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Welcome to ActBlue’s end-of-cycle report, covering the period from 1/1/2009 through 12/31/2010.

Number of contributions 782,792
Total raised $87,726,365.12
Average Contribution size $112.07
Committees receiving money 3,625
Fundraising pages receiving money 7,867
Pages created 14,559

 

While the past two years may feel like an eternity, there was a time not that long ago when the economy was healthy, Democrats had just retaken Congress, and a guy with a funny name was thinking about running for President. Today, we compare the two through the lens of ActBlue activity.

2006-08 2009-10 Change
Contributions 465,436 782,792 68%
Volume ($) $66,250,983.88 $87,726,365.12 32%
Mean Donation $142.34 $112.07 -21%
Committees 2,742 3,625 24%
Pages Created 10,704 14,559 36%
Pages w/ Money 5,091 7,867 54%

 

Note, in particular, that the growth in volume was exceeded by the growth in contributions. That figure speaks to our success in pursuit of our broader goal: increasing political participation.

The top 10 committees outline the shape of Democratic politics in ’09-’10: Rob Miller’s red-letter day; Halter and Sestak primary contests; the reaction to the unexpected results of GOP primaries in Alaska and Kentucky; Alan Grayson’s emergence as a national figure; what looked like a close Senate race in CA; and the tireless work of the PCCC and Democracy for America, which affected a number of the races below.

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 101,827 $2,017,631
Alan Grayson FL-08 56,309 $1,480,746
Democracy for America Organization 53,429 $956,944
Joe Sestak PA-Sen 44,773 $3,843,506
Bill Halter AR-Sen 39,205 $1,209,137
Jack Conway KY-Sen 35,159 $1,197,599
Rob Miller SC-02 27,110 $1,085,335
Anne McLane Kuster NH-02 24,273 $312,335
Barbara Boxer CA-Sen 20,427 $1,189,811
Scott McAdams AK-Sen 17,786 $738,071
Number of contributions 19,036
Total raised $1,162,989.25
Average Contribution size $61.09
Committees receiving money 751
Fundraising pages receiving money 601
Pages created 166

 

In contrast to 2008, November 2010 saw a large dropoff in volume due to a dearth of Republicans obstruction. Much of ActBlue’s post-election volume in 2008 came as Democrats rallied to defeat GOP attempts to overturn election results, chiefly in the hotly-contested Franken/Coleman MN-Sen race. While the number of committees receiving money barely budged, both volume and number of contributions were down:

Sept 2008 Sept 2010 Change
Contributions 32,160 19,036 -40%
Volume ($) $3,421,289.48 $1,162,989.25 -66%
Mean Donation $106.38 $61.09 -42%
Committees 762 751 -1%
Pages Created 358 166 -53%
Pages w/ Money 784 601 -23%

 

And here are the top committees, by number of donors, for November 2010:

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 5,288 $87,970
McNerney Recount Fund CA-11 Recount 1,619 $111,507
Tim Bishop Election Protection Fund NY-01 Recount 1,124 $104,550
Joe Sestak PA-Sen 898 $48,907
Barbara Boxer AK-Sen 806 $56,311
FDL Action PAC Organization 606 $13,238
Jack Conway Debt Retirement KY-Sen 573 $15,172
Dan Maffei Victory Fund NY-25 521 $58,524
Alan Grayson FL-08 461 $13,829
Democracy for America Organization 310 $8,335

 

The top committees in November are an interesting grab bag, including the last flurries of election season (Grayson, Boxer, Sestak) a generally successful grouping of recount funds, and three continuing organizations that are building for off-year elections in 2011 and the next round of federal elections. In that, they are a microcosm of political activity–the moment before the election, the weeks immediately after it, and the long game stretching across 2011 and 2012. Also interesting: the calendar effect. Election Day 2010 came two days earlier than it did in 2008, pushing much of that last-minute political activity into October. The final days in 2010 were larger than they were in 2008, but 2008 had four of them.

Number of contributions 169,672
Total raised $16,775,323.27
Average Contribution size $98.87
Committees receiving money 1,796
Fundraising pages receiving money 1,825
Pages created 887

 

October is the month for political activity. In September people are just beginning to pay attention, and Election Day is too early in November for campaigns to really do much that month. The following two charts display that growth in both relative and absolute terms:

Sept 2008 Sept 2012 Change
Contributions 113,131 169,672 50%
Volume ($) $11,945,397.21 $16,775,323.27 40%
Mean Donation $105.59 $98.87 -6%
Committees 1,388 1,796 29%
Pages Created 1,892 887 -53%
Pages w/ Money 2,006 1,825 -9%

 

And here are the top committees, by number of donors, of October 2010:

Name Race Donors Dollars
Joe Sestak PA-Sen 25,390 $1,300,011
Jack Conway KY-Sen 20,900 $645,685
Alan Grayson FL-08 20,395 $514,554
Barbara Boxer CA-Sen 16,325 $936,022
Scott McAdams AK-Sen 13,235 $397,175.
PCCC Organization 11,353 $159,908
Democracy for America Organization 11,292 $286,036
Raul Grijalva AZ-07 10,227 $146,210
Russ Feingold WI-Sen 9,566 $294,914
Anne McLane Kuster NH-02 9,505 $120,444

 

Note the massive increase in donors for the top 10 committes. In Semptember, Jack Conway topped the list with ~10,000 donors. In October, he doubled that figure and couldn’t keep his place at the top of the list, losing it Joe Sestak’s campaign. As he did in the primary, Joe Sestak closed strong on ActBlue, quintupling his donors relative to September. Barbara Boxer also moved up the list, and donors put Raul Grijalva on the board as it became clear the the progressive from Arizona had a race on his hands.

Number of contributions 93,024
Total raised $9,892,076.04
Average Contribution size $106.34
Committees receiving money 1,683
Fundraising pages receiving money 1,613
Pages created 951

 

September outpaced August signficantly, but more illuminating is the comparison between September 2008 and September 2010:

Sept 2008 Sept 2010 Change
Contributions 50,486 93,024 84%
Volume ($) $7,111,834.72 $9,892,076.04 39%
Mean Donation $140.87 $106.34 -25%
Committees 1,288 1,683 30%
Pages Created 1,040 951 -9%
Pages w/ Money 1,354 1,613 19%

 

And here are the top committees, by number of donors, of September 2010:

Name Race Donors Dollars
Jack Conway KY-Sen 10,403 $420,689
Alan Grayson FL-08 9,954 $247,141
Russ Feingold WI-Sen 9,139 $283,743
PCCC Organization 6,637 $101,370
Anne McLane Kuster NH-02 6,248 $88,021
Chris Coons DE-Sen 6,181 $518,462
Joe Sestak PA-Sen 4,943 $667,539
Democracy for America Organization 4,603 $55,914
Scott McAdams AK-Sen 3,988 $284,437
Barbara Boxer CA-Sen 2,626 $121,296

 

I’ll admit that I had to listen to a few motivational songs while compiling this list, but it’s important to realize that this is just a snapshot taken at the beginning of this year’s political season. Donors were just starting to wake up after the summer, and in September they sent more money through ActBlue than they did in July and August combined. Moreover, donors moved quickly to support the Democratic candidates in Delaware and Alaska Senate contests that were newly competitive after upsets in the GOP primaries gave us Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller. As I’ve said before, that agility is not something to be discounted.

Also, while many of these candidates faced a historically awful political environment, their success on ActBlue demonstrates a solid foundation for Democrats moving forward. The fact that dollars and donations are up in this political and economic climate speaks to the resilience of what we’ve built here.

Last week, Ben Smith linked to a study (.pdf) by the Wesleyan Media Project on political spending in the 2010 cycle. The major findings: Republican-leaning interest groups outspent similar Democratic groups by 9:1, and hold a 3:2 advantage in overall spending. Put another way, with a 9:1 advantage in interest group spending, Republicans were only able to eke out a 3:2 advantage in total spending.

ActBlue is a major part of that story. The $80M we've sent to 3,600 Democratic candidates and committees this cycle stands in stark contrast to the "dark money" funneled through GOP outside groups. Unlike the constellation of 501c4 organizations and "Super PACs" that have helped Republicans, ActBlue is transparent. Our donations are contributions from inviduals to campaigns, not PAC donations. We report those donations to the FEC. Our numbers update in real time. In fact, while outfits like American Crossroads have flourished, GOP attempts to duplicate ActBlue's success have languished.

Those failures highlight the ridiculousness of attempts to brand Crossroads and Crossroads GPS as "Republican infrastructure." American Crossroads GPS (GPS stands for "Grassroots Policy Strategies;" you can almost hear the cynicism) is a 501c4 organization that doesn't disclose its donors. Original recipe American Crossroads is filed as (.pdf) an independent expenditure PAC. It can accept unlimited amounts of money, but can't give any to campaigns. In short, the groups themselves direct the funds, not the donors, and these groups can't help campaigns beyond the air war; that's neither "grassroots" nor "infrastructure."

Both groups owe a lot of their success to the Citizens United v. FEC decision by the Supreme Court and an opportunistic filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act by Senate Republicans. Moreover, the Crossroads model of fundraising is toxic among the electorate. As a short-term gamble to pick up seats while the RNC flounders, it may work. As a long-term strategy, it's self-defeating. After 11/2/2010, these groups will lose much of their raison d'etre, becoming a tax liability and a target for Democrats. If they continue to serve any purpose, it will be to game the GOP presidential nomination in 2011-12, which is shaping up to be an establisment v. grassroots contest. Targeted in critical early states, huge contributions from anonymous billionaires could do a lot to help a Mitt Romney-style candidate beat out a more populist foe.

In a pair of articles for the New York Times, Michael Luo delves into the role that anonymous donors are playing in the 2010 elections. Oddly, given his subject matter, he doesn't address the ways in which anonymity conditions what we are willing to say and how we say it.

Anyone who has glanced at a comment thread in the last ten years knows that anonymity and vitriol are intimately linked. Anonymous speakers are insulated from the consequences of their words, and that disconnect inevitably leads to harsher speech. Things we wouldn't say to a stranger on the street are happily tossed around in chat rooms and on forums.

That occurs because anonymity means less accountability: speech by unknown speakers can't rebound to their detriment, though it can damage both the target and the means through which that message was conveyed. That, in turn, incentivizes nastier messages conveyed through disposable conduits. In internet lingo, a flame war started by someone with an anonymous or misleading handle can damage its target, and the reputation of the forum as a whole long before it hurts the author.

These habits have their analogues in our politics. The astonishing growth and success (h/t CRP) of right-wing outside groups this cycle is about damaging Democrats through what are ultimately expendable conduits. Speaking through the ads aired by these organizations, GOP donors are able to elide not one, but two questions: who are you, and what does this ad mean if your guy wins?

Anonymity is the guarantor of security in both cases. It ensures the first question goes unanswered, and prevents the press from doing much more than guesswork when it comes to the second. When a harsh ad debuts, the donor needn't worry about reporters asking them whether they endorse the content. Any politician who benefits from the ad has enough room to distance himself from its content, during the campaign and afterward.

In short, the GOP filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act didn't just enable unlimited spending by anonymous donors. These groups–if they or their equivalents persist after election day–will slowly lead us down the path toward politics-as-flame-war.

Meg Infantino, Treasurer for Sestak For Senate:

ActBlue has been an essential, integral part of our grassroots fundraising efforts.

We've always used ActBlue, starting with Joe Sestak's initial, successful run for Congress back in 2006. That year, Joe led all U.S. House candidates in online fundraising, with contributions totaling almost $1M. Congressman Sestak matched that success during his 2008 re-election campaign, once again leading all US. House candidates with over $1M in online contributions.  Our campaign continues to break new ground this cycle, leading all U.S. Senate candidates on ActBlue with total contributions totaling over $2M and continuing to flow.

ActBlue's ease of use and low cost enabled us to set up our online fundraising operation swiftly, and the knowledge and responsiveness of their support staff continues to impress, year after year. Lastly, but most importantly, ActBlue enables us to receive next-day wire transfers of the money we raise on their site, and that speed is a crucial part of executing a winning campaign strategy in the closing weeks of the election.

ActBlue has been–and continues to be–a valuable partner in offering a convenient and powerful way for our supporters to make a difference in our campaign. Our grassroots campaign doesn't rely on establishment support; for us, and for any successful Democrat, ActBlue is the only way to go!

I don't often do this, but I wanted to highlight the efforts of Progressive Kick, a group that's used a dollar-for-dollar match to raise $103K for down-ballot races. There are a couple of reasons why this is a big deal:

First, those dollars will go a lot further in smaller races. While the fundraising numbers that get national attention are measured in millions, a few thousand can make a big difference to candidates running in, say, Montana's 15th legislative district, where the delightfully-named Frosty Calf Boss Ribs won in 2008 with a warchest of $490. (She was unopposed.)

Second, In 2011 the states will redraw the boundaries of their congressional districts to account for population shifts observed in the 2010 census. In most states, the state legislature is responsible for carrying out redistricting; state legislators exercise a tremendous amount of control over what kind of candidate is electable in a given district simply by drawing its borders. Oddly-shaped districts like Trent Franks' vertical pirate ship (AZ-02) and Randy "The Neuge" Neugebauer's LEGO hook-hand (TX-19) are increasingly common these days; districts like Iowa's comfortingly regular blobs are on the wane.  

In other words, control of state chambers results influences redistricting, and redistricting determines the composition of congress. The results of state races in 2010 will define the boundaries of national politics, both literally and figuratively, for a decade to come.

Tom DeLay's (R-TX) involvement in the the '02-'03 "Dancing with the Districts" scandal grew from his appreciation for the importance of redistricting and his willingness to abuse legislative arithmetic to get his way. The Republican attitude toward procedural abuse in search of political advantage has not improved since, a fact that underscores the importance of what Progressive Kick is doing on ActBlue.

Our latest installment of "ActBlue in One Take" features Sen. Al Franken. The Senator from Minnesota understands the value of grassroots donors–he raised over $2M on ActBlue in 2008, funds that were crucial to both his election day victory and drawn-out struggle against Republican attempts to keep him from taking his seat in Washington. Click on the video below to see what Sen. Franken had to say about the role of grassroots donors–and ActBlue–in 2010

You can search for your favorite Democrat in our candidate directory, or visit our homepage and support the candidates that lead our hot candidates list.

Ben Smith picked up on a blog post* by Lauren Hepler at the Center for Responsive Politics about out-of-state money, noting:

The numbers are interesting on the merits, though the general, bipartisan flow of money from big metropolitan areas to powerful members from smaller, poorer places is hardly a surprise. The data is also pretty much made for attack ads.

Ben's final point about attack ads is an example of how out of step our perceptions about virtuous politics are with reality. If we want to argue it logically rather than intuitively, we need to establish and defend three premises:

  1. All in-state or in-district money is inherently "better" than out-of-state/-district money
  2. Conversely, all out-of-state money is inherently pernicious or distorting.
  3. Campaign finance legislation, which is subject to influence by the same powerful interests whose power it's attempting to curtail, can be sufficiently well-written to be both politically viable and achieve its aims.

It turns out that there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about these premises, both collectively and in isolation.

To begin with, a government that is entirely funded by local interests more likely to create a gridlocked republic than a virtuous one, especially given current Senate rules. Moreover, it's an equilibrium state that's highly (and narrowly) cartelized and accordingly hostile to change, which further decreases the likelihood of meaningful action in Washington D.C. Finally, because barriers to entry are high, voter choice suffers. Out-of-state money creates the potential for change by giving candidates who are outside of local fundraising networks a viable path to elected office (See: Tea Party). That can be good or bad, but that's a question of the ends to which that money is applied, not the fact that it exists.

To take the second premise seriously, you have to ignore the "federal" aspect of our federal government. Legislators from outside your state or district often vote for or against laws that affect you. If you don't live in their state or district, your means of indicating your approval or disapproval of their actions are limited to activism or fundraising. And while there's a natural, tribal reflex against people from outside [arbitrary boundary] making themselves a part of the electoral process inside  [arbitrary boundary], the decisions we make at the polls affect them. It's a speech issue, and protected as such.

The third premise gets at the tension underlying Larry Lessig's "economy of influence" argument. As I wrote a long time ago, the problem with the argument is that it goes to great lengths to establish that Congress is broken, hopelessly captive to special interests, and so on. Then Lessig argues for federal legislation to address this issue. See the problem? If, as Lessig asserts, legislators have a clear idea of their self-interest (usually preceded by a $ sign), why on earth would any given leader act against it? At the most basic level, how do you persuade someone that money they've already gotten is less valuable than money they might get in the future? Unclear.

What really matters is not where the money comes from, geographically speaking, but what its source is and how clearly that information is tracked and disseminated. If Candidate X is extensively funded by the local chapter of Baby Eaters Anonymous, we should probably care about that more than the fact his opponent, Candidate Y, gets large checks from Americans for the Laughter of Children, based in the neighboring state. Or, put simply, the problem with Citizens United v. FEC isn't that it allows huge spending by corporate interests–the old system allowed that–but rather that it provides no disclosure requirements. That's why the fate of the DISCLOSE act (59-39! Stunning defeat!) is arguably more troubling than the ruling it addresses.

*The CRP post misuses the phrase "begging the question," which is a huge pet peeve of mine. To "beg the question" is to assume your conclusion as a premise and thereby make a circular argument, not to beg someone to ask you a question. Also, I stole the title of this post from a Bon Jovi song. That's just how I roll.

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