. Their donors want to insulate themselves from the consequences of their speech. The tragic irony is that in doing so, they are sawing the foundations of a functioning democracy–information and accountability–out from underneath themselves. Left to its own devices, the emerging situation becomes a race to the bottom: who can raise the most money while revealing the least information about its source. It's not hard to see how that worsens what Prof. Larry Lessig calls "institutional corruption," and ultimately paralyzes our government. 

That's why what we do here at ActBlue is so important. Our platform gives small donors a stake in the process and enables them to make themselves felt in major races, while also preserving the transparency that's key to a stable democracy. That transparency, in turn, lets donors assess the impact of their donations in aggregate, which makes them more likely to give again. In short, our virtuous cycle counteracts the vicious cycle kickstarted by Citizens United.