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A few days ago, I wrote about the ways in which ActBlue makes donors nimble and campaigns competitive by helping resources get where they need to go, quickly. I used the Alaska Senate race as an example, and in response a spokesperson for the McAdams campaign emailed this statement along:

Because of ActBlue thousands of people, including Alaskans, were able to donate funds to the Scott McAdams for Senate Campaign. The groundswell of grassroots support helped generate even more momentum for the campaign in the days immediately following the Alaska primary election. It was a great way to illustrate how many people support Scott and is a reminder that individuals can really impact the way campaigns are funded.

I think the key word there is "illustrate." When you give through ActBlue, you're not just helping the candidate out with a little cash. You're also sending a signal to everyone watching those numbers that the support is there. Anyone with 30 seconds and access to the internet can see how their chosen candidate is doing.

Today, McAdams is closing in on Senator Mark Begich's 2008 ActBlue total, and Sen. Murkowski, the GOP incumbent defeated in her primary by Joe Miller, has launched a write-in campaign. In short, what was once a safe GOP seat is now a wide open race.

Your donations on ActBlue have a lot to do with that.

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.

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.

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