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The run up to the Wisconsin recall election pushed our May numbers skyward to over a quarter billion dollars (!!) by the end of the month. Sure, we would’ve preferred a rather different outcome, but there’s a lesson in Wisconsin that’s more than gloom and doom: small donors have the power to create a national political event.

From the protests through both rounds of elections, this has been a story driven by small donors, including those who sent millions to Wisconsin Democrats using ActBlue. The top five entities for May all come in with average donations under $40. That kind of engagement forced the GOP to commit astronomical sums of money to a race that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

In short: grassroots donations sustained a state-level political struggle that lasted more than a year, and elevated it to national prominence. That’s a win, even if the returns didn’t go our way.

Number of contributions 208,071
Total raised $9,049,579.70
Average Contribution size $43.49
Committees receiving money 1,794

 

Here’s what May 2012 looks like compared to May 2011 and 2008 (last presidential election year). Percentage change is year over year:

May 2008 May 2011 May 2012 Change
Contributions 18,290 45,034 208,071 362%
Volume ($) $3,095,177.15 $2,627,655.58 $9,049,579.70 245%
Mean Donation $169.23 $58.35 $43.49 -25%
Committees 878 721 1,794 149%

 

Here are the five top committees, by number of donors, for May 2012.

Name Race Donors Dollars
Tom Barrett WI-Gov 43,137 $1,509,842
DCCC Party Committee 41,138 $963,184
Democratic Party of WI Party Committee 24,158 $657,544
DFA Recall Campaign Organization 12,887 $309,818
PCCC Organization 12,395 $121,737

The first quarter of the 2011-12 election cycle is on the books, and it’s a doozy. We saw a massive uptick in contributions relative to previous cycles, driven by the backlash against Gov. Walker’s union-busting in Wisconsin. That drove a precipitous drop in the average contribution size relative to 2009, which was made starker by a higher-than-usual contribution size in 2009 thanks to inaugural events. All in all, the trends are exactly what we want to see: more money, coming from more people and going to more Democrats.

Number of contributions 180,547
Total raised $8,715,611.77
Average Contribution size $48.27
Committees receiving money 881
Fundraising pages receiving money 974
Pages created 1,029

 

And here’s how those numbers stack up to the last few cycles. Remember that we offer 2007 as a benchmark for a pre-presidential off-year and 2009 to illustrate cycle over cycle growth:

Q1 2007 Q1 2009 Q1 2011 Change
Contributions 31,441 24,361 180,547 641%
Volume ($) $3,141,038.27 $5,343,772.70 $8,715,611.77 63%
Mean Donation $99.90 $219.36 $48.27 -78%
Committees 235 651 881 35%
Pages Created 346 1,026 1,029 .3%
Pages w/ Money 203 684 974 13%

 

 
And here are the five top committees, ranked by number of donors, for Q1 2011.

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 61,542 $691,584
Democracy for America Organization 44,767 $503,841
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Organization 43,595 $1,099,087
Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee Organization 30,726 $768,067
PCCC Recall Committee Organization 25,481 $267,919

 

Here, as everywhere else this quarter, we see organizations dominating the field as political campaigns have yet to ramp up. Those organizations, in turn, are laying the groundwork that will make them valuable allies when the horse race gets underway in earnest.

As I mentioned last month, Wisconsin is the story of 2011 so far. In late February, Republican Gov. Scott Walker attempted to undermine a core Democratic constituency by revoking the right of public workers to bargain collectively, ostensibly for budgetary reasons. When Democratic state senators fled the state to deny him the legislative quorum required to pass a budgetary measure, Wisconsin Republicans declared that it didn’t impact the budget and passed the law without warning in a five minute session. Recently, a Wisconsin judge blocked the law’s implementation. Talking Points Memo has a useful timeline of events.

The immediate result of Gov. Walker’s overreach was a huge surge in Democratic fundraising and the initiation of recall proceedings against vulnerable Wisconsin Republicans. As Greg Sargent noted, the first completed recall petition tied the record for the fastest recall petition in Wisconsin history. The momentum on the ground is more than matched by the fundraising numbers. In March alone, ActBlue processed $3.7 million worth of donations to Wisconsin Democrats and allied groups. Add in the numbers from February and the total climbs north of $4 million. That’s a lot of cheddar, and its impact is reflected in our March fundraising numbers:

Number of contributions 143,034
Total raised 5,854,848.89
Average Contribution size $40.93
Committees receiving money 673
Fundraising pages receiving money 731
Pages created 490

 

As you’ll see below, the donations in Wisconsin were primarily by grassroots donors, who drove huge growth in the number of contributions and lowered our average donation size.

Mar 2007 Mar 2009 Mar 2011 Change
Contributions 21,912 11,438 143,034 1150%
Volume ($) $1,998,288.74 $2,765,316.89 $5,854,848.89 113%
Mean Donation $91.20 $241.77 $40.93 -83%
Committees 189 440 673 53%
Pages Created 158 452 490 8%
Pages w/ Money 164 412 731 77%

 

 
And here are the five top committees, by number of donors, for March 2011.

Name Race Donors Dollars
PCCC Organization 54,371 $576,408
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Organization 43,598 $1,099,121
Democracy for America Organization 41,323 $462,030
PCCC Recall Committee (Wisconsin) Organization 25,483 $267,944
MoveOn.org Political Action Organization 24,191 $364,237

 

The fact that March fundraising was driven primarily by organizations is a reflection of how big the stakes are in Wisconsin. Gov. Walker’s attack on collective bargaining isn’t just about undermining a core Democratic constituency (though it’s about that too); it’s about redistributing wealth (and thus political power) upward, away from workers and public servants and thereby diminishing their voice in the political process. Organizing and funding resistance to that overriding Republican goal is too big a job for any one candidate, so state and national organizations stepped in to help shoulder the load.

At ActBlue, our mission is to give grassroots donors a powerful voice in our democracy, so we were happy to put our tools at their disposal. We’re about democratizing power, and this is how we do it.

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