We’re back from Yearly Kos in Chicago and we were greeted by a great sight, a feature in the Boston Globe! Here’s the story…
CAMBRIDGE — The new headquarters
of ActBlue, with its tangled cords, leftover Deval Patrick signs, and
20-somethings tapping on white MacBook laptops, is what a political
campaign would look like if it shared space with a dot-com start-up.
ActBlue is in fact both — an Internet-based
political action committee that is quietly becoming one of the biggest
forces in Democratic politics. Its founders aim for nothing short of
revolution, and they are already partway there.
The PAC, operated
from a former architecture studio on Arrow Street near Harvard Square,
functions as an online clearinghouse for campaign contributions to
Democrats of all stripes, allowing anyone in the country to donate any
allowable amount to any candidate with the click of a mouse: You send
the money to ActBlue (actblue.com), and ActBlue funnels it to the campaigns. This gives local, state, and national Democratic candidates a cheap, efficient means of building a base of supporters over the Internet.
simple but transformative concept has raised $25.5 million and counting
since its creation in Cambridge in 2004, when two computer-savvy
scientists with liberal leanings set out to take political action in a
new direction. They believed that armies of small donors, mobilized
effectively, could be more potent than the “bun dlers” who have
dominated fund-raising by amassing checks from wealthy contributors.
with that philosophy ascendant and the 2008 presidential campaign
breaking all fund-raising records, ActBlue has become a unique bundler
of the unbundled. It is reshaping political
fund-raising and giving the Democratic Party a powerful, lasting
resource for presidential contests, state legislative races, and
everything in between.
“There’s a huge opportunity to involve
many times more people in this process than we currently have,” said
Benjamin Rahn, 30, a Harvard graduate who suspended his doctoral work
in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology to
found ActBlue with Matt DeBergalis, 29, a technology whiz out of MIT.
in coordination with campaigns, bloggers, and individuals across the
country, has funneled donations to 1,500 Democratic candidates to date.
It moved $17 million to candidates in the 2005-2006 election cycle,
including about $15.5 million to congressional campaigns, part of a
tide of support that flipped the House and Senate to Democratic control.
appears to have been far and away the biggest direct donor to
congressional candidates of either party last fall. “They are
revolutionizing approaches to fund-raising,” said Anthony Corrado, a
specialist on campaign finance at Colby College.
DeBergalis say they are just getting started. They predict confidently
that they will move $100 million in the 2007-2008 cycle.
their fund-raising this year suggests that the PAC will be an even
bigger player in the months ahead. Through the end of June, ActBlue had
already raised $6.6 million in 2007. In the last off-year, 2005, it
took ActBlue 12 months to raise $1.6 million. The 28,925 new
contributors who signed up in April, May, and June of this year
represented 13 percent of its overall number of contributors.
Continued after the jump…
Though ActBlue’s founders say that its relative influence will be
greatest in down-ticket races, this is their first venture into the
Democratic presidential primary. Former senator John Edwards of North
Carolina uses ActBlue for all his online fund-raising. As of yesterday,
he had raised $3.6 million from 44,120 supporters on the site, the vast
majority on a page set up by the campaign. In all, Edwards has raised
But Edwards has also raised about $1 million
through individual fund-raising pages that ActBlue allows users to
create — some with tiny tallies. One, Desert Rats for Edwards, had
raised $225 from three donors as of yesterday, while a page called
Pizza for Progressives had raised $830 from 27 people. Rahn and
DeBergalis say that’s just how ActBlue should work: low-dollar
contributors banding together.
“It’s really an important change
in terms of strengthening democracy [and] getting people of lesser
means into the process,” said Joe Trippi, a senior adviser to Edwards
who helped Howard Dean build his novel online fund-raising system in
2004. “Not a bunch of people can contribute $2,000 or buy $2,300 dinner
The only other presidential candidate to have raised
even six figures on ActBlue is Bill Richardson, who has collected more
By raising money through ActBlue, Edwards and
Richardson are helping the PAC itself, which is supported in part by
tips that donors can tack onto their gifts to candidates. Edwards wins
praise from some on the left for supporting ActBlue as he raises money
Illinois Senator Barack Obama uses a similar online
fund-raising model, but he is using his own website instead of ActBlue.
Obama has raised a total of $58.9 million — $17.2 million of it
online. Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted that the campaign has built
the biggest grass-roots network in primary history — Obama had 260,000
unique contributors through June — and didn’t need to rely on a
“We’ve had a great deal of success with
encouraging and driving people to our site, for fund-raising but also
for organization,” she said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
the party has its nominee next year, all presidential donors on ActBlue
will be working for the same cause, offering not just untold millions
in campaign funds but potentially thousands of activists nationwide.
concede that with ActBlue’s success, they have a lot of ground to make
up — and quickly. In the next few weeks, they will roll out a new and
improved version of their own grass-roots fund-raising site, ABCPac (abcpac.com),
which got started last year and sent $300,000 to GOP congressional
candidates last fall. The GOP hopes ABCPac matures into a serious
“They’ve been incredibly successful for the
Democrats, and there’s been no Republican answer,” said Jason
Torchinsky, ABCPac’s general counsel.
ActBlue has already helped
drive significant Democratic victories in Congressional races. Donors
and activists connected through ActBlue, for example, helped send Jim
Webb to an upset last fall of Republican Senator George Allen of
Virginia by contributing $900,000.
The surprise victory of
challenger Joe Sestak in a Pennsylvania Congressional race last year
illustrates the powerful nexus between ActBlue and the liberal
blogosphere. When Sestak, a three-star Navy admiral, became a favorite
of liberal bloggers, they began championing his candidacy and sending
readers to ActBlue to make donations. Sestak unseated Republican Curt
Weldon, thanks in part to the $868,000 his campaign raised through
ActBlue — more than a fourth of all the money he raised.
“We tied into that yearning to participate,” Sestak said.
Rahn and DeBergalis believe ActBlue’s great potential lies in its
ability to “nationalize” local races in the 23 states in which the PAC
operates. They note that Congressional districts will be redrawn again
in 2010. With state legislatures drawing those lines, they say,
strategic donations to Democratic state legislative candidates could
have a major impact on the fate of the national party.
level, the relative impact is massive,” DeBergalis said. “An entire
class of novel ways to tackle political and social problems is sitting
there waiting for that catalyst that we can bring.”
DeBergalis and Rahn have built is not entirely new — they acknowledge
debts to Dean’s presidential campaign and groups such as EMILY’s List,
a grass-roots network working to elect Democratic women who support
abortion rights. But what they are doing with it is new, and as the PAC
grows — they are hiring more staff — so do their ambitions.
“We like to say this is an experiment, and it is,” DeBergalis said. “But we’re not kidding around.”