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The Virginia Legislature is
considering a bill (HB 359) that would require campaigns to attribute
contributions made to them via political action committees to the
individual donor rather than the PAC.

The bill is primarily geared to two PACs, ActBlue and Red Storm.  ActBlue has long supported efforts to increase transparency in politics
and is pleased to endorse HB359.

Earlier today Executive Director Jonathan Zucker told reporters:

We’re very excited about this
at ActBlue.  This is how
things work at the federal level and in several other states, but
Virginia’s legal structures haven’t permitted this kind of reporting
until now.  We’re thrilled to see Virginia moving in this direction. We
thrive on transparency, and we know that politics does, too.

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:

ACTBLUE GOES LIVE IN NEW YORK STATE

CAMBRIDGE, MA, JANUARY 31,
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 http://thealbanyproject.com.

We’re back from Yearly Kos in Chicago and we were greeted by a great sight, a feature in the Boston Globe! Here’s the story…

410wCAMBRIDGE — The new headquarters
of ActBlue, with its tangled cords, leftover Deval Patrick signs, and
20-somethings tapping on white MacBook laptops, is what a political
campaign would look like if it shared space with a dot-com start-up.

ActBlue is in fact both — an Internet-based
political action committee that is quietly becoming one of the biggest
forces in Democratic politics. Its founders aim for nothing short of
revolution, and they are already partway there.

The PAC, operated
from a former architecture studio on Arrow Street near Harvard Square,
functions as an online clearinghouse for campaign contributions to
Democrats of all stripes, allowing anyone in the country to donate any
allowable amount to any candidate with the click of a mouse: You send
the money to ActBlue (actblue.com), and ActBlue funnels it to the campaigns. This gives local, state, and national Democratic candidates a cheap, efficient means of building a base of supporters over the Internet.

This
simple but transformative concept has raised $25.5 million and counting
since its creation in Cambridge in 2004, when two computer-savvy
scientists with liberal leanings set out to take political action in a
new direction. They believed that armies of small donors, mobilized
effectively, could be more potent than the “bun dlers” who have
dominated fund-raising by amassing checks from wealthy contributors.

Today,
with that philosophy ascendant and the 2008 presidential campaign
breaking all fund-raising records, ActBlue has become a unique bundler
of the unbundled. It is reshaping political
fund-raising and giving the Democratic Party a powerful, lasting
resource for presidential contests, state legislative races, and
everything in between.

“There’s a huge opportunity to involve
many times more people in this process than we currently have,” said
Benjamin Rahn, 30, a Harvard graduate who suspended his doctoral work
in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology to
found ActBlue with Matt DeBergalis, 29, a technology whiz out of MIT.

ActBlue,
in coordination with campaigns, bloggers, and individuals across the
country, has funneled donations to 1,500 Democratic candidates to date.
It moved $17 million to candidates in the 2005-2006 election cycle,
including about $15.5 million to congressional campaigns, part of a
tide of support that flipped the House and Senate to Democratic control.

ActBlue
appears to have been far and away the biggest direct donor to
congressional candidates of either party last fall. “They are
revolutionizing approaches to fund-raising,” said Anthony Corrado, a
specialist on campaign finance at Colby College.

Rahn and
DeBergalis say they are just getting started. They predict confidently
that they will move $100 million in the 2007-2008 cycle.

Indeed,
their fund-raising this year suggests that the PAC will be an even
bigger player in the months ahead. Through the end of June, ActBlue had
already raised $6.6 million in 2007. In the last off-year, 2005, it
took ActBlue 12 months to raise $1.6 million. The 28,925 new
contributors who signed up in April, May, and June of this year
represented 13 percent of its overall number of contributors.

Continued after the jump…

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Before heading out for the weekend (and in the midst of ActBlue’s move to new offices) I wanted to briefly touch on some presidential fundraising numbers compiled this week by OpenSecrets.org and the Center for Responsive Politics.

From April through June, donors who gave $200 or less [to presidential campaigns] accounted for 26 percent of the contributions the candidates collected from individuals. Compared to the first three months of this 2008 election cycle, small donors increased their giving to the candidates 84 percent and just about doubled their share of the money raised from individuals. In January through March, donors contributing $200 or less accounted for 14 percent of individual money.

The trend from Q1 to Q2 fundraising in 2007 has clearly been in favor of small donors. I see two factors at work here. The first is the natural pattern of presidential fundraising, where the first fundraising period consists of a high number of $2300 checks, the maximum contribution level. This ‘big money’ is tapped first to jump start campaigns but of course, results in an inability to re-solicit donors as they have already given the max amount. The second pattern is an actual increase in small dollar contributions resulting in increased total Q2 fundraising numbers (compared to the percentages shifting just because one area of revenue has declined). Clearly, those who have given small contributions before are giving again in addition to the new small donors being added to the pool of givers.

In our training materials and fundraising calls, we at ActBlue point out this benefit to campaigns. Small donors (often correlated to online donors) can be re-solicited throughout a campaign. Having a strong small donor base is equally important to contacting those who can give the maximum amount as it can sustain a campaign longterm. It distributes power to more individuals and diversifies the audience to whom campaigns are accountable. The following section from the aforementioned press release puts this in context.

Among corporate contributors in all industries based on contributions from employees, their families and political action committees, no company has invested more in these candidates than Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm. Goldman’s executives and employees have donated about $930,000 in the last six months. Investment firms Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase round out the overall top donors. 
      

But the biggest "contributor" of all at this point is the progressive group ActBlue, which facilitates individual donors pooling their money to finance Democratic candidates. By collecting mostly donations of $200 or less, ActBlue has directed more than $1.5 million to the presidential candidates, the bulk of it to Edwards.

In this case the aggregate of contributions through ActBlue represent no specific industry or collection of people other than an aggregate of donors to presidential candidates. Still, this expresses the shift in the distribution of giving from Q1 to Q2. (To note, the $1.5 million is figured from donations $200 or more- a couple million more exists in contributions less than $200 which are not required to be itemized.)
      

The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday that validated something we’ve been predicting would happen for a number of months now. According to their research, Democratic campaign in aggregate are now enjoying a $100 million advantage in fundraising.

With more than a year to go before the 2008 elections, Democratic
candidates have raised $100 million more in campaign contributions than
Republicans, putting them on track to win the money race for the White
House and Congress for the first time since the government began
detailed accounting of campaign fund raising three decades ago.

The total raised to date is quite astounding, with the leading financial contenders for president on the Democratic side raising more funds already than all of the Democratic primary candidates did combined for the totality of the race in 2003-2004. Not only could 2008 be a billion dollar election but quite possibly double or triple that. But where will all that increase in funds come from?

If their fund-raising advantage continues — so far, Democrats have
been pulling in about 58% of overall donations to federal-office
seekers — they will have more resources for pricey advertising,
organization building and voter outreach next November to buttress
their edge in the polls. Moreover, Democrats’ focus on small donors
leaves them room to raise more cash over the next year, since many
contributors have yet to hit the legal limit of $2,300 per candidate
per election, and could potentially keep giving.

While this cycle will see more donors that give the maximum allowed to federal campaigns, we are seeing an explosion of new donors buying into the political process at smaller levels- each with the capacity to give more throughout the cycle. During the last fundraising quarter, we reported that the average contribution size to all candidates through ActBlue was right at $100 and that the median size was $45. We’ll see those lower end donors continue to give through the cycle. The WSJ highlights this very point with their own research.

Only half of Mr. Obama’s donors have hit the giving
limit for the primaries; about a quarter have given him less than $200,
according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group
that analyzes campaign contributions.

By contrast, about two-thirds of those contributing to
the campaign of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have already hit
their maximum; just 8% have given less than $200.

For comparison, I ran the numbers for a sample of about 40 major federal campaigns that used ActBlue to collect their online contributions in Q2 and found that on average, 22% of the funds raise in the quarter were online contributions. In a couple of cases the online percentage went over 50%.

Another important point is the increasing percentage of online giving as a share of campaign fundraising.

Democrats have also benefited because of their
comparative strength with Internet activists. While Republican voters
tend to gravitate toward traditional media like talk radio, Democratic
voters with strong opinions are more likely to go online to read blogs.
That, in turn, has led to an explosion in online giving to Democrats,
who are building lists of thousands of small-dollar donors for a
fraction of the cost of traditional direct mail.

Many Democrats give by clicking links to candidates on
the Web site ActBlue, a clearinghouse for small donors. ActBlue has
raised $5.6 million for Democratic House, Senate and presidential
candidates, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a Web site that tracks
donations. It was the single biggest source of contributions to the
party’s presidential candidates during the first six months of the
year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In a report last
week, the center said ActBlue donors gave more in aggregate than the
total from employees of heavy corporate contributors like Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

On of the things we’ve noticed for some time is that ActBlue helps campaign earn free media attention. While we keep tabs on our own coverage (you’ve probably seen me pop up in the comments of any blog post concerning ActBlue fairly quickly), what we love even more is to see candidates using ActBlue make the news.

I’ve pointed this out before in a blog post where Democratic candidates Martin Heinrich and Steve Novick received coverage because of their public fundraising numbers on ActBlue. This week we’ve seen Carlos Del Toro, a state assembly candidate in Virgina receive some free press in a local paper in the district he’s running in. We’ve also seen Presidential candidates earn media. For instance, ActBlue was pointed out as the reason for this front section story in the New York Times about presidential fundraising.

Political beat reporters are hungry to have a reason to write. As a former journalist and state-level blogger myself, the public fundraising numbers that are provided by ActBlue are a great hook. This is great for local stories about elections that may not otherwise be generating much news. While politics is more than just about money, smart campaigns can leverage this fact to their advantage. In an environment where earned media is an important component of modern campaigns, the public nature of ActBlue can be a natural ally. Feel free to make use of it!

This spotlight of ActBlue Co-Founder Matt DeBergalis in Fast Company Magazine speaks to the concept of community in Democratic fundraising that ActBlue is all about. Here’s the piece from their latest issue.

"Thirty years ago, Republicans began to invest
heavily in lasting institutional assets—they built news institutions,
think tanks, talk radio, and a direct-mail strategy that’s grown to
become a monster at raising money. All of these things were deliberate
choices. The Democrats didn’t do this. The Republicans don’t need to
innovate quite as badly as we’ve had to because they had all of this.

We felt there were better ways to organize groups of people and get
them to take action, rather than do all top-down organizing the way a
campaign typically does. So we use existing social relationships,
whether they are coworkers or friends asking each other to donate, or
communities built around email lists or blogs. We don’t comment on the
fund-raising numbers of the campaigns who use our site, but when
Edwards announced that his wife’s cancer had unfortunately come back,
news reports said donations on ActBlue increased $100,000 in the five
hours after the press conference. This approach actually works better
for the Democratic Party than the Republicans. It just seems to fit
more with how we communicate and talk and participate."

     gr2007032800077

I wanted to point out an interesting graphic posted to the right produced by the Washington Post (which you can click on to enlarge). From their story

In the past five days, the campaign received more than 5,000 donations
totaling half a million dollars — about 50 percent of the total it
raised online in the previous three months, according to postings on
ActBlue.com, the Web site that tracks Edwards’s Internet fundraising.

We’ve noticed this in the last two months based upon the level of fundraising we’ve processed in what traditionally are some of the quietest in political fundraising- 2008 is not going to be any normal election.

In two pieces this weekend, the effects of the Presidential race have been pointed out in the changing strategies not only with fundraising but online engagement on the part of campaigns.

From the Wall Street Journal

[Chart]But the Web is about buzz as much as it is a tool. An
ability to convey early online success of some kind has an importance
all its own. With at least 13 candidates actively in the running so
far, and the New Hampshire primary still 10 months away, it is a way
for campaigns now to show concrete momentum and garner crucial early
attention.

"You had the money primary. The endorsement primary.
Now, you have a Web 2.0 primary going on concurrently with the
traditional money and consultant chase and stuff like that," says
Howard Mortman, a former MSNBC producer, blogger and now head of the
public-affairs practice at New Media Strategies, an Arlington, Va.,
Internet market-research firm.

  Still, the amount of money and attention being spent
by the campaigns on their sites this year is significant, Mr. Noble
says. Greater emphasis by campaigns on the Internet "is recognition
that the game is radically changing … It’s the Moore’s Law in
politics. Every two years it all doubles or more but this year, it’s
more than doubled."

And from Matt Stoller at MyDD

We’ll see what happens when the candidates report their Q1 numbers.
Despite a largely undistinguished set of internet campaigns, I’m going
to guess that online donations have exploded.  Hillary Clinton, the
most conservative of the Democratic candidates, is getting lots online.
Barack Obama and John Edwards, positioned slightly to the left, are
probably getting in huge quantities of online small dollar cash as
well. 

I know a fair number of online fundraising experts, and they all say
that transparency in fundraising is a really powerful tool.  Say how
much you want to raise, say why you want to raise it, ask for it, and
show how much you’ve raised so far.  Rinse, repeat.  None of the
candidates are doing this.  Clinton has come the closest with her
million dollars in a week, and Edwards did well with Coulter Cash (he
blew through the $100K target but didn’t announce it for some reason).

That these campaigns are not working their online fundraising
channels as well as they will later in the season, even as they bring
in massive numbers of small dollar donors, suggests that a new and
dramatically expanded hunger for a way to participate in politics is
real.  We could see between 5-10 million donors in the political system
this cycle, which is around 1-3% of the country’s population.  That’s
huge.  Americans are paying attention, and an increasingly
large number are getting involved.  If that translates, like it did in
2004, to a post-Presidential election involvement in local politics,
we’re looking at a political system with different levers of power.

Apparently Online Fundraising is becoming a hot topic when talking about the 2008 Presidential race- not that we can blame anyone!  It’s something we’ve believed from back before the 2004 elections and see as being one of the defining characteristics of this next election cycle. While physical contributions from folks writing checks or passing the hat at fundraising dinners are not going to disappear, the amount of money and the bond that candidates have with their donors is changing big time. With a Presidential contest that could exceed $1 billon, we’re aware that online donations scale more easily than whipping up a couple thousand more plates of roast beef!

This weekend the topic of online contributions highlighted two major articles, one of which from the LA Times focused in on our efforts here at ActBlue directly. While I’m posting some clips below, be sure to click through and read the rest of these articles.

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