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Jonathan Martin has a story on POLITICO about the Republican edge in third-party spending. The argument runs as follows: conservative groups like American Crossroads, American Crossroads GPS, the Chamber of Commerce, and the constellation of powerbrokers Yahoo called the Shadow GOP have outspent outside Democratic groups. That's true. Where Martin errs is when he equates that with Democratic donor disengagement and disarray:

Liberal-leaning organizations answer that it’s not a matter of desire but something more simple: They don’t have the money.

And that’s partly because, even after the historic accomplishments of the current Congress, some on the left are unhappy that priorities, such as a climate change bill, weren’t passed.

That strikes me as a misreading of the situation. For those of you who are political traditionalists, I'll note that the major Democratic committees, (DNC, DSCC, DCCC) all raised more in August than the major Republican committees. The Democratic committees also spent more and have more cash on hand. 

If you're curious about how outside groups are doing, let's compare some quick numbers. According to Justin Elliott of Salon, American Crossroads raised $2.6M in August, with $2.4M of that coming from just three billionaires. In contrast, ActBlue sent $4.2M to 1,422 Democratic candidates and committees, via 34,000 donations. It's true that American Crossroads does something different than ActBlue–they'll be making ad buys. We won't. Instead, we'll be sending money to people who make ad buys. That seems like a fairly minor difference, from the perspective of Martin's argument.

There are two things at work here, and neither of them are donor unhappiness.

The first is a change (a change that Martin's editors have noted) in how individuals relate to large institutions that's become an essential part of the zeitgeist. The Tea Party derives its support from a claim to represent authentic conservative values, rather than compromised establishment mores. ActBlue makes a less-ideological pitch: we send your money where you tell us to send it–provided you're sending it to a Democrat. But both ideas feed off the zeitgeist in different ways, and represent a shift away from the more traditional conduits that Martin quotes in his story. But it's a shift, not a diminution.

Second, a major factor behind support for Republican groups like American Crossroads is the sheer disarray of the Steele-driven RNC. In the table I linked to above, the RNC is the only body with a negative change in cash on hand, and the Republicans have been forced to compensate. In short, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. Martin examines the lagging indicator on the Democratic side and the leading indicator on the Republican side, and then concludes that Democrats are off their game.

One of the things ActBlue does for Democrats is lower the barriers to entry in politics. By enabling talented candidates to link up with donor communities that are interested in supporting them, we ensure that they get the cash they need to run even if they haven't spent years cultivating connections in the political world. And while all that work is largely invisible to the average voter, it means that when they step into the ballot box on primary day, they have a wider selection of candidates to choose from than they would otherwise. 

Don't believe me? Here's Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos and head of the successful grassroots donor community of the same name, talking about what ActBlue has enabled the DailyKos community to do:

Want to help us keep working? Make a $15 recurring donation to ActBlue.

For those of you who don’t already use it, ActBlue offers a free service called ActBlue Express. ActBlue Express allows you to store your donation information on our secure servers, which saves you the hassle of entering it every time you give through ActBlue. In addition, it allows you to view how much money you’ve given and raised, and break that down by recipient type and dollar amount.

In short, with ActBlue Express you can track and manage your political giving the same way you would balance your checkbook.Click here, or on the demo image below, to sign up. (Remember: it’s free!)

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In the wake of the upset in the GOP DE-Sen primary, there's been a lot of chatter about what the Tea Party means, vis-a-vis the Republican Party. One of the most compelling takes, in my opinion, is that the Tea Party represents a decentralized web of Republican supporters, and that decentralization is the cause of much of the intra-TP conflict and the difficulty the Republican establishment has in co-opting that passion and using it to benefit their preferred candidates (See: Grayson, Trey; Castle, Mike).

This isn't a new story, though it may be one the Republicans haven't heard yet. The Democratic Party has already undergone many of these changes. The growth of online communities like DailyKos, Democratic infrastructure like ActBlue, and eventually the Obama wave had a lot of inputs–minority status and the old saw about necessity and invention, frustration among the base and Americans broadly–but the key point is that growth was largely uncoordinated. The rebranding of the DNC is a recognition of that reality, Natalie Foster, the DNC's New Media Director, told TechPresident's Nancy Scola:

It's not just about the DNC anymore. It's about the Democratic Party. [...] This could become that something that any kid could
draw in chalk in front of their house, that any college kid could riff
on.

That was my first thought as well, which is why I was surprised to see Ben Smith snark "this will turn things right around." While we're only a few weeks out from the election, the point of changes like these isn't to tip the scales in pivotal house races, it's to build a party that is tune with the changing tenor of American life. The same could be said of the growth of grassroots fundraising, or the White House's embrace of non-traditional media outlets. (Also, in fairness, Ben picked up Nancy's take.)

To return to my original point, while there may be an equivalence in process between Democrats and Republicans, I don't mean to suggest an equivalence in content. The Republican embrace of Kristolismo over the past two years has radicalized their base in a way that the Democratic resurgence did not. Embracing a base conditioned by years of opportunistic fear-mongering about "socialism," Islam, the deficit and terrorism seems likely to produce legislative outcomes that are significantly less benign than the healthcare reform bill.

There's been a flurry of coverage about down-ballot races ahead of the election, based on this Larry Sabato post:

The statehouses will provide the third leg of the Republicans’ 2010 victory. We have long suggested the GOP would gain a net +6 governorships. We now believe they will win +8. This boon to the GOP for redistricting will be enhanced by a gain of perhaps 300 to 500 seats in the state legislatures, and the addition of Republican control in 8 to 12 legislative chambers around the country.

Redistricting matters, and the GOP is acting accordingly, with the Republican Governor's Association (RGA) taking $1,000,000 from News Corp., the parent company of Fox News. Democrats are, to our credit, a little less comfortable funneling huge sums of corporate cash (however "fair and balanced" it may be) into downballot races, but that doesn't mean we're helpless.

Down-ballot races are largely overlooked by national press outlets despite their central role in the redistricting process that will start in 2011. The flip side of that problem is that, as a donor, your dollar goes a long way in these races. Ad buys are cheaper. Materials costs are lower. So taking the time to Google your State Senator or State Legislator and send him/her $5-$25 dollars on ActBlue is going to mean a lot to that campaign, especially if you encourage a few other people to do the same.

In fact, the 100,000,000th dollar to go to a Democrat through ActBlue went to Monk Elmer, who is running for Wisconsin State Senate in the first district. And he and the rest of the Wisconsin State Senate races are a good example of how Democrats can fight back against the GOP's attempt at a down-ballot coup.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party has been dilligent about getting their state-level candidates up and raising on ActBlue. Wisconsin State Senate races alone have raised $250,000 (all-time) on ActBlue, and, more importantly, our tools have revolutionized the way these smaller races fundraise. Here's Kory Kozloski, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee, on what ActBlue has meant in his races:

ActBlue has been a fantastic tool for our candidates and their supporters. It’s allowed us to add a whole new dimension to our fundraising efforts. It's given us the ability to tap the same online donors as national and statewide campaigns, and harness those resources for State Assembly and State Senate races.

ActBlue has also made our traditional fundraising tactics like candidate call-time, direct mail, and small dollar calls much more effective by allowing supporters to give instantaneously. Not only has ActBlue greatly increased our response rate, but it also saves a great deal of time and money that would otherwise be spent on pledge letters and chase calls.

That additional money and savings in terms of both staff time and materials means more competitive downballot races. It means Democratic candidates can resist the huge sums of corporate money that the GOP Is pouring into these races, and do so in a way that's consistent with Democratic principles.

But there's also lasting change taking place here, in the form of staffers and candidates trained in new approaches to fundraising, and with the confidence and skills to reach new donor communities. As those staffers and candidates move through the political world, they'll bring that expertise to new campaigns and new offices and help change the way we–political insiders and ordinary citizens alike–view political fundraising.

To steal a line from a former state senator, that's change you can believe in.

The whole ActBlue team just got back from a few days in the dry heat of Las Vegas, and while LeBron was partying we were hard at work helping the Democrats at Netroots Nation 2010.  We got to see some of ActBlue's favorite activists (hey Edgery), daily reads (hiya Markos), and movement builders (what's up Adam Green?).

But the real story was that you couldn't turn around without running into a Democratic candidate eager to meet with the activists who support them, and a whole bunch stopped by the ActBlue booth (when they weren't bowling up a storm, like NH Senate candidate Paul Hodes). We'll have some videos of these folks up soon enough, but I wanted to highlight an anecdote from Las Vegas that encapsulates one of the many ways ActBlue helps campaigns every day.

Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Judy Jennings, candidates for State Board of Education in Texas, are running on perhaps the most sweeping campaign theme of the year – they are running to save history. This election might not get so much attention if not for the current Texas State Board of Education's farcical abuse of its power to make the history curriculum more conservative – an abuse that can affect students nationwide if the textbook writers have to adjust their language accordingly. Rebecca and Judy are both ActBlue users, and are some of the most effective state-level fundraisers on ActBlue. I got a chance to meet them both in Las Vegas, and ended up chatting with Mykle Tomlinson, their campaign manager. He mentioned some great news – they just finished a new fundraising video! But how best to use it?

Within minutes I had my laptop open and Mykle was creating Save History's newest page – a page more effective thanks to ActBlue's infrastructure that let's them put the video right on the contribution form. Now, when Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau share this video with their supporters, there will be a chance to donate and watch in one place, making donors happier and campaigns more effective.

Though they seem small, interactions like these are a large part of what we do every
day.
Acting Blue for six years has given us a certain knowledge
base on fundraising – we've seen how campaigns use our tools well, and we
know what works. Since we're a PAC, not a business, we're happy to
share our knowledge with any and all campaigns – it comes down to doing our part so Democrats win. Helping candidates like Rebecca and Judy tweak their efforts in just the right way means they raise more money, bring more people into their campaign, and end up saving history.

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the DISCLOSE Act, (H.R. 5175), a bill designed as a response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. On the off chance that you haven't been paying attention to the nuts and bolts of campaign finance law, the Supreme Court decided that, essentially, independent expenditures by corporations were a form of speech. Since, according to a precedent set in 1886, corporations are "legal persons," they are protected under the first amendment. Corporations are people, money is speech. Clear?

Good, because we're headed deep into irony country. (It's a big country.) Stephen Colbert said it best:

Corporations are legally people. And it makes sense, folks. They do everything people do, except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River.

However, actual humans have the misfortune of voices that are associated with our bodies.  Corporations labor under no such restrictions. Spinning off a subsidiary, and having that subsidiary spin off its own subsidiary, and so on so forth is no big deal for corporations. In the end, it's easy to have "Ye Olde Mom and Pop Corn Concern" advocating for the interests the largest agricultural corporations in the country. All it takes is a bit of creative paperwork. 

The DISCLOSE Act was drafted to address that situation, and to provide Americans the information they need to assess the content of these independent expenditures. (Independent expenditures often take the form of radio or TV advertisements.) Enter the National Rifle Association, which vigorously and successfully pursued a provision that would allow them to avoid disclosing the names of top donors supporting their advertising campaigns. It's total hogwash: the NRA is leveraging i's right to unlimited "speech" (i.e. expenditures on behalf of a candidate) to avoid telling the American people who's speaking. Speech without speakers; faceless men with guns and money.

And with Citizens United v FEC a done deal, Democrats confront an awkward choice. If they embrace the new campaign finance regime, they risk appearing to side with corporate interests over rank-and-file Democrats. However, if they condemn independent corporate expenditures, they're putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis Republicans in an already anti-incumbent climate. 

ActBlue is the way for campaigns to cut through that Gordian Knot. As Nancy Scola noted in a recent piece for Salon, Democrats like Alan Grayson have discovered that "populism is popular," and–when paired with ActBlue–a valuable source of funds. By relying on small-dollar fundraising, Democratic candidates are able to respond to popular interests, rather than corporate interests. Moreover, they're embracing exactly the sort of "speech as money" paradigm our Supreme Court ought to protect: human voices, not corporate ones.

As a final note, Republicans voted unanimously against the DISCLOSE Act, an action that–yes, I'll go there–speaks louder than words.

The Secretary of State Project launched in 2005 as a response to the role of J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, played in the 2004 defeat of the Democratic nominee for President, Sen. John Kerry. The mission was to help Democratic SoS candidates access the tools and funds they'd need to run competitive campaigns in these oft-neglected races. ActBlue was an essential part of the SoS Project and since that time SoS Project candidates have done remarkably well: they've won 9 of 11 races, including key races in West Virginia and Minnesota.

The SoS Project candidate in Minnesota, Mark Ritchie, dealt with the almost interminable Republican challenges to Sen. Franken's win in 2008. It was Ritchie's responsible oversight of the process that finally allowed Sen. Franken to claim his seat in Washington.

Yesterday, Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post noted that Natalie Tennant (an ActBlue user and SoS Project candidate in 2008) has ruled that the election for the late Sen. Robert Byrd's seat must be held in 2012, rather than this November. 

Down-ballot races are important. Without the Secretary of State Project–without ActBlue–Democrats would have to confront rather different Senate arithmetic as they look to move ahead with financial reform and other priorities.

Today ActBlue mourns the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd, who died early this morning at the age of 92. As we observe the death of another titan of the United States Senate, I’d like to reflect on the moment when I became a fan of Senator Byrd. In March of 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Senator Byrd addressed his colleagues. The tone he took was self-possessed, firm, statesmanlike. A self-made man from hardscrabble roots, his words reflected the conviction that he had earned the right to speak his mind in troubled times:

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to “orange
alert.” There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many
questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the
cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home? A
pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to
debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of
thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

At the time, it was an act of rare courage. Today, we recognize the wisdom his words contained, as we ask ourselves similar questions about a different war and consider the impact of the current recession on American families and futures. It is to our detriment that Sen. Byrd is no longer with us to guide these discussions.

Watch:

According to the Center for Responsive PoliticsAT&T and AFSCME are the largest players in the political fundraising world, with ActBlue making its debut at #3. There's only one problem: their numbers are wrong, and significantly so. In 6 years, ActBlue has sent more to Democrats than either AT&T or AFSCME raised in 20. Take note of the $70,000,000 disparity between our internal numbers and CRP's–I'll explain what that's about shortly.

Organization Total Federal $ Tracked Since Soft Money
ActBlue [Internal] $105,441,400 2004 No
ActBlue [CRP] $39,617,767 2004 No
AT&T $44,939,004 1990 Yes
AFSCME $42,582,261 1990 Yes

The following table summarizes CRP's federal numbers for the top three in 2009-2010, with our internal federal numbers in the top row:

Name Total $ Dem. $ GOP $ Individual $ PAC $
ActB [Actual] $32,946,471 $32,946,471 0 $32,946,471 0
ActB [CRP] $11,864,002 $11,851,252 $6,500 $11,870,092 -$6,090
AT&T $2,610,504 $1,254,935 $1,331,469 $272,129 $2,338,375
AFSCME $1,823,550 $1,809,550 $6,500 $20,050 $1,803,500

A few things seem off about those results, right? In 2010, there's a $20,000,000+ (twenty million!) disparity between our numbers and CRP's numbers, and they have us sending $6,500 to GOP candidates. Also, we're #3 on the heavy hitters list, despite outpacing both AT&T and AFSCME thus far. The problems here are methodological:

First, CRP tabulates its numbers based on reports filed by campaigns. Since the average contribution size across ActBlue is $102.83, most of our volume falls below the $200 FEC reporting threshold. Accordingly, it doesn't get captured by CRP. That's another way of saying that of the $33M in federal money that's passed through ActBlue this cycle, only $12M of it came via contributions >$200.

Second, the $6,500 sent to GOP candidates is actually just a misreading of Parker Griffith's 2010 total, raised before he switched parties. CRP tracks affiliation by cycle, and when Griffith switched parties ahead of his rout in the GOP primary the money he raised through ActBlue was retroactively labeled GOP money in their database. (As a Republican, Griffith could not raise money on ActBlue.)

Methodological problems aside, the numbers highlight an important trend. Cycle to cycle, AFSCME and AT&T have not seen their numbers increase much in 20 years, while ActBlue–controlling for presidential/midterm differences–has seen our volume more than double each cycle. As a result, in 6 years we've sent more money to federal candidates and committees than 20 years of giving by AFSCME and AT&T combined. 

That's the scale at which we operate, and a stark reminder of the importance of our work.

*I want to thank CRP for the forthright acknowledgment of these issues that they include with our listing.

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