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I've talked about the central role that transparency plays getting your fundraising momentum noticed as it's happening. As confirmation, today we have this article by Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post on the gathering pace of small-dollar fundraising around the public option:

Two freshman Democrats who launched a Senate effort to revive the public option have been rewarded by small online donors for their activism. ActBlue, which raises funds and is closely associated with the blogosphere, has seen more than $150,000 come in from more than 8,000 individual donors. That's an average contribution of less than $20.

I'd like to point out a couple of things here: first, ActBlue didn't raise that money. We built the infrastructure that enabled the PCCC/DfA push to rack up $150,000 in 48 hrs, but it wouldn't have happened without the efforts of the candidates and organizations involved and the response from their donors. Each of those things–infrastructure, organizing, response–are necessary but not sufficient conditions for this type of success. Second, they're getting press coverage precisely because Ryan was able to see their numbers. Without that ability, the story doesn't get written. That's the difference between ActBlue and Generic Payment Processor X. Back to the article:

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
individually raised $70,000 and $40,000, respectively. Bennet, who is
facing a primary challenge in Colorado, led the effort, circulating
what became known as the "Bennet letter," which called on Senate
Majority Leader Reid (D-Nev.) to include a public option in a final
health care bill moved through reconciliation, which only requires a
majority vote. Gillibrand was an original cosigner, along with freshman
Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Two progressive groups that led the organizing effort also
benefited. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and
Democracy for America each raised over 20,000 from more than 4,000
donors, for an average contribution of $5.

As late as last week, the consensus was that the public option was dead. Whatever the final outcome of this round of legislation, the ability of these groups to revive a progressive idea, generate buy-in from vulnerable legislators, and buttress that effort with small-dollar donations from real, non-corporation Americans should be considered a signal of things to come.

Yesterday, Nancy Scola asked whether the Netroots could affect the legislative process, and I pointed out that transparent, online fundraising is critical to, in her words, "[pushing] Democrats out in favor of a progressive priority, and then make
the experience a pleasant one for the senator or representative." On the heels of that conversation comes Brian Beutler's TPMDC piece, How Outside Groups And Vulnerable Dems Gave The Public Option A New Pulse. Read it. The story is aptly summarized by a Senate aide, who said:

I would credit a lot the Netroots and then working with members who
had already been previously supportive, and members who have been in
tough positions for re-election.

According to Beutler's sources, the public option was revived by organizations like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Democracy for America (DfA), in concert with with Sen. Bennet and Sen. Gillibrand, and Reps. Pingree and Polis.

ActBlue has helped knit that diverse coalition together. The PCCC, DfA, and Sens. Gillibrand and Bennet are at the top of ActBlue's hot candidates and committees list, with Bennet banking nearly 1.5M on ActBlue. The PCCC and DfA were #1 and 3 on ActBlue's list of top 10 committees of 2009, separated only by the overnight (literally) success of Rob Miller. Rep. Pingree raised $730,000 on ActBlue for her 2008 election, while Rep. Polis came in at $510,000.

Now, I don't mean to shortchange the tremendous work that PCCC and DfA have done around this issue. But their ability to convince vulnerable legislators to work the inside game has a lot to do with their demonstrated fundraising power. In other words, their persuasive power is rooted in the idea that there is a cash constituency out there for progressive ideas, an idea that ActBlue has helped make clear, time and time again.

On TPM's editor's blog, Josh Marshall mused

Just a couple weeks ago, not only did reform seem pretty much dead but
any thought that a public option would be included in a deal seemed
pretty much crazy. And yet, out of the blue, through a pretty organic
and somewhat fortuitous process, it's back.

I think you have to give ActBlue credit for helping make that process possible.

The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands
bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method
and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above
all, try something.

That was President Frankin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, and his last injunction, “but above all, try something,” seems to have reached Washington D.C. almost 80 years after it was first uttered. On Monday the White House released a healthcare reform plan, and both President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have signaled their willingness to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills through–you guessed it–reconciliation.

That movement toward a majority vote on healthcare reform didn’t happen by accident, nor can the re-introduction of the public option be attributed purely to the subtle and inscrutable shifts of power within our nation’s capitol. I happen to think that Nancy Scola, on Techpresident, has it right:

The targeted, sophisticated grassroots drive now unfolding to provide political cover to the nearly two dozen Senate Democrats who signed the so-called Bennet letter, calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include the public option in the great debate over health care reconciliation, is shaping up to be a something of a case study in how the “netroots” might force change by tweaking the legislative process as it functions today. The trick? To push Democrats out in favor of a progressive priority, and then make the experience a pleasant one for the senator or representative. Reward what is, in the eyes of the movement, good behavior, and create an environment where progressive political risk doesn’t necessarily trigger in politicians a negative response.

Or, to return to FDR:

I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Larry Lessig’s idea of an economy of influence in Washington D.C. What Nancy underscores in her post is the beginning of an important and very welcome revision to that dynamic:

  • The Old Way: Lobbyists place phone calls to legislators, tantalizing them with the prospect of special interest money for future elections and, perhaps, a career as a lobbyist should the election go against them. The price of that deal? Servicing the policy needs of a given special interest.
  • The New Way: Americans advocating for the public option (a policy they support) where everyone can see it, in real time. As for the price, well, it’s hard to imagine that giving the American people the same voice in Washington that special interests already have is much of a burden.

Underlying our work at ActBlue is the belief that if you give Americans a means to speak to power, they will. In two days, 7,500 Americans have doled out almost $150,000 to support the public option. Last summer, another drive supporting the public option raised $400,000 in a week. In the midst of the worst recession since FDR urged Washington to “try something,” those accomplishments aren’t just news, they’re a testament to the faith that Americans have in our democracy.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said:

We face a deficit of trust–deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

In light of that statement, the early release of the White House healthcare plan and the televised summit with the GOP on Thursday confirm the basic intuition we have about our system of government: if we speak, we ought to be heard. And if we speak the language of Washington ($), we will be.

In our series of posts looking back at 2009 (here, here, & here) there was one list we had not yet made public. So, thanks to popular demand, we'd like to post ActBlue's Top 10 most active campaigns and committees of all of 2009 when ranked by the number of donors.

Committee

Progressive Change Campaign Committee

Race/Type

Contributions

39,067

Amount 

$1,064,408.90

Rob Miller SC-02, 2010 25,669 $957,982.61
Democracy for America 17,255 $416,754.76
No on 1 / Protect Maine Equality Ballot Question 17,125 $1,398,965.97
Alan Grayson FL-08, 2010 13,508 $462,324.84
FDL Action PAC 7,402 $235,973.94
Blue America PAC 5,859 $114,534.53
Gavin Newsom CA-Gov, 2010 4,481 $1,035,928.73
Eric Massa NY-29, 2010 3,493 $208,342.72
Barney Frank MA-04, 2010 3,427 $41,716.45

What a list! Five out of the 10 top committees ranked by total contributions are campaigns. Those campaigns are spread across five entirely different states in all corners of the county. They include challengers and incumbents, statewide and congressional races, and varying degrees of electoral competitiveness. Among the five non-candidate committees, we find a ballot question in Maine's statewide marriage equality campaign, two Netroots blog based PACs, and Democracy for America (DFA). Topping the list for 2009 is the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) which raised over $1 million for the year. The PCCC and DFA collaborated on multiple joint fundraising pages in 2009 helping increase their total number of contributions and lift both committees to the top of our donor charts.

Congratulations to these 10 campaigns and organizations as well as the thousands of others that raised money through ActBlue in 2009. We're well on our way to a bigger, better, and bluer year of fundraising in 2010.

Welcome to the third installment of ActBlue data disclosure, 2009 edition!

Last week we presented a big picture overview of what 2009 looked like as well as how it compared to 2007, the most comparable year we have data for at ActBlue. These reviews highlighted our growth in donors, in donations, in recipients campaigns & committees, as well as personal grassroots fundraising efforts.

Since we are in the midst of a period of federal campaign finance reporting, it's time for us to reveal some more information specific to the fourth quarter of 2009. We will begin with some of the Q4 2009 categorical totals.

Number of contributions 86,158
Total raised $10,021,907.33
Average contribution size $116.32
Distinct committees receiving money 1,420
Distinct fundraising pages receiving money 1,540
Fundraising pages created 1,602

Now let's look at the top 10 recipient campaigns & committees of 2009's 4th quarter, ranked by number of donors. Topping the list are two progressive pugilists, Rep. Alan Grayson (FL-08) and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Below them, the list diversifies, including a ballot committee (No On 1), the FireDogLake Action PAC, and a grab bag of federal candidates spanning the spectrum of the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders to Bill Owens. It's a glimpse of the breadth that makes ActBlue unique. 


Name     

PCCC – Progressive Change Campaign Committee

Type

Organization

Donors

15,474

Raised

$407,439.22

Alan Grayson FL-08, 2010 11,362 $393,433.04
No on 1 / Protect Maine Equality Ballot Prop 8,517 $570,957.55
FDL Action PAC PAC 5,024 $156,099.32
Bill Owens NY-23, 2010 2,891 $335,112.52
Democracy for America Organization 2,593 $75,347.89
Joe Sestak PA-Sen, 2010 1,551 $242,836.66
John Kerry MA-Sen, 2014 1,237 $82,166.67
Bernie Sanders VT-Sen, 2012 996 $25,604.41
Deval Patrick MA-Gov, 2010 890 $292,582.50

If we change our ranking criteria to the top 10 recipient campaigns & committees by number of dollars we get the following table:

Name

No on 1 / Protect Maine Equality

Type

Ballot Prop

$ Raised

$570,957.55
Progressive Change Campaign Committee Organization $407,439.22
Alan Grayson FL-08, 2010 $393,433.04
Bill Owens NY-23, 2010 $335,112.52
Steve Pagliuca MA-Sen, 2010 $303,640.00
Massachusetts Democratic Party State Party $295,510.00
Deval Patrick MA-Gov, 2010 $292,582.50
Joe Sestak PA-Sen, 2010 $242,836.66
House Senate Victory Fund Committee $224,301.00
Cal Cunningham NC-Sen, 2010 $182,726.51


Beyond recipients, we like to look at successful fundraising pages. Unlike general recipient data, fundraising pages make a specific ask, and provide more information about which asks gained traction during Q4. Below, we've listed the top ten fundraising pages in Q4 by number of donors. Click on the name to be redirected to the page itself.

While these pages were the most successful, they are just a small sampling of the more than a thousand successful fundraising pages
created in the last quarter of the year for candidates and causes big
and small. To learn more and start creating your own personal
fundraising page for a Democratic cause or candidate, click here.

Name Donors Raised Average
congressmanwithguts 4822 $171,425.00 $35.55
allaboutjoe 3685 $76,478.66 $20.75
noon1 3177 $123,179.11 $38.77
reconciliation 2631 $84,788.83 $32.22
liebermanaccountable 2032 $48,550.34 $23.89
pressurelandrieu 1882 $57,858.11 $30.74
harryreidad 1669 $58,935.30 $35.31
obamafight 1422 $48,487.26 $34.09
noon1redalert 1382 $76,031.97 $55.01
obamapromise 1316 $26,913.37 $20.45

At times, everything comes together. I work for ActBlue and I read Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias regularly. Sometimes I see Prof. Lessig in the distance when I head out for lunch. Yesterday, Ezra and Matt both had posts up about Lessig's presentation on institutional corruption that I wanted to address.

Part I: Lessig's Argument

The video is rather long, so I'll summarize. Lessig defines institutional corruption as follows:

Institutional corruption isn't Blagojevich. It's not bribery or any violation of any existing rules … [it's] a certain kind of influence within an economy of influence. It's institutional corruption if it (1) weakens the effectiveness of an institution to serve its purpose or (2) Weakens the public trust of that institution, leading to the inability of the institution to serve its purpose.

In other words, it's not so much about corruption within an institution as the corruption of the institution itself, or the appearance thereof. That last bit is important in Lessig's formulation: if everyone believes the institution to be corrupted, then it might as well be. They won't trust the process, and they won't trust the results–an idea that's validated to a certain extent by the unfolding healthcare reform crisis.

If you're onboard with that, you're probably wondering what the "economy of influence" Lessig mentions is. Briefly, it works like this:

Special interests have a lot of money, and are in search of favorable policy outcomes. They hire lobbyists, who promote their employer's preferred policy. Legislators grant these lobbyists access because 1) running a campaign is expensive, and lobbyists represent a lot of campaign cash and 2) once a legislator's campaigning days are over, lobbying is a pretty good way to make a living. That results in legislation that meets the needs of the interests that dispatched the lobbyists. So they send more.

In other words, everybody is being rational, but that way of doing business undermines public trust, produces severely compromised policy, and ultimately results in broken political institutions.

Part II: What Is To Be Done?

Driving the whole process is the fact that legislators need money to run their campaigns. If you take that out of the picture, both lobbyist access and the lobbying industry dry up, which also handily removes the lure of a potential second career as a lobbyist from a legislator's calculation.

Lessig advocates public financing for elections as the best way to create this alternate food source for federal campaigns. The problem is that he's just spent 45 minutes explaining why that can't happen. Robust public financing legislation would represent a system-wide failure of the "economy of influence." Assuming the political climate even allows legislators to consider such a bill, chances are it would be imperfect and riddled with loopholes that interests insert in order to exploit them later. Additionally, as the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC demonstrates, even imperfect campaign finance law isn't safe. Clearly, that alternate food source has to come from outside the Washington D.C. economy of influence. Transparency is also crucial, as part of reversing institutional corruption is restoring public trust. People have to know where the money is coming from.

ActBlue does that, and more. We track donors and dollars in real time. We report everything to the FEC. We are, in a word, transparent. Moreover, we work with campaigns at every level of politics. Annise Parker, the newly-elected mayor of Houston, has an ActBlue listing. So do Democratic state legislators and members of Congress. They and their staffers are learning a new participatory model for campaign fundraising. We are building a farm system for the Democratic Party, and the results are real. Read the quarter-by-quarter breakdown of our 2009 numbers for the data on that.

Rep. Donna Edwards, MD-04, said it best:

ActBlue removes the K Street lobbyists from the equation … [candidates] can actually act on their own, and work on policy that makes a difference in people‚Äôs lives.

Donna Edwards defeated 8-term incumbent Al Wynn in the 2008 Democratic primary. She raised $500,000 on ActBlue from 9,000 donors.  ActBlue unravels the economy of influence, one donor at a time. And we do it through methods I think Prof. Lessig would approve of. While I may disagree with him on the technical aspects, I agree with him on this:

We face as a nation an extraordinary range of critical problems that require serious attention … the responsibility we need to focus is the responsibility of the good people, the decent people, the people who could've picked up a phone. The responsibility of us.

I took the title of this post from a great blues tune by Albert Collins. There's a lyric that comes to mind whenever I get frustrated with American politics–and yes, political professionals do get frustrated with our political system, even as we work within it–that keeps me going. I think I'll end with it.

She said, 'I want you to be a winner / I love you, son, I don't want you to quit.'

Guest Post by Karl-Thomas Musselman

In the midst of a very busy start this year in the online fundraising and campaign finance worlds, we thought we'd take a step back and look at how things are going halfway through the 2010 election cycle. For that, I've pulled together some numbers and charts that put into perspective the activity at ActBlue.com in all of 2009 as compared to 2007, the most recent similar mid-cycle year.

[Ed–I pulled this graph out of the body of the post because, in KT's words, "When the 'worst' quarter of 2009 is on par with the 'best' quarter of 2007 you have to be impressed." But keep reading, there's plenty of great data below.]

Year | Total Raised | Contributions | Avg Contribution Size

2007   $16,781,745    125,601         $133.61
2009   $30,811,495    241,267         $127.71

Those are some impressive numbers. That's 84% growth in total dollars raised for Democrats, 92% growth in individual contributions, while seeing just under a 5% decline in the average contribution size. But in addition to the dollar and donors, what's even more exciting is this next batch of numbers which reflect ActBlue's mission to assist all Democratic candidates and causes and allow anyone to create personal fundraising pages. 

Year | # Unique Recipients | # Personal Pages w/Donors

2007   1017                  1233 
2009   1942                  3286

This is where we're democratizing the process of financing campaigns. The 91% increase in unique recipients means that in 2009 nearly twice as many Democratic candidates received a check for funds raised through ActBlue- which is impressive because the raw number of elected offices is a fairly static. Even more amazing is the 167% increase in successful personal ActBlue fundraising pages- skyrocketing to over 3,000 in 2009, a year when just a handful of states held their statewide elections (most notable being New Jersey & Virginia) and a greater number held municipal elections as part of ActBlue trial program. We'll be looking in more detail at this growth at the state and local level in future analysis.

Now for some charts. These compare a number of 2007 v. 2009 metrics on the quarter by quarter level.

That huge surge of contributions in the last half of 2009 was due in part to the upswing in the health care debate, the Joe "You Lie" Wilson effect on fundraising for Democrat Rob Miller, the No on One / Protect Marriage Equality campaign in Maine, and Netroots based fundraising flowing into the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, FDL Action PAC, and Blue America's PAC.

The drop in the average contribution size in late 2009 goes hand in hand with the increase in small dollar giving noted by a number of the committees in the prior graph.

That's just beautiful- don't you think?

This last graph is the best in my opinion- you can see the democratization of fundraising and empowerment of the average donor to raise small dollar contributions for the candidates or causes of their choice. That's what this is all about.

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