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In July, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) asked ActBlue to set up a draft fund for Elizabeth Warren. By mid-August the PCCC had shattered all records for the largest and fastest growing draft fund in our history, raising over $102,000 from around 7,000 supporters even before Elizabeth Warren formed an exploratory committee for a Massachusetts Senate run.

Today, their unprecedented success is the reason we're sending her committee a six-figure check.

The PCCC's landmark efforts are not only impressive, they tell us something important about the way politics is changing in response to the digital age. In 2009, the PCCC was a brand new organization. Today, the PCCC has a played a central role in a number of key battles over the last two years — from the fight for the public option and the push to keep Keith Olbermann on the air, to this year's Wisconsin recall elections and the Draft Warren fund. With the help of a large and active donor community, the PCCC has raised millions even though their average donation size is just under $15. In short, they've become a major political player at a speed and donation size that would've been unthinkable five years ago.

Much the same can be said of ActBlue. Seven years after our founding in 2004, we've become the single largest source of political funds in the United States. Our mission was (and is) to give voice to the voiceless, and bring attention to those donors and communities that are often ignored or overlooked. We call it "Democratizing Power," and this is how it works:

ActBlue raises up small donors, who raise up the PCCC, which raises up Elizabeth Warren. 

It's an organic, bottom-up process that's based on shifting the incentives that politicians face in a direction that's a win for everybody involved and the political system at large. By using ActBlue, the PCCC can demonstrate to everyone who cares to look that they can have a major impact on campaigns, and their donors can see exactly how powerful they are when they work together. Politicians learn that grassroots donors can be counted on to produce major results when it matters. And over time we get a political system that's responsive to the needs of folks who contribute $25, not just those who can afford $2500 donations.

Our architecture and their work–which has already raised another $7,000+ for Warren–improves your government. It's a good thing, man.

Last week, much of the ActBlue office packed our bags and headed to Minneapolis for Netroots Nation 2011 for an opportunity to mingle with our users and fans–thanks to all of you who dropped by our booth for your kind words.

Reflecting on the conference, a number of press figures referred to the atmosphere as "dispirited," or other adjectives amounting to roughly the same thing. I attended panels on campaign finance, the courts, and Afghanistan, and what I saw in those panels was the maturing of a movement. Though the 2010 elections largely obliterated the giddiness of '06-'08, it also gave Democrats a sense of the breadth of the field they need to play on.

Republicans are pushing their agenda at every level: in the states, through the courts, and in Congress. The progressives gathered at Netroots Nation were focused on how they could impact issues that are decided far from the federal battlefields they won in '06 and '08, like campaign finance regulations, court appointments, state laws and national security decisions.

In that sense, "energy" is a really poor gauge of how successful the conference was. Any large, long-term project isn't going to be amenable to the sort of triumphalism and buzz that is the pulse of politics as measured by the media. I'd urge people to look instead at markers of success like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's $3 million raised from 190,000 donors on ActBlue. As POLITICO notes, they are "loaded for battle," a remarkable feat of grassroots fundraising for a group that didn't exist in 2008. Moreover, the PCCC has elected to play a broad role, engaging in federal primaries and working hard to support the recall efforts in Wisconsin. 

The PCCC's combination of talented organizing and effective fundraising through ActBlue means they can engage people and issues that wouldn't get attention otherwise and bring them to the forefront of politics. Progressives looking to do the same in other areas might want to take a cue from them. 

It's worth noting that the RightOnline Convention, in contrast, featured plenty of energy–a firebreathing speech from Michelle Bachmann, a little lighthearted Obama minstrelsy, and an invasion of NN11 by Andrew Breitbart–but the underlying reality was rather grim:

“We’re trying to compete with ActBlue but they’re way, way ahead of us. We’re playing catch-up,” said John Hawkins of Right Wing News. “Their panels are for advanced activism. This is basic, for getting into activism.” A sign in the hallway of RightOnline advertised “proven technology used by millions of Democrats.”

Indeed.

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We walk a fine editorial line here on the blog. As a good faith partner to Democrats of various ideological orientations, ActBlue doesn’t endorse candidates or committees. At the same time, we always enjoy it when a group or candidate uses our tools well. In that vein, I want to highlight the tremendous accomplishments of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) over the past two years.

Founded in 2009, the PCCC is a recent entrant to the world of progressive political organizations–MoveOn.org dates back to 1998, while Democracy for America grew out of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. Newcomer status aside, the PCCC has accomplished some pretty remarkable feats on ActBlue. Their total of 100,000 supporters easily doubles the mark set by some of our most successful campaigns. Equally impressive is their average donation figure, which comes in just under $20. Those figures came about as part of a broad involvement with progressive issues that encompassed everything from Bill Halter’s primary challenge in Arkansas to activism around the public option in the healthcare bill.

ActBlue’s raison d’etre revolves around the idea of d/Democratizing power. We created these tools to put consequential political action at the fingertips–literally–of anyone with access to the internet. And while we’ve produced $174 million for Democrats in six years, our goals are broader than that. In 2004, our hunch was that increasing access to and participation in the political fundraising process would have a number of salutary effects on our political system. Broader access makes it easier for candidates and organizations to build their own fundraising networks, allowing new voices to emerge. Increased participation means that political giving is seen as a form of democratic participation rather than a corrupting influence. Taken together, those ripple effects restore our faith in the underlying promise of democratic politics: everybody gets a say.

That’s why the PCCC is such a valuable test case for us. Their rapid emergence combines real political results and a dedication to a model of fundraising that both promotes broad engagement with Democratic politics and puts that engagement within reach of almost everyone. Aggregating those totals on ActBlue makes it easy for their donors to see that they’re a part of something much larger and more powerful than their $20 donation.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Here’s Adam Green, one of the founders of the PCCC, on the role ActBlue played in getting the PCCC off the ground:

At a time when we had pretty much no resources, ActBlue lowered the barrier for entry for us into the online fundraising marketplace allowing us to … not have to deal with the legal obstacles and technical obstacles and quickly accumulate a grassroots fundraising base … it’s valuable piece of progressive infrastructure. It allows groups like ours to get off the ground. We’re still using it today and I can’t say thanks enough to those who had the vision to come up with this concept.

Number of contributions 27,810
Total raised $1,185,812.85
Average Contribution size $42.64
Committees receiving money 443
Fundraising pages receiving money 281
Pages created 180

 

December 2010 saw a huge upswing in donors over 2008, thanks mostly to the efforts of the PCCC and other continuing committees, and bolstered by Bernie Sanders’ filibuster-that-wasn’t-technically-a-filibuster, otherwise known as #filibernie:

Sept 2008 Sept 2010 Change
Contributions 6,166 27,810 351%
Volume ($) $1,348,627.46 $1,185,812.85 -12%
Mean Donation $218.72 $42.64 -80%
Committees 350 443 26%
Pages Created 180 169 -6%
Pages w/ Money 281 426 51%

 

And here are the top committees, by number of donors, for December 2010. Since December is generally a slow month, we’re going to cut to the top four:

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 17,104 $293,394
Bernie Sanders VT-Sen 4,482 $67,821
Democracy for America Organization 3,009 $27,398
Anthony Weiner NY-09 662 $13,019

 

As the noise from the election dies down, December’s numbers bring the new method of low-dollar fundraising employed by the PCCC into stark relief. Under a distributed fundraising model, the cost to any given donor in terms of money/time per donation is smaller, and the ease of giving leads to enough conversions to make up the difference. The numbers make the case on their own: in December, no other committee came close to the PCCC’s mark in either dollars or donors. While #filibernie chewed up the airwaves/Twitter and overall ActBlue volume held steady, the PCCC drove a huge increase in donors and the attendant drop in average contribution size.

The PCCC’s success has larger implications for our politics: if political giving remains a luxury good–the sole preserve of people who can afford to shift $1M donations through American Crossroads–it can have corrosive effects on our democracy. At $10-$20 a pop, however, political contributions renew the underlying premise of American politics: everybody gets to play.

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